Joyce DiDonato: In the Midst of Chaos, How Do You Find Peace?

Photo courtesy of Harris Theater.

In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?

This question seems to be written for this particular time — in the aftermath of our election, during an frenetic holiday season. But actually, international opera star Joyce DiDonato penned it immediately following the Paris bombings, more than a year ago.

This question also inspired her most recent album and current tour, “War And Peace,” which arrives in Chicago at Harris Theater this Saturday. Intriguingly, it also launched a request for answers that have poured in from around the world. More than 370 fans, celebrities and others from at least 44 countries have answered the question, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, designer Vivienne Westwood, and actors David Hyde Pierce and Dame Judi Dench. You can find the submissions and send your response here.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Didonato loves Chicago, as you will see from her Q&A answers below. So, she hopes to learn our answers to this profound question too.

Didonato will perform in stunning Vivienne Westwood-designed costumes to reflect “war” and “peace.” Please enjoy a sneak peak with the video below. More importantly, though, please find the time and space within yourself to think about and respond to the question: “In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?” And please hold onto and act on that answer when necessary too.

Make It Better: What responses [to the question “in the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?”] have you received from individuals who live in or have strong ties to the Chicago region, if any?

Joyce DiDonato: Ah, I can’t single out a particular answer from Chicago, but the beauty of this project is that geography becomes utterly unimportant. Instead, we are seeing answers across the globe that share so much in common, melting boundaries and dividing lines. It has given me tremendous hope seeing the commonality rather than division!

What are your favorite things to do in Chicago with your free time, if any?

The Art Institute is number one on my list, no question. Then I’m quickly investigating what the new hot restaurants are, trying to decide between Peruvian, Korean, Fusion, South American — it’s an embarrassment of riches! One of my all-time greatest memories was a birthday dinner with a few friends — a SPLURGE dinner if ever there was one — at Alinea. To this day it remains my favorite culinary experience I’ve ever had.

Did you grow up in Kansas? Do you think that Midwesterners manage the tensions inherent in chaos and between war and peace differently than other cultures you have experienced in your travels? If so, how? 

I did — born and raised just outside of Kansas City. As much as I hate to make sweeping generalizations, I do think we tend to tow the middle line in many ways, so we perhaps don’t go to the edge of chaos as much as others. But we are still human, after all, so we are entirely susceptible to being swept away.

You conceived your question and your album in reaction to the Paris bombings. Now you are touring in the aftermath of a divisive election. How has this affected your thoughts and audience responses?

I had no idea the extremity of division I would be coming home to when I first started to formulate this project just a year ago. It has been heart-wrenching to see how fractured the country (and, in truth, the world) feels at this moment in time. It makes me wonder if this project didn’t have a mind of its own, knowing that we would need the chance to heal at this particular juncture. My hope is that this project gives people the space to consider how they will now engage in the world around them — will we add to the chaos and turmoil, or work toward meaningful, effective healing?

Have you performed at Harris Theater before? If so, please give us your impressions of the venue.

NO! But I attended an incredible dance concert there a few years ago — very modern and haunting! The experience still stays with me to this day. It’s a brilliant space, and a TRUE TREASURE of Chicago!

Anything else you want to tell our audience?

I’d love to share my first memory of your great city! I had a very adventurous boyfriend in high school who loved to take me to concerts (like Whitney Houston and Steve Winwood) … yes, his coming out a few years later made total sense! But for our Senior Prom, he told me he had a surprise for me, and to be ready at 7:30 a.m. that day. He picked me up, whisked me away to the airport and took me to Chicago for the day — Ferris Bueller style! We dashed from the John Hancock building to the Art Institute to the Hard Rock Cafe — and dashed back home to KC in time for the dance. It was the most wonderful experience, and planted a deep love for Chicago in my heart!

Oh — and congrats on the Cubs. THAT was THRILLING to watch!


Joyce DiDonato will perform “In War & Peace: Harmony Through Music” at Harris Theater Dec. 9. Learn more and buy tickets here.

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