Photo: © Joyce DiDonato shot for the FT by Thomas Duffield
It’s just after five o’clock at Bishop Ramsey secondary school in north-west London when the sports hall fills with smoke and a fire alarm shrieks into action. An opera singer, a children’s choir, a film crew, some teachers and, seemingly from nowhere, a portly vicar in black vestments pour into the cold, dark afternoon to regroup in the playground. Joyce DiDonato’s Eden project is not quite going according to plan.
DiDonato, probably the most esteemed mezzo-soprano active in opera today and recently seen singing in Handel’s Theodora at the Royal Opera House, has devised an Eden of many parts — an album of green-themed arias, a global tour and an education programme, funding choirs and workshops in 18 cities on the tour. This programme explains why she has trekked to Ruislip, on the outskirts of the city, to film a video with a choir from one of the participating schools; when the smoke clears, they will be singing a song whose lyrics are based on what the kids think trees would say about climate change (“I’m on my own as nature drowns”).
DiDonato, 53, has already taken them on a tramp through the school’s chilly woodland to talk about the environment, with urgent messages: “Quit asking the corporations to do it . . . It comes from you guys!” she jollily exhorted a crowd of bemused faces.
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