Joyce DiDonato is a Kansas native (Prairie Village, Kansas) and graduate of my alma mater, Wichita State University (like Samuel Ramey!). She's currently singing the title role in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and the WSJ review praises her performance:
Ms. DiDonato is a splendid bel canto singer, and her interpretation of Mary has come a long way from her first outing in the role at the Houston Grand Opera last spring. Her singing now has more edge, definition and fire, emphasizing the pride and regal confidence that has endured through Mary's decades of imprisonment, making her a fit antagonist for Elizabeth. Her Mary had many moods. Ms. DiDonato brought a luminous, meditative loveliness to Mary's nostalgic opening aria, in which she thinks back to her home in France; the soft, floating trills were magical. But you could also see the effort required by her attempt at submission to Elizabeth, and her pride resurfaced with ferocious intensity. Equally fascinating was the confession scene, with the turbulence of her guilt giving way to an angelic serenity. Even her final aria—on her way to the block, she forgives Elizabeth—became a demonstration of Mary's victory. She may be losing her head, but as her voice soared above the chorus she had the moral upper hand.
As I've noted before, Donizetti, basing his opera on Schiller, ignores many facts of history for the sake of drama: Heidi Waleson summarizes the issues and the plot:
The opera centers on the confrontation of two powerful women: Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Giuseppi Bardari's libretto, based on the 1800 play by Friedrich Schiller, takes considerable liberties with history: The two queens never actually met, nor were they in romantic competition for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The opera's plot is minimal: Mary, suspected of scheming against Elizabeth, and other crimes, is imprisoned at Fotheringhay Castle. Leicester persuades Elizabeth to travel to Fotheringhay so that Mary can plead her cause. Mary's attempt at submissive behavior fails; when Elizabeth taunts her, Mary lashes out with her own dynastic insults—"Vile bastard," in particular. Elizabeth signs her death warrant. Mary then confesses her sins, bids her followers farewell, and goes to the block.
The New York Times likes it too and includes several photos of the production.