Magazine article Opera Canada

In Her Prime: Sondra Radvanovsky Can Already Lay Claim to the Role of Leading Verdi Soprano. Now She Thinks the Time Is Right for Bigger Challenges in Verdi, Puccini and Beyond

Magazine article Opera Canada

In Her Prime: Sondra Radvanovsky Can Already Lay Claim to the Role of Leading Verdi Soprano. Now She Thinks the Time Is Right for Bigger Challenges in Verdi, Puccini and Beyond

Article excerpt

It's a tiny role--just a few bars at the start of the opera--but the Countess Ceprano in Rigoletto has been a good-luck charm to more than one young soprano at the start of her career. When Sutherland and Pavarotti recorded the opera back in 1971, the role was assigned to 27-year-old Kiri Te Kanawa, then just a few months short of her breakthrough into the big leagues. In 1984, an even younger Dawn Upshaw made her Met debut in the role. And 12 years after that, another of the Met Lindemann Young Artists made her own company debut as the Countess: Sandra Radvanovsky.

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Dame Kiri's subsequent career took her one way and Up-shaw's another, but from that small seed, Radvanovsky's has become firmly rooted in Verdi, and now, in its full, mature flower, she's the finest Verdi soprano around according to more than one critical ear. Two years after that debut, she sang her first Met performance of what's become a signature role, Leonora in Il trovatore. Since then, she's sung (all with the Met) Violetta, Luisa Miller, Elena in I vaspri Siciliani, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, Elvira in P Ernani and, on two memorable nights in January, Lina in Stiffelio.

I called her on a gray New York winter afternoon, a grayer winter evening in Paris, where she was in residence for a month of Don Carlo at the Bastille. But it's hard to feel anything approaching a chill even when chatting on the phone with this warm, funny, down-to-earth anti-diva. (The tab's on her: "I've got free international calls!") How's the Parisian run been going? "Well, tomorrow night we've got show number three, and if I don't know the opera by show number 10, I'm in trouble!" She's joking, of course. There's no doubt this ever-prepared singer knows the opera very well indeed- Strangely, in Paris she's singing the four-act La Scala version in Italian; Radvanovsky is firm in her commitment to the five-acter (which she's sung at the Met), with Verdi's splendid Fontainebleau scene: "At least you get to see Elisabetta happy, if only for two minutes."

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Recently, Radvanovsky's repertoire has been branching out in three equally intriguing ways. This fail, she'll tackle the two heavyweights of the Verdi canon: in October, her first Aida, with the Canadian Opera Company; in November, her first Amelia in Un hallo in maschera, with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. More imminent, in late April, is her debut as Tosca with Opera Colorado.

This follows her acclaimed Manon Lescaut in Leipzig (under Riccardo Chailly) in May 2008 and her even more widely acclaimed Suor Angelica in Los Angeles that September. After the end of that run, she backtracked from Puccini to the other side of Verdi with Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia in Washington, D.C.--an indelible performance to all who saw and heard it. Now, although she's not at liberty to say when and where, there's more Donizetti in her future--his celebrated "Tudor Queens" trilogy--along with a long-awaited venture into Bellini. "You mean the Bellini role?" I ask. "Yes--with a capital N!" she responds with her characteristic laugh.

Her particular set of vocal virtues, along with her vibrant, commanding stage presence, should make that capital-N role--Norma--the crowning glory of a career that's been carefully coddled. "I'm lucky," she says. "I have a very, very wonderful and intelligent agent, Alec Treuhaft [at IMG Artists]. He's more than just a manager. He's a career-maker, and he's always been very hands-on with my teacher and my coach, and saying, 'Just where is Sondra's voice going to be in another year? In two years?' I was 40 last year, and that's a big turning point for so many singers. You can put a little more pressure on the voice, especially in the middle, which is what Puccini requires. And so we thought, 'Well, we'll start with baby steps--Manon Lescaut and Angelica, because they're not the heavy Puccini, like Tosca, like Turandot. …

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