In review: Sondra Radvanovsky at Koerner HallReview
I’d wager that star soprano Sondra Radvanovsky’s recital at Koerner Hall, presented by Show One Productions, was one of Toronto’s most anticipated events of the 2015⁄16 season. After her she treated us to Vivaldi’s stunning “Sposa son disprezzata” (Bajazet), an aria that took real ova to start with, Radvanovsky told us two neat pieces of information: firstly, this was a brand new recital that hadn’t been heard before, including a set of Richard Strauss songs that were fresh for her. She also mentioned that it was her 20th year working with her pianist and coach, Anthony Manoli, who was a beautiful collaborator for the evening. So, last night’s concert was a mix of old and new for Radvanovsky, and it was a chance for us to hear her as a candid artist.
Sondra’s voice really is of that echelon where every single note does something. Her Bellini songs were an extension of the style she does notoriously well, and she sang them in a grand scale, making them more concert arias with piano than the insufficient title of “songs”. Manoli had extraordinary flexibility with those “simple” piano parts, showing off all of those 20 years of work with Radvanovsky. As a pianist, it was incredibly satisfying and educating to hear.
She warned us, in her exciteable, joking way, that if we didn’t like her singing of her Strauss songs, which included biggies like Befreit and Allerseelen, we were to blame Manoli for suggesting them. It was fascinating to hear her sing this rep. She was honest about how little German she sings, and I really did hear Italianate style idioms throughout these songs. Italianate though it may have been, her artistry translates without a hitch. I couldn’t help but give silent kudos to Manoli; if I were Sondra Radvanovsky’s pianist, I too would suggest songs like Heimliche Aufforderung and Morgen. Manoli took a strong, soloistic approach to these pieces that I loved.
In the second half was a gorgeous set of Liszt French songs, including one of the most malleable, leisurely renditions of Oh! quand je dors that I’ve ever heard. She also sang a few of Barber’s Hermit Songs, treating us to the story of when she met Leontyne Price herself at the Metropolitan Opera. It was almost jarring to hear Radvanovsky sing in English, but it turned into an opportunity to hear how she takes care with her text, and not just her sound. The Monk and His Cat was a second-half highlight for me.
She finished up with verismo, Giordano’s “La mamma morta” from Andrea Chenier. She spent the aria pouring her voice out into Koerner Hall, showing us the steel in her sound that travels up to her warm, thrilling top. Radvanovsky is one of those singers that seems of another generation, of the old-guard of bel canto, the never-ending sound, hold-that-note-forever style that’s truly a rare find (in any generation, really). She encored with the “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, the announcement of which earned her a collective gasp of excitement from all of Koerner Hall.
While it may have been a safe selection of repertoire, and her use of scores took me out of her delivery at times, Toronto was certainly lucky to host an artist like Radvanovsky. It was a chance to hear the vocal risks she took, to almost hear the technique involved in bringing us her stunning soft singing. Recitals are naked for singers, partly because of people like me who just want to hear them do what they do, unencumbered by the ornate costumes (of Donizetti’s Three Queens, say). Radvanovsky’s voice is unarguably in top form, and I don’t think I’d ever get bored of listening. Bravi, team!
Speaking of which, Radvanovsky kicks off her queenly trifecta at The Metropolitan Opera in January, 2016: Anna Bolena January 5-9, Maria Stuarda January 29-February 20, and Roberto Devereux March 24-April 19. For non-New Yorkers, you can catch the HD Broadcast of Roberto Devereux on Saturday, April 16th at 12:55pm. For more info, visit the Met’s Live in HD schedule.