Metropolitan Opera star keeps her house in order
Later in the day, Sondra Radvanovsky and her husband/manager, Duncan Lear, were to fly to Berlin for performances of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Deutsche Oper.
Two days earlier, they had played host to no fewer than six nibbling deer in their front yard.
Not that 10 acres of mostly lush forest are usually described as a yard, but in the heart of those Caledon acres stands the spacious residence of one of the Metropolitan Opera’s top-tier sopranos.
Why, you may ask, would the star of the Met’s forthcoming Live in HD movie-house telecast of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux (April 16 with repeat telecasts May 28, 30 and June 1) be following Hansel and Gretel into the woods?
Part of the explanation lies with the fact that she happens to be married to a Canadian — albeit an engineer rather than a lumberjack — who counts tenor Michael Schade not only as a classmate at St. Michael’s Choir School but as the best man at his wedding.
Another part relates to a desire to escape the concrete canyons of Manhattan, where she cannot look forward to the occasional sight of a neighbourhood tabby, pressing its paws against the glass windows of her music room when she is singing, no doubt frustrated by its inability to join her in Rossini’s famous duet for two cats.
She won’t be singing duets in any case in her forthcoming Dec. 4 Koerner Hall recital under the auspices of Show One. The solo program embraces art songs and operatic arias in five languages.
Recitals are not always considered home turf for opera singers. For this one they seem entirely natural.
“For me, it is a chance to show the public a bit more of who I am,” she says. “When I am on the opera stage, I am playing someone else. In recitals I even have the chance to talk to the audience, which is something you don’t get to do in opera.
“My teacher (distinguished French baritone Martial Singher) told me at the age of 18 that I was going to be a singer, but he also told me that it would be harder than I could ever imagine.
“I’ve always had teachers and coaches who guided me well, but because mine is an unconventional voice, it took me until my late 30s to discover I was meant for Verdi, and it took my coach Tony Manoli (her accompanist at Koerner Hall) to say I would one day sing (Bellini’s) Norma.”
Radvanovsky has not only sung Norma, now she has become one of the leading interpreters of the Italian 19th-century bel canto repertoire. She has already performed Roberto Devereux with the Canadian Opera Company and is scheduled to sing all three of Donizetti’s queens (Anna Bolena and Mary Stuart in addition to Roberto Devereux’s Elizabeth I) in succeeding years at the Metropolitan Opera, the first singer to do so.
“Beverly Sills sang all three (for the now defunct New York City Opera) and said it shortened her career by five years,” the soprano laughingly recalls. “They say Mozart is medicine for the voice. I think it’s bel canto. It really is the technique of healthy singing. You can’t get through Norma with a bad technique.
“I’ve been singing professionally since I was 21; I’m 46 now. I want to be able to choose when I stop and my technique will guide me. When I teach master classes, I tell young singers if the foundation isn’t good, the house will crumble.”
Not only is the Radvanovsky house not crumbling (the vocal house, that is; the other one seems to be in pretty good shape as well), the lady promises to return to the stage of the Four Seasons Centre next season. Although the particular opera has yet to be announced, it is to be only the first of an annual commitment to sing with the Canadian Opera Company.
In a profile in the magazine Opera News, she declared, “I don’t like happy stuff. I’m not funny. I have had a lot of great sadness in my life and maybe that’s an outlet for dealing with (it), by airing all of that on stage.”
Asked to elaborate, she acknowl- edged that at the age of 17 she found her father dead. “He had one heart attack and it killed him. He never really heard me sing.
“I tell young singers not to listen to themselves. What I hear is not what you hear. Duncan knows my voice. My coach Tony knows my voice. And it is healthy to know what the public thinks.”
She will find that out in less than two weeks from now.