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The Mega-Soprano: Sondra Radvanovsky finally takes on Aida—and the COC

She’s regularly described as the finest Verdi soprano of her generation, the successor to legends Leontyne Price and Zinka Milanov, a woman with a voice that can blast you back into the row behind or leave you dangling on a floated pianissimo. American-born Sondra Radvanovsky, who moved here eight years ago after marrying a Canadian, is adding the Four Seasons Centre to the list of stellar international houses that have featured her name on their marquee. She’ll be singing the tragic title role in Aida, a first for her, and the first time the COC has mounted this Verdi favourite since 1986. For all its reputation as an elephant-heavy spectacle, the Egyptian extravaganza is also an intimate quartet about patriotism, homeland, love and jealousy. There isn’t a more Italian combo than that. Read our Q&A with Radvanovsky after the jump.

You’ve been singing professionally for 20 years. Why take so long to try out Aida?
It’s not an easy feat, so I waited until I was ready. As you age, you have greater stamina and can push your voice more. Plus, I have now sung all the roles that a soprano should before tackling Aida: Luisa in Luisa Miller, Violetta in La Traviata, Leonora in Il Trovatore, Lina in Stiffelio, Elisabetta in Don Carlo. Each of these roles is a bit more challenging vocally than the next.

You’re famous for your Verdi. What is it about the man?
I love his long lines of music and his amazing melodies—audiences come out of the theatre humming. Also, Verdi wrote everything that he wanted you to do in the music. What other composer indicates five pianos, to make the atmosphere soft, soft, soft, soft, soft?

Your Facebook page has a link to A Gluten-Free Guide. What’s that about?
I travel with my own supply of food, because the gluten seems to create a mucus that gucks up my vocal cords. I look six months pregnant when I eat a lot of gluten. I get this big, poochy belly. But alcohol, no problem.

Convenient, seeing as you have a Niagara wine named after you.
Yes, you can have a bottle of me, which is so much fun to say when friends are over. It’s a merlot–cab franc mix from a little vineyard in Vineland called Alvento. The owner approached me after a performance at Covent Garden and, over supper, asked if he could name one of his wines after me. Now I can buy a bottle of Sondra. It’s neat.

Are you excited about singing at the Four Seasons Centre for the first time?
It’s such an amazing building, inside and out. The acoustics are just about perfect, and the space is neither too large nor too small—an audience member can feel like they are part of the action. I recently sang at the Arena di Verona in Italy, which can hold up to 25,000 people. This will be much easier. There are greater opportunities for subtle acting, thankfully, because Aida is so often more about the pomp and circumstance than the real story.

Do you have any pre-performance superstitions?
I’m not the kind of singer who has to step onto the stage with her right foot instead of her left every time, and I don’t have a shrine to Maria Callas in my dressing room. I do, however, always say a little prayer to my father, who passed away when I was 17, to help me do the very best that I can—but I never ask for perfection.

Aida, Oct. 2 to Nov. 5, Four Seasons Centre.

(Image: Sondra Radvanovsky photograph by Ken Howard and Terrence McCarthy; photo-illustration by Wes Duvall.)

 

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