Cher Public

On wings of Sondra

Ottawa has not traditionally been a “tryout city,” a place where leading performers come to take artistic risks. This is unfortunate, as we—and in particular, the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, celebrating 20 extraordinary years—have all the ingredients, including appreciative audiences notorious for giving frequent standing ovations. 

Has a new precedent been set? This week, a bona fide star took the plunge and, making her Ottawa debut, allowed us a peak at what may be the next stage in her remarkable career. Sondra Radvanovsky, the world’s undisputed leading Verdi soprano (a silly title which means she sings operatic roles by Verdi at all the top opera houses around the planet and does so arguably better than anyone else), lent her luminous voice to Chamberfest for what was an unexpectedly unique recital.

As CBC Radio’s Laurence Wall explained, Ms. Radvanovsky is a “Canadian by choice”—the diva later asked if anyone in the audience might be able to assist her with speeding up the citizenship process! Though she spends most of her time in the world’s arts meccas—she had just sung Puccini’s Tosca at London’s Royal Opera House before this recital — the soprano was able to scale back her immense vocal and dramatic presence to suit the warm acoustics of Dominion-Chalmers United Church and connect with an audience more accustomed to piano quintets than grand arias. The results were unforgettable for audience members, as hers is a voice that really must be heard live. (I first heard her as Verdi’s Aida at the Canadian Opera Company).

But perhaps most remarkable was the absence of Verdi arias which audiences have come to associate with Ms. Radvanovsky, most notably those of Leonora in Il Trovatore, which marked the soprano’s debut in the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series, which broadcasts in more than 60 countries, giving singers unprecedented global exposure.

Instead of resorting to the tried-and-true, we were treated to a highly varied programme of Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Cilèa, Duparc, Massenet, Copland, and yes, Verdi. A rare diva who enjoys chatting with her audience to explain song selections and lessen the formality of the recital setting, she let us know that this was her first public performance of the aria, “Pleurez! Pleurez mes yeux!” from Massenet’s Le Cid. She made a strong case for this often overlooked opera.

My personal highlight was Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido, a long concert aria that requires Mozartean agility in addition to dramatic weight. Quite a way to begin a recital, and Ms. Radvanovsky clearly needed no additional warm-up time. Perhaps she was hoping to get this challenging piece over with right out of the gate.

In lieu of Trovatore arias, we were treated to three art songs by Verdi, one with a melody that was later inserted, in whole, into that opera. They were inspired choices, allowing Ms. Radvanovsky to demonstrate why she has become her generation’s definitive Verdi soprano.

Four gorgeous pieces by Rachmaninov, including “Ne poy krasavitsa pri mne” were evidently meaningful for the soprano.  Her Russian seemed very good to me, though it was difficult to erase memories of Anna Netrebko’s performances of these songs with Daniel Barenboim.

Several songs by Duparc and Copland required the soprano to scale down her cavernous voice even further. “Extase” and “At the River” were particularly well received, and Ms. Radvanovsky appears mercifully free of the mannerisms that have belaboured Renée Fleming’s recent performances of this French and English repertoire. Moreover, Ms. Radvanovsky projected an undeniably genuine connection to these pieces, and the audience responded in turn.

Finally, after nearly two hours we were able to hear her blow the roof off with Verdi’s “Pace, pace mio dio” from La Forza del Destino. Most impressive, here and elsewhere throughout the recital, were assured portamento and pianissimos. Just before the vamp of “Pace, pace” began, Ms. Radvanovsky turned to her faithful accompanist, Anthony Manoli—excellent—and said, “let’s do it.” What a delight to hear this acclaimed singer sounding so confident and relaxed!

For our sustained shouts of “brava” we were treated to two encores: Puccini’s soaring “O mio babbino caro” and—taking a page once again from Ms. Fleming — a somewhat unusual version of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.

But crowd-pleasing warhorses aside, Ottawa had the rare privilege of watching one of the world’s most in-demand singers stretch herself in ways many of her fans may never have predicted. I understand Ms. Radvanovsky will continue barnstorming her way through Donizetti’s “Three Queens”—extraordinarily difficult roles—and expanding her slate of Verdi heroines. However, now that I have heard her explore new avenues, I look forward to seeing how she engages with Russian, French, and verismo repertoire at this exciting point in her career.

Photo: Freedom Photography via Facebook


  • DeepSouthSenior

    Now, this is nice. In a day full of postmodern irony and oh-so-clever cynicism, it’s refreshing to read a review that just, well, “nice.”

  • DeepSouthSenior

    ” . . . that’s just . . .”

  • Archaeopteryx

    Thank you for this nice review! I heard her as Tosca at the ROH and was very impressed. Huge voice, but taste, musicality and sense of drama even more huge. Lovely to hear that she is a nice person too. She deserves to get better known in Europe, imho.

  • Will

    Ms Fleming isn’t the only soprano to dip into Lerner and Lowe for that encore. I heard Birgit Nilsson do it spectacularly as her final encore after a recital at a relatively small church north of Boston with amazing acoustics. She took an unwritten top C to finish it. Quite thrilling.

    • DeepSouthSenior

      Diana Damrau sings “I Could Have Danced All Night” twice -- in English and in German -- on her CD “Forever: Unforgettable Songs from Vienna, Broadway, and Hollywood.” She’s often spoken fondly of learning the role of Eliza Doolittle in German early in her career.

      • DeepSouthSenior

        Correction: That’s “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” in German and “I Could Have Danced All Night” in English. Sorry about that. I should have checked the tracks first.

  • arepo

    So sure was I that she was the real thing, I drove all the way to Toronto several years ago and sat through an awful version of “Aida” just to hear her wonderful voice that I had faith in even back then.
    Now, after all the dissing she has taken, they finally GOT IT!

  • manou

    I certainly hope that the root she blew off when singing “Pace, pace” was not the Urban Dictionary offering (or worse still the root canal version -- from someone who cracked a molar eating cottage cheese18 hours before flying off to Marseilles).

    • florezrocks

      corrected !

  • grimoaldo

    ‘hers is a voice that really must be heard live.”

    I agree.
    Thanks for the nice review!

  • EarlyRomantic

    I Could Have Danced All Night






    What is the appeal of this piece for operatic sopranos? Or the appeal in general?

    • armerjacquino

      What, asides being a copper-bottomed classic? It’s a smashing song and ends on a gala ‘high’ note which isn’t high. Audiences love it. Any more reasons needed?

    • steveac10

      Lordy -- Studer has morphed into Hyacinth Bucket!

      • I think Studer looks like Jane Eaglen’s sister.

        • steveac10

          I can see that as well. Either way the hair and gown should cause people to be fired. Unflattering is an understatement.

          • armerjacquino

            And the voice is shot, too. It’s a very sad little clip.

            • EarlyRomantic

              It’s not that the voice is shot but, I think, that she does not appear to make an effort or take care of certain details (ugly low notes, e.g.). It’s the reason few seldom consider her singing “lovely”.

            • steveac10

              So sad too, when I first heard her back around 1990 I was gobsmacked -- this big silvery voice that could ride an orchestra with ease and still articulate the fussy bits with precision. And of course she was trumpeted by the record industry at the time as the second coming of Lilli Lehmann because she could sing everything from Amina to Sieglinde (and did). It should have been the talent of the generation, but somehow it went sour really quickly. I still think had she more quickly settled into the right repertoire and dumped her manager/husband (at least as her manager), she would have been the it girl for a good 15-20 years.

    • papopera

      none ! as bad as My Dear Beloved Daddy

    • javier

      the best operatic soprano “i could have dance all night” is by birgit nilsson. fleming’s version is also good because she also goes for the unwritten high C.

  • Radvanovsky got a very nice review on a well-read Toronto blog ( for her recital here. I was a bit surprised to hear about her level success in the recital format, but she is at the peak of her powers right now. Glad to hear of her success in Ottawa.

  • la vociaccia

    Could you explain why or how her Verdi selections made a case for her as the best Verdi interpreter of our generation? I don’t mean to be picky, but there isn’t much actual description about her interpretations here, apart from the sine qua non reassurance that she’s not as mannered as Fleming

  • Found this on the youtube machine:

  • SilvestriWoman

    Sumi Jo for the win! As a singer, though, I always found Show Me more gratifying -- both vocally and dramatically -- than I Could Have Danced All Night. It also has a fabulous top note at the end.

    Here, Hepburn takes the final note down the octave, but, boy, is it proof that they never should have dubbed her singing voice. She’s fantastic! httpv://

    • SilvestriWoman


      • Cicciabella


        “httpv” should do it.

        • Cicciabella

          Dammit! “httpv” is correct, but you need the correct youtube id. Searches on mobile devices don’t work.

  • Krunoslav

    “Her Russian seemed very good to me, though it was difficult to erase memories of Anna Netrebko’s performances of these songs with Daniel Barenboim.”

    Try Vishnevskaya or Maria Kurenko, who had/have interpretive assets beyond an attractive voice and native Russian. For that matter, Joan Rodgers-- who read Russian at univeirsity-- and Elisabeth Soederstroem ( half Russian, like Gedda, though have more to say about those songs like the beauteous-voiced Anna.

    Some people are song interpreters and some aren’t.

  • EarlyRomantic


    Radvanovsky at her considerable best, in my sole opinion.

    • steveac10

      I love the quick vibrato an “woody” timbre of her voice, and I have always been predisposed to liking that type of sound (Troyanos is my late 20th century singer and she has a similar shimmer on top of darkness timbre I have always found appealing). But truth be told, this leaves me cold. It just sound boxy to me. Everything is in place, but it doesn’t take flight. If anything, it’s too well schooled. I can understand every word, and the phasing is apt -- but it just doesn’t grab me.

  • javier

    I am going to Radvanovsky’s November 8th recital in Los Angeles and I hope she goes for a similar program.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    A glance at any of the threads within this blog where Radvanovsky has been mentioned previously would have been sufficient to remove any doubt that, if she is a leading Verdi soprano, the case most certainly is disputed.

    • armerjacquino

      I think the vagueness of the the phrase in question is the issue here; it doesn’t actually mean anything. On the one hand, you’re right that her vocal qualifications for such a term are constantly under debate. On the other, she’s sung Leonora, Aida, Luisa Miller and Amelia (among, I’m sure, others) at the Met; that fact alone makes her indisputably, in real terms, a ‘leading Verdi soprano’ whether one likes her singing or not.

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        Alright then -- apply the general tenor of my comment to the line later on about her being ‘her generation’s definitive Verdi soprano’.

        • armerjacquino

          Yes, that one is certainly open to question at the very least.

      • among, I’m sure, others

        Lina in Stiffelio, FWIW. Elvira in Ernani, Elena in Vespri, Elisabetta in Don Carlo and, if you’re counting the Parks, Violetta.

        • armerjacquino

          Oh, of course I should have remembered STIFFELIO (although the closest I got to it was watching ten minutes of it on the TV in the Met foyer)

  • Archaeopteryx

    Found this absolutely adorable video feature about Radvanovsky:

    You can see her cutting wood, meet her oldtimer car, get to know her butcher (“only local products!”), go to a dentist’s appointment with her and other things. She is, there is no other word for it, cute.

    • Clita del Toro

      “Cute” is the word.

      • Clita del Toro

        It’s almost as if some of these singers are going out of their way to show how fun, silly, regular and un diva-like they are. So much yucking it up! Ha ha ha.

        Also, “Chopping wood” LOLOL Don’t strain yourself Sondra. The machine did the chopping.

        The weird thing is, I think Sondra is more attractive out of costume and in real life than on the stage. Same goes for Deborah Voigt.