There is no cry heard more often these days than, “Where are all the Verdi sopranos?!?” Yes, there was a day when we had the likes of Aprile Millo, Eva Marton, Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, Leonie Rysanek, Zinka Milanov and Antonietta Stella all singing in the same, say 25 or 30 years. While we do have a few adept Verdi sopranos, the one most promising for “Legendary” status is Sondra Radvanovsky, whose new album Verdi Arias all but seals her status as a leader in the crowd of Verdi specialists.
As with all good singers, some very much dislike Ms. Radvanovsky’s voice. Some say it is too earthy, some don’t care for the upper register, and some manage to say the voice is too small. After hearing Ms. Radvanovsky live three times at the Met in recent seasons (Leonora, Lina, and Elvira), I can assure you her vocal presence is as clear and powerful as any soprano out there today, so let’s put that canard to rest.
But what really excites me about her singing is its uniqueness. I love when you hear a singer and know, after only a few bars, who that special timbre belongs to — think of the list in the first paragraph. That is indeed the definition of “memorable,” and Ms. Radvanovsky’s voice is memorable to say the least. The earthy, smoky, almost husky middle and lower voice blossom into a powerful and shining upper register with a golden color over which she has wonderful control.
And yet in all that beauty, Ms. Radvanovsky can find a vicious anger, as seen in a passage many sopranos under-emphasized, the “Maledizione!” at the end of “Pace, pace.” The ringing top edges on madness, and all sense of time and beat falls away into a desperate curse.
Luckily this is the only instance where phrasing is thrown to the wind for effect. Ms. Radvanovsky truly has a feel for the line and shape of a Verdian phrase. The clarity of her Italian leaves something to be desired, committing more focus to creating a legato phrase than to clearly defining individual sounds – but to me this is certainly the side on which a Verdi singer should err.
One thing that drove me wild on this album is her Aida. While she has not performed the role in its entirety yet, the liner notes indicate that the announcement of a Radvanovsky Aida is coming soon, and when it is, I am getting a ticket. Her treatment of the recitative was nothing short of sublime, and the heart-rending conflict of the piece is drawn to its furthest extent without losing sincerity. And it is all summed up in one of the most beautiful pianissimo endings of “O patria mia” one will ever hear.
In a perfect world you’d have it all, but I’m more than happy to take the small “imperfections” in Ms. Radvanovsky’s voice. After all, that’s what makes a singer great – not a generic sound or feeling, but to express our own individual statement and feeling, which Ms. Radvanovsky does with deft ability and a truly unique beauty.