Despite living locally Sondra Radvanovsky is not a frequent recitalist in Toronto so it’s perhaps not surprising that Koerner Hall was packed last night for her show presented by Show One Productions. I had been intrigued in advance by the promised program which looked extremely varied; baroque, bel canto, Strauss, Barber, verismo and more. We were, in fact, being used as most willing guinea pigs for some new departures, especially the Strauss.
Anyway, not to jump ahead. The evening started with Vivaldi’s Sposa son disprezzata from Bajazet closely followed by a set of Bellini songs. A safe start perhaps for a supreme bel canto technician but beautifully done. Next up was arguably the most experimental part of the program; four Strauss songs. Sondra was keen to tell us that “she didn’t sing in German” and that this was a direction she had gone in at the instigation of pianist Anthony Manoli but only “at gunpoint”. They were really interesting interpretations, especially the more lyrical Allerseelen and Morgen but maybe a work in progress still. I’m having a bit of a hard time explaining even to myself why I feel that way. Sondra sings them with her usual impeccable technique and not a little feeling. Maybe I just miss the passionate intensity that a Mattila or a Damrau bring to these pieces? It’s an interesting departure though and I would certainly go hear her sing Strauss again.
After the interval we got a set of Liszt songs; elegantly and charmingly done, before venturing into selections from Barber’s Hermit Songs. This afforded an opportunity for Sondra to pull out a Leontyne Price/Jimmy Levine anecdote which can be summed up by “You’re not the new me, you’re the one and only you”. Anyway, Barber is great territory for Sondra and I loved this set. The published part of the program closed out with La mamma morta from Andrea Chénier. For this verismo piece Sondra created a timbre I haven’t heard from her before. It’s much, much darker than her usual, very bright, sound. And quite dramatic too. I probably wasn’t the only one who was having a “not since Maria Callas” moment (but in a good way!)
The encores were almost a third set. We got The Song to the Moon from Rusalka first. This was gorgeous. I know she’s no stranger to the role but this is seriously rep we need to see her in. She also produced Beneath the Lights of Home; a Deanna Durbin song, Pace, pace mio Dio from La Forza del Destino and finally a very sly version Oh mio babbino caro. I know the last is a bit cliched but this was one of the most “in character” versions I’ve heard and it was a fitting end to a recital that combined fine singing with a really generous stage persona.
I love it that one of our local (if adopted local) singers is making a huge splash on the world stage but could we have her back please?