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Volume 15 Issue 6 - March 2010

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  • Toronto
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A couple of years ago

A couple of years ago you were saying that you will never do Aida,and now you are doing it in Toronto. Are there any Verdi roles thatat this point you think you will never do?Why is there that stigma?Radvanovsky: I think my days of singing Gilda in Rigoletto have come Radvanovsky: Because people assume that you misused your voice.and gone. La forza del destino and Un ballo in maschera are planned. So many people think that if you have surgery, you’re not sing-And I still want to do Otello, Simon Boccanegra and Nabucco. continued on page 62…in New York and he was working in Canada, but that was impossible.So we really had to think long and hard. Europe was an optionbecause my husband was born in Britain, so he has EU citizenship.But I said, “You know, Duncan, I really love Canada. There’sno reason for me to stay here in the States.” We lived near the lakein Oakville, on the same street as Michael. But we’ve just bought ahouse in Caledon, on ten acres.Plácido Domingo is conducting you in Stiffelio. You’ve worked withhim so much – has he had an influence on your career?Radvanovsky: I really don’t think I’d be here right now, singing atthis level, without him. He is a huge part of my career. He’s a greatmusician, and he does so much for opera.What is it like having him conduct you, especially after havingsung with him so much?Radvanovsky: It is surreal, actually, to look down in the pit and seehis smiling face. Last night he was blowing me kisses after my firstaria and I started thinking about how it was because of him that Idecided to become an opera singer. It was when I was 11 years old,and I saw him on TV in Tosca.What about baroque music?Radvanovsky: I don’t like singing it. Mirella Freni told me, “Youknow Sondra, the audience will know if you don’t like what you’resinging. They sense it. Sing what you love and they will love you.”Mozart? You did some earlier in your career.Radvanovsky: I despise it! I love listening to other people sing Mozart.But I feel like I’m in a straightjacket when I sing Mozart. It’sbeautiful music – it’s just not the beautiful music for me. Everybodysays that Mozart is so good for the voice. But for me early Verdidoes the same thing.When you gave a solo recital in Russia last May, the Russian presswas reporting that your great-grandfather was decended fromRussian nobility.Radvanovsky: That’s what I was told. My great-grandmother workedas a servant to a Russian prince outside of Moscow. My grandmotherwas illegitimate, but the rumour was that the prince washer father. She grew up in Czechoslovakia, married a Czech, andmoved to the States before my father was born. Unfortunately Inever really got much of the history.Last night in Stiffelio, I really felt your intense commitmentto what was happening dramatically.Radvanovsky: I love being on stage. That’s somethingthat I see in Plácido. He needs opera to sustainhis life – and I really have that same passion too.When I don’t sing for a couple of days I get into afunk. Singing is a part of me. Being on stage is suchan adrenalin rush. I get to live another life for threehours of my own life.You made Lina so believable.Radvanovsky: That’s what I try to do. It’s very fulfillingfor me as an actress. I was a theatre majorin college as well as a voice major, so I alwaystry to bring out what the character is feeling, andshow what I would do if I were feeling those things.I’ve never betrayed my husband, as Lina did, butwe’ve all had those thoughts about another person,or whatever, so how does it make me feel and howwould I react?I have to be really on my toes with someone like José Cura, whois singing the role of my husband, Stiffelio. José is a real singing actor.He’s magnetic, really. And we are both quite intense. So everynight we do things a bit differently. That’s exciting to me, because ifit were always, “Okay, on this beat I stomp my foot and on this beatI raise my hand,” I’d be bored to tears. I don’t want to just standthere and sing. People don’t go to opera just to hear beautiful music.They want to see drama.Does that mean that the ensembles should be as dramatic as thearias?Radvanovsky: They are. They’re the inner thoughts that the charactersare having on stage. Just because there’s more than one personsinging doesn’t mean you stop acting. I don’t think that’s what Verdiwanted.You do sing lots of other repertoire, but Verdi seems to be yourmain focus.Radvanovsky: I love, love, love Verdi – the lines, the music. It justdoes something to me. My goal in life is to sing every Verdi rolethat I can.Your voice matches so well with Hvorostovsky,who of course is Russian. Do you think yourvoice is Slavic in colour?Radvanovsky: I think so. I have the dark colour.But I also have that Scandanavian brightness frommy mother, who is Danish. It’s like Birgit Nilsson– that laser quality, that focus in the voice.People sometimes call my voice steely. I think thesteely quality is what makes it carry out into anopera house.What singers do you admire most for yourrepertoire?Radvanovsky: Maria Callas and Leontyne Price –but for me Callas is really it. Opinions about herare really divided. With my voice too, peopleeither really love it or really hate it. I have a fastvibrato. I can’t do anything about it – it’s whatGod gave me. Something about Callas’ voice justspeaks to me. It was not a beautiful voice, per se, especially up high.She was never afraid to make an ugly noise for effect on stage. Butshe does every dynamic, every inflection in the score. It’s actingwith your voice – that’s what I’m trying to do.Verdi, for example, gives you everything in the score. He tellsyou how to sing it – the dynamics, the words, everything. But manysingers overlook the expressiveness of the voice for vocal tricks orfor stage tricks.Like Leontyne Price, you have that ability to sing very softly andstill reach the back of an opera house as large as the Met.Radvanovsky: A voice teacher once said, “You know, Sondra, youcan sing really loudly, but sometimes it’s more impressive to singsoftly because it will grab the audience’s attention. They won’t expectit. So never sing louder than the point of lovely. Once you gopast that point, it’s no longer expressive – it’s just loud.” You reallyhave to be judicious about where you give 150 percent, and whereyou sing softly, too. There has to be a balance, because you neverwant to lose your audience’s attention.You recently revealed that you had surgery on your vocal chordseight years ago.Radvanovsky: Yes, it’s very common. It’s like a sports injury. Butthere is such a stigma attached to it, and I wish there wasn’t.PHOTO KEN HOWARD/METROPOLITAN OPERA10 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COMMarch 1 - April 7, 2010

Opera: By Request and To GoThis March, two opera companies celebrateanniversaries: Opera By Requestcelebrates its third, and Tapestry NewOpera Works its 30th. Tapestry was part ofthe boom in opera in the 1980s that also sawthe birth of Opera Hamilton and Opera Atelier.The more recent rise of Opera by Request(OBR) shows that the audience foropera in Toronto is still increasing.OBR Artistic Director William Shookhoffshared the company’s impressive statistics:“By June 2010 when we will break for thesummer, OBR will, in its short history, haveperformed 32 different operas in a total of 45performances. I haven’t totalled up the numberof singers, but let us conservatively estimate150. We have also enjoyedthe co-operative services of fourarea choirs, who have enhanceda number of performances. Cananyone else come close?”If we emphasize that thesehave all been full-length orone-act operas, the answer is“No.” This month OBR willpresent Verdi’s Un ballo inmaschera on March 5, Handel’sGiulio Cesare on March 12 andTchaikovsky’s Pique Dame onMarch 19. All operas are presentedin concert with Shookhoffat the piano.OBR presented its first performanceon March 3, 2007. Theidea came when two singers whom Shookhoffhad accompanied in a recital of operaexcerpts from La Traviata mentioned thatthey wished they could perform the entireopera. Shookhoff, a noted vocal coach, hadalways maintained that “singers study rolesall the time but they never really learn themproperly unless they perform them fully withthe other cast members.”What make OBR unusual is that all itsrepertoire is chosen by the singers themselves.All the box office returns go to thesingers. Two or more singers will come forwardwith a proposal for an opera and willthen seek out other singers to fill the remainingroles. What has developed is a form ofco-operative, which Shookhoff likes, “becausethe people are there supporting one another;they’re not doing it for me.” In somecases, though, when a singer is new to Torontoor to the country and has few connections,Shookhoff will step in to take amore active part in the casting – but otherwiseShookhoff views himself primarily as afacilitator.The concept has been so successful thatShookhoff now has to restrict how manyOBR shows there will be in a given year.In future he foresees creating a network ofCHRISTOPHER HOILETamara Hummelin Rolfe and Chai’sRosa, 2004.PHOTO MICHAEL COOPERmusic directors who can take on a greaternumber of operas. While the majority ofsingers are recent graduates of opera programmesaround the country, there are alsoveteran singers who have desire to performcertain roles. The singers benefit simply bybeing heard – which in some cases has led tocontracts – and by adding roles to their repertoire,which makes them more attractiveas understudies or short-notice replacements.As Shookhoff notes, “Good luck is whenpreparation meets opportunity.” For more informationabout OBR visit www.operabyrequest.ca.Meanwhile, Tapestry New Opera Worksis celebrating its 30th anniversary with aspecial edition of its popularOpera to Go series. All fiveshort works will be remountsfrom past seasons. The programmeconsists of The Laurels(2002) by Jeffrey Ryan toa libretto by Michael LewisMacLennan; The Colony(2008) by Kevin Morse to a librettoby Lisa Codrington;Ashlike on the Cradle of theWind (2006) by Andrew Stanilandto a libretto by Jill Battison;Rosa (2004) by JamesRolfe to a libretto by CamyarChai; and Ice Time by ChanKa Nin to a libretto by MarkBrownell. As usual, all fivewill be directed by Tom Diamond, with artisticdirector Wayne Strongman at the podium.The quartet of singers are Tapestry favourites:soprano Xin Wang, mezzo Krisztina Szabó,tenor Keith Klassen and baritone PeterMcGillivray. The performances take placeMarch 24-26 in the Fermenting Cellar in theDistillery District. For more information visitwww.tapestrynewopera.com.According to Strongman, many considerationswent into choosing which works to include.First was the desire to reflect boththe range of styles of opera, and the historyof the series (which has led to similarprogrammes in Scotland and South Africa).Second was to provide showcases forthe Opera to Go ensemble. Strongman is stillglowing from having been named to the Orderof Canada last December, cited for “hisinnovative contributions as the founding artisticdirector of Tapestry New Opera Works;as the long-time volunteer choral directorfor the Regent Park School of Music; and asa champion of Canadian composers.” Congratulationsfor such a well-deserved honour!Christopher Hoile is a Toronto-basedwriter on opera. He can be contactedat: opera@thewholenote.com.March 1 - April 7, 2010 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM 11

Volume 26 (2020- )

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