American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky returned Saturday evening to Los Angeles Opera for a one night only recital of songs and arias by Beethoven, Verdi, Rachmaninov, Duparc, Massenet, and Copland. The varied program, sung in four different languages, showcased the rich, dark and very ample voice of Radvanovsky to excellent effect. In between the numbers, the soprano chatted with the audience about the musical selections and the significance to her career.
She opened with Beethoven’s bravura concert aria “Ah Perfido,” a sort of concerto for spurned woman—different sections highlighting the unfortunate woman’s changing moods. A show-stopping start to the evening! Radvanovsky is widely known for her Verdi and the second set consisted of three Verdi songs, ending with a suitably earthy “Stornello” She sang a series of Rachmaninov songs in tribute to her Russian ancestry, “Oh, never sing to me again,” (to text by Pushkin) a particular highlight and a showpiece for both the soprano and her accompanist Anthony Manoli. The first half of the program ended with Leonora’s soaring aria “Pace, pace, mio Dio!” from La Forza del Destino, a performance which made me yearn to hear her in the complete opera.
The second half opened with three songs of Duparc, followed by a magnificent rendition of the aria “Pleurez mes yeux!” from Le Cid which was dedicated to the French baritone Martial Singher, one of her early teachers. Three Copland songs, dedicated to her father, brought the evening’s most touching moment. A few measures into the second song selection, “A Long Time Ago,” Radvanovsky choked up and had to take a moment to compose herself. The song was a favorite of her father’s and he had died while she was attending school here in Los Angeles, she explained. She resumed her composure and brought a sweet simplicity to the song, beautifully scaling back her magificent voice. The program ended with the Bolero from Verdi’s opera I Vespri Siciliani, crowned with a huge, ringing E flat that brought the entire audience to its feet.
She returned to the stage almost immediately and delivered as an encore, the aria “Io son l’umile ancella” (“I am the humble servant of the creative spirit”) from Cilea’s opera Adriana Lecouvreur, lovely and with an otherworldly diminuendo on the final note. The encore brought everyone to their feet again, and Radvanovsky returned with a second encore, “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Perhaps not a natural Eliza, but she delivered another showstopper and by this point, the audience was not going to let her leave. She was happy to stay on, too, and delivered two Puccini arias—“Vissi d’Arte” from Tosca and “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi, both sung with superb dynamic control—for her third and fourth encores.
There was a time when vocal recitals by opera stars were commonplace. They provided singers with a showcase for their talents and audiences with the opportunity to hear great singers in a wide range of music. I wish they had remained commonplace. But given that there were some empty seats, perhaps L.A. Opera is wise not to schedule them more often. What a terrible shame! This was a commanding performance by a major artist at the height of her powers and anyone who loves opera should have been there to see it. It was a thrilling evening, one of the best musical nights I have spent in recent memory and an unqualified triumph for Sondra Radvanovsky. Brava!
Go to Sondra’s website for more information on her career plus past and future performances.
Review by Jeffrey Roberts.