Walewska in Trovatore
Kelsey in Trovatore

Sondra Radvanovsky Interview

Radvanovsky-martin Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky (pictured left in costume by Jai Alltizer for the current SF Opera production, photograph from John F. Martin) just had her San Francisco Opera debut singing Leonora in Il Trovatore. She sings two more performances and will be signing her first CD in the SF Opera Gift Shop tomorrow. The Opera Tattler spoke to Radvanovsky today in San Francisco as many costumed participants of LovEvolution made their way to Civic Center. Radvanovsky was perfectly on time, but was sporting a brace on her right ankle.

O no! What happened?
Someone tried to snatch my purse outside of Walgreen's (on Van Ness Avenue) last night, but I got him good. Unfortunately, I did sprain my ankle.

You are definitely the wrong person to mess with, you are obviously really tough. The Trovatore you are in seems very physical.
I do get thrown around quite a bit in the production! But I can take it, as singers, our bodies are our instruments, so I do take care of myself. I have a trainer and go to the gym.

How does it work with having different cast members come in? I know that Malgorzata Walewska and Quinn Kelsey are filling in for Stephanie Blythe and Dmitri Hvorostovsky at various points.
What often happens is that we get a pick-up rehearsal, but in this case, no, I haven't rehearsed with Quinn, so it will be exciting to see what happens! For Malgorzata, she was in the early rehearsals before Stephanie arrived, but that was 3 weeks ago.

You have sung Leonora quite a bit, for instance, you just sang it at the Met, and I heard you sing that role at LA Opera in 2004. Does it ever get dull?
I always find something new within the role, but tomorrow will be my 26th Trovatore since January, and Tuesday will be the 27th!

I bet you are ready to take on Ernani!
Yes, I head to Chicago on Wednesday to rehearse at Lyric Opera. Then I'm off to Paris for Don Carlo. I won't sing Trovatore for a year and a half when I sing Leonora at the Met again.

Your first experience of opera was hearing Eva Marton and Plácido Domingo sing Tosca at age eleven. Did you come from a musical family?
That's right, Placido at Arena di Verona, on television! I told my mother that I wanted to do that, and started voice lessons at that age. There are no musicians in my family. My mother is admittedly tone-deaf, and my brother isn't a musician either, though he likes music. My father, before he died, liked hearing me sing, but also didn't have a background in music. I always liked singing though, when I was a kid my mother bought me a Karen Carpenter record that I like to sing along with. I actually started off as a lyric mezzo, singing things like Cherubino, and then at 19 my voice just changed and suddenly I was a coloratura soprano. [Laughs]

It must have been amazing for you to sing with Domingo.
When I was 35 I sang Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac opposite of Domingo at the Met. It was a lifelong dream of mine and was incredible. Domingo has always been very supportive of me, he has only said positive things to me, even when my voice was "half-baked," as I call it. I used to get frustrated and ask when my voice would "finish baking", and he would tell me it would come, and he was right.

When do you think that happened for you?
It was Bill Friedkin's production of Suor Angelica last year in Los Angeles, that was the turning point when things really picked up for me. I felt comfortable in myself, and it was really the right opera at the right time.

It was an amazing performance you gave of Suor Angelica, and the whole set of operas was excellent. Have you sung that role before and are you singing it again?
Thank you! That was the first time I sang that role and I am doing it again in Spain in a few years, along with singing Giorgetta in Il Tabarro.

Do you think you'll ever sing all three roles in Il Trittico, like what Patricia Racette is doing right now?
No, I don't think so, perhaps if they were ordered differently it would be a possibility. It just seems like it would be very difficult both vocally and dramatically to sing the light part of Lauretta after turning yourself inside out for Angelica.

You have ties to Los Angeles, didn't you go to UCLA?
I went to both UCLA and USC. I started off at SC, and was there for 2 years for voice, but I had problems with my voice teacher there. So I ended up studying privately with Martial Singher in Santa Barbara, but doing a double major at UCLA in theater and voice. I was there for 3 years.

So that's why you move so well!
I learned a lot about how to act, how to hold myself, I even had to take dance. I had 2 left feet and now I have 1 and a half left feet instead! [Laughs] It is becoming increasingly the case that opera singers have to be a complete package.

Do you feel pressure about your looks?
Yes, of course. As singers we are out in the public eye and are scrutinized, it is part of the job.

How do you think a younger audience can be drawn to the opera? I can't help but notice you have a publicist that is a blogger, that you have a Facebook page, and you did a podcast for LA Opera.
Yes, we are going to launch a new web site with all the bells and whistles, and I am just starting out with Facebook too. Technology is part of it, like with the Met in movie theaters, and the SF Opera simulcast of Il Trovatore. Opera is not just for elitists, and it should be brought to as many people as possible, like the Opera in the Park that SF Opera did last month. Opera also needs to be modernized, has to speak to the younger people, and be believable to them. At the same time, new productions have to make sense, there has to be a reason for the choices made besides just being shocking.

Are you going to be in any of the Met simulcasts?.
Yes, I'm going to be in Il Trovatore, and I believe it is being broadcast in April of 2011.

Do you teach at all?
I do give master classes when I perform in the United States. I was in a young artists program at the Met, so often times younger artists have a lot of questions for me about how to get started. Yesterday I gave a class to the Adlers, and they are such a talented bunch. The class was supposed to be 2 hours, but it went on for 3, but it is a passion of mine, to help educate young singers.

You are booked until 2014-2015, that is just crazy, how much in advance you have to schedule. What are you looking forward to?
I will be singing Tosca and Aida at the Met. I'll also be singing a lot of Bel Canto, I've been learning a lot of music lately, and will be singing Norma and Donizetti's "Three Queens."