Sunday, January 18, 2009

Advice: Sondra Radvanovsky


In this month’s Opera News is an article about Sondra Radvanovsky that asks the question, “So why isn’t her star shining brighter?” She has a wonderful voice, excellent technique, good visual presence—I thought she was pretty and winsome, as a proper Roxane should be in Cyrano de Bergerac—and more than adequate power for Verdi. Why isn’t she a superstar?

Perhaps this question could be addressed by comparing her to Leontyne Price. Price transformed Verdi into a brother. (Is this best called a bro?) Who knew that Verdi had soul until Leontyne showed us? She was fearless and daring, and her Verdi made goose bumps stand up on your neck.

To be truly great you must transform the music into your own. The first phrase of any piece should tell us who is singing. Genius is idiosyncratic. People talk about the singer’s voice, as though that was all there was. Sondra has a terrific voice, but a substantial percentage of the time the phrases just lay there. To acquire a proper perspective consider that none of the notes are ever allowed to just lay there. Technique is not only not everything, it is just the foundation. It is still left to make music,

It is curious to me to read that Natalie Dessay never thinks about the music. Her singing is very musical, but the musical expression comes to her through thinking about the action. For her this is a valid path. Her emotional insights play out into musical as well as theatrical expression.

I’ll take whatever path works for you.

Kathleen Battle uses coaches. Renée Fleming uses coaches. Cecilia seems to be adequately idiosyncratic on her own. This remarkable film of a young Angela Gheorghiu shows that she comes out of the box with her musical personality fully formed.

Dig deeper. Find your own voice. Find out who Sondra Radvanovsky really is, and tell it to us.

3 comments:

Z said...

I agree. We saw Sondra in Il Trovotore in Chicago, and her voice was great, but the performance was just so flat. There was no fire, no life.

fmoscat1 said...

Curious, Dr. B. I totally agree with your analysis but come to the diametric opposite conclusion.
I know Natalie Dessay never thinks about the music. She always wanted to be a great actress and uses singing to that end. Listen to her on disc, however. Something complex like the Motzart arias. Listen to her Vorrei spiegar and compare it to other great sopranos in that genre. It doesn't hold up. Technique wins over style for me every time. We have seen Dessay and Radvanofsky live many times, and while Natalie is a delightful master of her art, Sondra sends me to the moon. She deserves to be a super star too. Singing actress... actress singer... we need them both.

Dr.B said...

Natalie probably meant that she doesn't think about the music while she's performing it. Which is fine.