Is there anything soprano Sondra Radvanovsky can't do? Earlier this year, she blew people away as Elizabeth I in the Canadian Opera Company's production of "Roberto Devereux", as well as having played Elisabeth in "Don Carlos" and Leonora in "Il Trovatore", among numerous other demanding roles she's tackled with ease. And on June 5 at Roy Thomson Hall, she stole the spotlight with Richard Strauss's "Four Last Songs", backed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
The New York Times has called Radvanovsky a "soprano ascendant", and they're right on the mark. The 45-year-old soprano is making serious waves in the opera world for her strength, expressiveness and clarity, as well as being able to dig deep into the emotionality of music to convey it readily. How she arrives at the end result probably takes hours and hours of work on her end, but it looks so effortless from the listener's end, and that's just one of the signs of her greatness.
For her concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall the other night, Radvanovsky appeared after Mozart's Overture to "Don Giovannia" in an elegant emerald green ball gown, and wasted no time in diving right in. Although Verdi is her specialty, you'd never be able to know it from the way she articulated the notes and sung them with unparalleled power. My companion that night remarked upon the fact that Radvanovsky had the music in front of her; I queried back asking if eyes were closed, would you'd be able to hear a difference?
Music or no music in front of her, it didn't make a speck of difference. The soprano embraced Strauss's songs wholeheartedly, giving them an extra punch of sophistication. "Four Last Songs" was written for a soprano who could jump across the notes with ease, yet still retain power equally across the registers. To that end, it almost seemed as though Strauss wrote the music specifically for Radvanovsky. Her emotional vibrato, ability to sustain a note high and long, and intellectual interpretation all combined to make "Four Last Songs" a special treat at Roy Thomson Hall. And when her music was over all too soon, the audience gave her a rousing standing ovation three times, during which she look genuinely touched by the reaction.
The night wasn't entirely about Radvanovsky, though, as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra also tackled Mozart's "Overture" to Don Giovanni and Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé "Suites Nos. 1 & 2". The first suite, in particular, was thrilling to listen to, from the trilling woodwinds to the agile percussionists moving around to play various instruments. Maestro Peter Oundjian, as always, led them with near-impeccable timing and a soft hand, pulling out as much precision and emotion from his corps as possible.
As a treat, he led the orchestra in an encore that night, giving us a preview of what the musicians would be playing on their upcoming tour in Europe. He explained the music — Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dance No. 3 — as being one of the orchestra's favourites, and it was easy to see why. It's a complex piece that's easy to understand and listen to, with its evolving harmony lines consistently underscoring beautiful melodies.
But even with the extra bit of music, the night still belonged to Sondra Radvanovsky, whose performance was like an elegant, orchestral version of being crowned Homecoming Queen at her graduating prom.