Saturday, November 2, 2013

Misera te! Che festi?!

Sondra Radvanovksy and
Aleksandrs Antenenko
Photo: Beatriz Schiller,
Metropolitan Opera
I have been quite outspoken in the past about my opinions of Sondra Radvanovsky. I've said I thought she wasn't on the same technical level as some of her colleagues, and I thought she lacked polish and subtlety. Based on what I heard at the Met's final Norma performance of the season on November 1, I really must reconsider that opinion. While I stand by those opinions at those times, now I am forced to admit things have changed considerably.

Sondra Radvanovsky's Norma was a marvel. She has learned to use her huge, dark, luscious voice in ways that are surprisingly agile and free. None of the strain or unnecessary vocal choices I've heard before in the upper middle voice were there, and in fact, her voice was more even and free than I have ever heard it. The middle still has some "veil" to it and some metal--both appropriate to a huge voice. I heard her use a wide dynamic range, and in fact many times she brought back the sound to a piano that was thrilling. And what beauty in her high voice! Casta diva was a lesson in legato singing and control, and Ah bello, a me ritorna, the following cabaletta, was clear and passionate. Her coloratura singing, while not the 70 mile-per-hour singing we've heard from some divas, was clear and fast enough. Most importantly, we knew why all those flashy vocal passages were there--to convey heightened emotion, not merely to show off. I look forward to seeing how all the vocal work affects Ms. Radvanovsky's Verdi.

The opinions that several friends shared with me held true--Ms. Radvanovsky was the best thing in a pretty pedestrian production of Norma. While in the past I've written that she did not seem at the same level as the rest of the cast, this time I must say the rest of the cast were not at her level. Alksandrs Antenenko, Pollione, was certainly passionate and dashing, and had some lovely sounds, but overall his voice seemed uneven. I almost want to refer to his voices, plural. Kate Aldrich seemed to have bitten off more than she could chew with Adalgisa. Looking at the lyric roles she has performed, as listed in her program bio, one wonders why she was cast in a role historically associated with Fiorenza Cossotto, Giulietta Simionato, and Dolora Zajick. Her singing sounded over-produced to me, and she was hard to hear at times. And James Morris as Oroveso. I raved about his Claggart in Billy Budd, but his vocal quality does not fit Oroveso.

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus was excellent, as always, but dear Lord, they needed better direction than they got! Everyone needed better direction than they got from Stephen Pickover (in John Copley's 2001 production). It pains me as a Norma-phile to say this, but Sondra Radvanovsky was truly the best thing in this show, and some might say the only reason it was worth seeing. That's something I never thought you'd read in these pages.

James Morris, Sondra Radvanovksy, Aleksandrs Antenenko
Photo: Nicole Bengiveno, New York Times