March 06, 2019

Sondra Radvanovsky: The Norma of Our Time

Some artists are clearly born to perform certain roles.  The extraordinary soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is clearly the Norma of our time.

Sondra, originally from Berwyn and now a globetrotting Canadian citizen, has triumphed as the fiery Druid princess Norma at the Met and in San Francisco, Munich, Barcelona, and Toronto.  She calls this her “perfect role vocally and temperamentally.” 

Critics and audiences alike swoon for her portrayal. 

When Sondra sang her inaugural American performance at the Met in 2013, The New York Times called her “dramatically and vocally arresting….She wielded her full-bodied dramatic soprano, with its distinctive dark-hued timbre and vibrato, to potent effect…her top notes ringing and powerful, her middle range velvety, her coloratura nimble and her phrasing elegant. Her dynamic control was striking, with alluring pianissimos that contrasted with the passion of her singing at its most vigorous. Dramatically, her portrayal was nuanced and arresting.”

And she’s only gotten better since then.

As The Globe and Mail raved of her autumn performances, “The now-Canadian diva…gave a reading of the role which is the kind of performance that could be talked about for generations. In the Callas, Sutherland, Caballe category — an intensely thrilling, spine-chilling demonstration of a great artist at the peak of her powers, an exhilarating, blissful performance….Radvanovsky, like Callas, is a supremely gifted actor as well as singer, and her Norma is a theatrical as well as a vocal marvel. The Radvanovsky voice is so unusual in its depth, so flexible and controlled in its dynamic range and palette of vocal colors. But not a single note, not a single pianissimo opening to full forte, not the most demanding run or simplest declamation, is ever used in this production except to expose Norma’s character and her ridiculously wide emotional range. Norma is the great soprano role not just because it’s so hard to sing, but because every emotion imaginable is expected of the character — betrayal, love, jealousy, maternal affection, warlike leadership — and in Radvanovsky’s portrayal, we heard every one….A performance to resonate for a lifetime.”

Well, WOW.

Musical Toronto called Norma “the most highly anticipated event” of the season, and declared Sondra “the definitive Norma of our time. The role of Norma is incredibly challenging, a veritable Mount Everest of spinto-dramatic soprano roles, on par with Isolde, Brunnhilde and Aida. It would not be an exaggeration to say the opening night audience witnessed a performance for the ages. Radvanovsky was in magnificent form. Right from the beginning, with the recitative before the beginning of ‘Casta diva,’ the soprano offered up the most astonishing high pianissimos, sometimes held for what seemed like an eternity. We have not heard such technique since the era of the great Spanish diva Montserrat Caballe….Radvanovsky’s ethereal high notes seemed to hang in the air. In the aria proper, her rock solid legato and long breath-line were stunning. The cabaletta that followed showed off her agility, not to mention her fortissimos with all the power and dramatic acuity one would want.” Subsequently, “Radvanovsky was dramatically convincing as a woman scorned, with a kaleidoscope of emotions ranging from rage, anger, jealousy, hatred, vengeance, bitterness, stoicism, motherly love, and finally resignation and a sense of peace. Through it all, the soprano offered up the most impeccable vocalism. It was an astoundingly accomplished performance…. this was Sondra Radvanovsky’s show and she scored a total triumph.”

For a truly unforgettable experience in the new year, be sure to join us for Norma at Lyric, January 28 through February 24.

New Lyric Opera coproduction of Bellini’s Norma generously made possible by

Julie and Roger Baskes

Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation

Estate of Venrice R. Palmer

Coproduction with San Francisco Opera, Canadian Opera Company, and Gran Teatre del Liceu.

Photos: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera