Radvanovsky Takes on the Star-crossed ‘Anna Bolena’

Sondra Radvanovsky as Anna Bolena
Photo by Cade Martin
Sondra Radvanovsky as Anna Bolena

The great American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky admits she likes a challenge.

She’s taking one on now as she prepares to help open the Washington National Opera’s 2012-2013 season in the title role of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena,” a role described by critics as variously punishing and daunting.

“That’s a part I’ve always wanted to do, partly because it is a real challenge, but also because I like the character, the drama that’s at work,” Radvanovsky said in a phone interview last week. “And it is a mountain, let me tell you.”

At three hours plus, the classic bell canto opera is a long night out. “I’m on stage almost all of the time, and that can be really exhausting,” Radvanovsky said. “So, you have to be able to keep yourself fresh, you have to pace yourself, and you can’t let down.”

“Anna Bolena” takes itself up with the latter part of the troubled Queen of England’s life, when she is in disgrace, headed for the block, rejected and dropped by King Henry VIII as he consorts with another woman, Jane Seymour.

“It helps that audiences will be familiar with the characters, because there’s so much history there,” Radvanovsky said. She was an avid follower of the Showtime television series, “The Tudors,” and has done her research.

“It’s a true dramatic part,” she said. “I care very much about the acting, performance part of a role, as well as the music and singing. Maria Callas is my idol in that department. It’s not always just about technique, about the perfect notes, but about singing and acting a part.”

“Anna Bolena” is famous for a first-act duet which is unusual in that it’s a scene between the two rivals, Anna and Henry’s new bride-to-be. Plus, as there was in Donizetti’s “Lucia Di Lammermoor,” there is a mad scene.

Radvanovsky works almost all of the time and travels overseas for roles, taking her from Italy to Austria and Germany, not to mention in American opera houses all over the country. “I know that it sounds romantic to some people, all this jetting around and eating bon bons in hotel rooms,” she said. “It’s not like that. Truth is, it can wear you out.”

Some of the pressure of that kind of life is eased by the presence of her husband Duncan Lear, who is also her business manager and who travels with her. “Oh, my God, I could not do any of this without him,” Radvanovsky said. “But you know, you miss being at home, sleeping in bed, seeing our friends and neighbors, just being at home.” She is a Chicago native, who grew up in the Midwest, although she and her husband reside in Toronto.

For a worldwide opera star, especially at the Metropolitan Opera, who is known for being one of the outstanding interpreter of Verdi’s heroines, especially Leonora in “Il Trovatore,” Radvanovsky seems to have an affinity for Donizetti’s work. She has performed his so-called three queens—“Anna Bolena,” “Maria Stuarda” and Queen Elizabeth in “Roberto Deveareux,” not to mention “Tosca” to great effect. Donizetti and bell canto opera preceded Verdi and Wagner, but for Radvanosky, there’s not that much difference. “It’s a challenge for the voice, and I like to take on that kind of challenge, you can aim higher, always,” she said. “And the music is purely beautiful, you’ll see, it’s a joy to sing and to act the parts.”

Placido Domingo, the former WNO director and a huge opera star in his own right, was an early fan of her work. “We are great friends, he was a mentor in many ways,” Radvanovsky said. You can catch a YouTube clip of the two in concert, singing various arias and other compositions, including a turn at “Some Enchanted Evening” by Domingo.

She has heard the word diva on occasion about herself. “I take it for what it is, in a good way,” she says. “To me, it’s about the work and doing it right. I don’t see myself as a grand personality or anything like that. But I play and perform them, which is wonderful to be able to do.”

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Fri, 25 Jul 2014 08:52:34 -0400

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