When Carlo Rizzi raises his baton to lead the Met Opera Orchestra in “The Star-Spangled Banner” to open the Met’s new season on Monday night, Sondra Radvanovsky will be in the wings waiting to return to the role that vaulted her into the pantheon of bel canto divas.
It will be a crowning moment for the Illinois-born soprano whose superstardom shines all the brighter for not being one of those meteoric fairy tales of which opera buffs are so fond and so many of which burn out and fade all too soon. Radvanovsky has paid her dues.
It was just over 20 years ago that Radvanovksy made her Metropolitan Opera debut as the Countess Ceprano in a performance of Rigoletto, one year after she won the 1995 Met Opera National Council Auditions. Since then Radvanovksy has sung in some 200 performances at the Met in 27 different roles, and along the way established a reputation as a leading Verdi soprano, not only at the Met but in opera houses around the world.
But it was in the 2013-14 season that she sang Norma at the Met for the first time and at the curtain a cascade of “bravas” rained down from a standing, cheering audience. She has been at the top ever since.
Verdi sopranos do not often make the transition to bel canto roles easily, and it was only after Radvanovksy had a polyp removed from a vocal cord that she began to undertake them. It was a long process in which she basically had to re-learn to sing, but the effort rewarded her. She is now the reigning bel canto soprano of her time as well as continuing to be in demand for the Verdi roles for which she was first famous.
If there was ever any suggestion that her Norma was an exception, Radvanovksy returned in the 2015-16 season to sing all three starring parts in the Donizetti’s so-called Tudor trilogy – the title roles in Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda and Queen Elizabeth I in Roberto Devereux – the first time a soprano had undertaken all three in one season at the Met. Once again, she brought the house down.
The Norma that will open the Met season Monday night is a new production, yet another by Sir David McVicar, the Scottish opera and theater director who has become the main go-to guy for Met general manager Peter Gelb, and one with whom Radvanovsky has worked many times over the years in some of the soprano’s biggest triumphs.
Not least of those triumphs was the Tudor trilogy, all three of which were McVicar productions. But their collaboration goes back to McVicar’s 2009 staging of Il Trovatore at the Met in which Radvanovksy sang Leonora.
The coming season will be something of a McVicar year at the Met. He is also staging a new production of Tosca to replace a staging by Luc Bondy that opened to boos and scathing reviews (and that also premiered in the same 2009 season as McVicar’s acclaimed Trovatore).
The new Tosca will star Sonya Yoncheva, the brilliant Bulgarian soprano who is also having a headline year at the Met this season, singing three leading roles – Tosca, Mimi in La Boheme, and the title role of Luisa Miller.
The Met is making all this star power available to audiences around the world through its Live in HD showings in over 2,000 theaters in some 70 countries. All three of Yoncheva’s performances will be telecast as will Radvanovsky’s Norma.
Movie audiences will also get to see a Met premiere when The Exterminating Angel is shown. The Thomas Ades opera, inspired by a Luis Bunuel film, follows the composer’s successful operatic version of The Tempest, which was staged at the Met five years ago.
And the exciting Mexican tenor Javier Camarena will sing in the revival of Rossini’s Semiramide, with the soprano Angela Meade in the title role of the Babylonian Queen.