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Sondra Borgianovsky

Sondra Radvanovsky in Lucrezia Borgia (with Vittorio Grigolo and Ruggero Raimondi in the background), Washington National Opera, photo by Karin Cooper
Sondra Radvanovsky in Lucrezia Borgia (with Vittorio Grigolo and Ruggero Raimondi in the background), Washington National Opera, photo by Karin Cooper
What did not get spent on the cast list of Washington National Opera's production of Les Pêcheurs de Perles went to the company's first staging of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, a star vehicle for Renée Fleming that was, by most accounts (including my own), a success without being a runaway hit for America's Soprano. Who could then resist the chance to hear the luxury "second casting" on Friday night? The only change in the line-up was another great American soprano, Sondra Radvanovsky, relieving La Fleming and more than holding her own. If neither singer is exactly a natural fit for the bel canto repertory, both brought strengths to the role as well as weaknesses.

Radvanovsky fits best in fuller, dramatic soprano territory like the Verdi heroines, such as Elvira in the Ernani where we last heard her, at the Met. She spent much of the "first act" (actually the Prologo) with a dark tone and over-compressed placement edging her pitch to the flat side. Nerves may have played havoc with her confidence and breath support, as some high notes sounded strained and she ran out of gas in sustained phrases (for example, on that endless high note in the finale of the Prologo). By the final scene, however, La Radvanovsky had settled in to the role, and she gave a stronger rendition of the show-stopping cabaletta "Era desso il figlio mio," although like Fleming without an interpolated high note at the end. She also appeared more in her skin than Fleming had, with greater flair in this most dramatic of roles, even owning that ridiculous male armored costume in the final scene.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, In One Weekend, a Double Dose of Donizetti (Washington Post, November 12)
It was certainly one of the highlights of this season to hear not one but two of America's leading sopranos assay this unusual and dramatic role, both for their debut on the company's stage. One can only congratulate Washington National Opera for staging this worthy opera for the first time: in return for the risk, all of Fleming's performances have long been sold out, although there are some tickets left for the two final performances with Radvanovsky, so get yours now. Most of the rest of the cast was as good as they were at opening night. Ruggero Raimondi was just as oily and villainous as Duke Alphonso, with his voice sounding more settled and robust this time.

Kate Aldrich was still a magma-voiced dynamo, one of the more convincing trouser performances in recent memory, although John Pascoe's homoerotic twist on the friendship of Gennaro and Orsini seemed just as ridiculous. It takes something that was subtle -- perhaps Donizetti did intend one to hear Gennaro and Orsini's duet as something tender -- and made it overt and clumsy. If anything, the conducting of Plácido Domingo was clumsier at the podium, with his oversights and sloppiness causing more than one mix-up in the ensemble. What particularly stood out as fine this time around was the male chorus, which has become a taut and strong ensemble under chorus master Ken Weiss. As for Vittorio Grigolo's Gennaro, there is a potentially fine instrument there, but signs of strain were already showing at Friday's performance. His duets with Radvanovsky and Aldrich, where his approach was more collaborative and subtle, had much to admire.

Performances of Lucrezia Borgia continue into next week, with Renée Fleming in the title role only one more time (November 11) and Sondra Radvanovsky twice (November 15 and 17 -- for which tickets remain).

1 comment:

Page said...

I was also at the performance on Friday evening after hearing the final dress the week before with Ms. Fleming. After attending the two performances with different lead sopranos, my companion and I both felt that Ms. Fleming "owned" Acts I and II, but Ms. Radvanovsky really sang better and appeared more comfortable than Ms. Fleming in Act III (as you mentioned, particularly in the costume with the giant boots!). Thanks for providing reviews of the performance of both leading ladies!