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Up close and personal

The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre of the Four Seasons Centre
12/14/2010 -  
Giacomo Puccini: "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi– "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca – "Senza Mamma" from Suor Angelica
Giuseppe Verdi: "D’Amore sull’ali rosee" from Il Trovatore – "Ecco l'orrida campo...Ma dall'orida stelo divulsa" from Un Ballo in Maschera

Sondra Radvanovsky (soprano), Liz Upchurch (piano)

S. Radvanovsky & L. Upchurch (© Chris Hutcheson)

The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre is a unique civic treasure. It rises between the third and fourth levels of the main lobby space of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. All that separates the audience from the street is a great glass wall outside of which the city’s traffic (and weather) swirls while the music plays.

This is where pre-performance chats take place, as well as a series of free hour-long performances, mostly at noon hours, covering an eclectic array of music and even dance: vocal recitals, solo instrumentalists, chamber ensembles, jazz, world music, etc. Its aim is to make the theatre a highly visible and accessible place for both music lovers and the merely curious. It is a great success, so much so that an anonymous donor has established a two million dollar endowment for the series, which this season presents 79 concerts.

The space seats about 120 but double that number can be accommodated for events of extra-special interest, such as this recital by Sondra Radvanovsky. She firmly established herself as an audience favourite in the recent Canadian Opera Company production of Aïda (her role debut) and, since she lives in the Toronto area, she made herself available for the noon hour gig during a break from her international commitments. The informal atmosphere was enhanced by her comments introducing each number.

She opened with "O mio babbino caro", the first aria she sang at a competition at age 16. As in all the arias on the program, she gave a full-out performance in the relatively intimate space. Everything was carried through with a wonderful line and marvelous detail. Her warm voice is almost too opulent for this teenager’s plea.

The second piece was "Vissi d’arte" from Tosca, a role she has recently added to her repertoire (and which she will be singing, making a self-described “shameless plug”, at the Met soon). She also noted that at age 11 she declared a determination to be an opera singer after seeing Tosca on television in a production from Verona with Eva Marton and Placido Domingo. Let’s hope she is available for a rerun of the COC’s 2007 production of this opera.

Next up, "D’Amor sull’ali rosee" from Il Trovatore, an opera that might well be considered her calling card. The demanding trills and pianissimi were all in place.

This was followed by the longest selection, "Ecco l’orrido campo...Ma dall’arida stelo divulsa" from Un Ballo in Maschera, a role she recently debuted in Chicago. This is a big dramatic scene and she gave a suitably intense reading of it.

The final number was a heartfelt "Senza Mamma" from Suor Angelica, a role she performed in Los Angeles in 2008 in a production she fondly remembers.

Five arias from a fine singer is a wonderful noon hour treat, but they don’t fill an hour. The rest of the time was devoted to a Q & A session which was more of a schmoozfest, with candid accounts of her training, her apprenticeship at the Metropolitan Opera, her age (41 - it’s impossible to be coy about this in the information age) and on production styles. News flash: she will be adding the role of Norma to her repertoire soon (in Oveido, Spain) and hinted that it is also planned for “a theatre nearby”.

To sum it up, here was a superb singer at the top of her form frankly enjoying giving fans a real treat. Liz Upchurch (who heads the COC’s Studio Ensemble), gave solid and sensitive accompaniment throughout.

Michael Johnson



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