Art Talk with soprano Sondra Radvanovsky
Sondra Radvanovsky. Image courtesy of Ms. Radvanovsky
"Singing really is my drug of choice!" --- Sondra Radvanovsky
According to Illinois native Sondra Radvanovsky, she fell in love with music thanks to a timely purchase by her mother of a Karen Carpenter record. Music is still Radvanovsky's passion, though she's traded in pop music for a life in opera. Her extensive repertoire includes Leonora in Il Trovatore and Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera---both by Giuseppe Verdi---and the title roles in Gaetano Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia and Antonín Dvo?ák's Rusalka, among many others. As described by NPR's Tom Huizenga, "[Radvanosky's] voice is really big....yet she knows how to harness that power." We spoke with the soprano via e-mail about the artist's life.
NEA: What do you remember as your earliest experience with the arts?
SONDRA RADVANOVSKY: I would have to say that my very first encounter with the arts was when my mother bought me my first record player when I was six years old as well as a Karen Carpenter record. I fell in love with her voice and sang along with it night and day....in tune! But I guess my first professional experience was when my church choir director told my mother that I had a gift with my voice and said that I should think about auditioning, at 11 years old, for the chorus of our regional opera company. So I did, and was cast as a smoke girl in our production of Carmen---and I had no idea how to even hold a cigarette!
NEA: Whats your version of the artists life?
RADVANOVSKY: If you are asking what is my version of my daily life, I would have to sum it up in just a few words: much hard work as well as much gratification when I hear how I have touched peoples lives for a few, brief hours during an opera.
NEA: What do you consider your first success as a singer? The moment, perhaps, when you knew a career in the arts, and in your chosen discipline, was possible?
RADVANOVSKY: For sure one moment really defined the path that I was to take in the future, and that was when I won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in New York in April of 1995. I had just turned 25 two days before the finals concert and, when I won, I had no idea how my life would change because of it. I was offered a position in the Young Artists Program at the Metropolitan Opera following that and it has just grown since then. How lucky have I been!
NEA: Why do you think we---the general publicneed opera? Why do you need opera?
RADVANOVSKY: I would hope it is because [the general public] loves the music and the singing and are transported and are given respite from their daily problems for a few hours while we are on stage making music and beauty. And I need opera because it is in my blood and soul. I truly think it is what I was supposed to do in this life of mine and am happier than ever when I am on stage singing and acting. Singing really is my drug of choice!
NEA: How do you think we should measure the value of artworks---whether it's a libretto, a work of visual art, a performance, etc.?
RADVANOVSKY: I think a person should only value it on how much they like or dislike it. Art, in all forms, is a very personal experience and I truly believe that if a reviewer tells you that a certain Monet or that Chagall is a brilliant piece of art and you look at it and go, "Well....not so much," then it isn't valuable to you personally. The same goes with opera and singing, I feel. The human voice is very individual and causes many instant emotions in people---either like or dislike---but the immediate, initial emotion is always there. That is what I think people should measure the value of singing upon.
NEA: What do you think is the role of the artist in the community?
RADVANOVSKY: Being given a gift, it is my responsibility to constantly work on that gift and to provide those wanting to hear me sing the best possible experience on that given day. Also, I do feel it is my role to spread and share my experiences and knowledge with young, upcoming artists.
NEA: Conversely, what do you think is the responsibility of the community to the artist?
RADVANOVSKY: To keep the art form of opera alive by supporting it and attending their local opera companies as well as opera in move theaters.
NEA: When we interviewed Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington he said, I try to know as many of the things that are missing from our world of music as I possibly can I try to put the thrust of my time into realizing those things that arent yet part of our work but should be. When it comes to the field of opera---or even the arts as a whole---what things do you see as missing? What should be part of the work that opera artists are making that isnt yet there?
RADVANOVSKY: Opera is a changing art form, I feel, in this day and age. And to me the biggest hurdle we have to jump right now is funding, not just in North America but worldwide. In this day and age of limited financial resources, I fear that opera may slip between the cracks if serious funding is not in place for the future. Yes, private patrons can help, but I strongly feel that government funding must also be in place. And I feel this is also true for other forms of art in our society---dance, musical theater, as well as visual arts.
NEA: What's one thing you think we can do to get younger generations interested in the arts?
RADVANOVSKY: Well, besides having the funding in place to make arts accessible to all walks of life in schools all over the country, I would have to say getting the word out there that opera, for instance, is not a stuffy, highbrow art form. Opera tells stories that all ages can relate to: love, death, revenge, etc.