Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky brings Donizetti’s ‘Three Queens’ together in Lyric concert
Sondra Radvanovsky is no stranger to difficult operatic royalty.
The Berwyn-born Radvanovsky, a former St. Charles resident, is one of the few sopranos to have sung all three queens of 19th century Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti’s unofficial “Tudor Trilogy” in the same season. She mastered this feat at The Metropolitan Opera in 2016 by taking on the title queens of “Anna Bolena” (Anne Boleyn) written in 1830, “Maria Stuarda” (Mary, Queen of Scots) from 1835 and Queen Elizabeth I in “Roberto Devereux” from 1837.
Radvanovsky revisits these vocally challenging monarchs once again with “The Three Queens” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The semi-staged concerts — on Dec. 1, 4 and 7 — feature the overtures and the execution finales of each opera.
Radvanovsky said the idea of “The Three Queens” originated with Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza when they collaborated on Bellini’s “Norma” at the Lyric in 2017. Frizza had previously conducted Radvanovsky for her historic 2016 Metropolitan Opera run of “Maria Stuarda.”
“(Frizza) said, ‘You’re so spectacular in these roles. Why don’t we do a concert version?'” Radvanovsky said. “And just do, in our opinion, the best music of each three of these operas?”
Radvanovsky was intrigued, but thought the three-in-one concert would be a hard sell. To her surprise, Lyric Opera of Chicago general director Anthony Freud immediately came aboard — as have other European and North American companies for future seasons.
“(Freud) said, ‘We would love to be the first,'” Radvanovsky said. “And I said, ‘We wouldn’t have it any other way.'”
Chicago audiences have already experienced Radvanovsky as a full Tudor-era queen when she performed “Anna Bolena” at the Lyric in 2014. She is now eager to share the other two queens in concert form with the full Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, plus members of the Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center in supporting roles.
Director Matthew Ozawa’s “The Three Queens” production also features historical text and projections during the overtures to get audiences up to speed on each royal’s back story. And Radvanovsky will wear historically inspired gowns by designer Rubin Singer, who designed the 2013 Super Bowl outfit for Beyoncé.
Radvanovsky knows that die-hard opera fans will compare her to the late Beverly Sills, who sang the Tudor Trilogy for New York City Opera in 1970. Both Radvanovsky and Sills’ performances in the first two operas were captured in audio formats, and both were preserved on video with “Roberto Devereux.”
“It’s where my voice likes to live,” said Radvanovsky about singing Donizetti versus heavier vocal repertory. “It’s more like medicine for my voice after singing ‘Andrea Chenier’ or ‘Rusalka’ or ‘Tosca.'”
With her mother and brother living in Geneva, not far from where she grew up in St. Charles, Radvanovsky is happy to have “The Three Queens” debut at the Lyric as one of her two hometown opera companies. Radvanovsky’s other one is Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, where she has lived with her Canadian husband and business manager, Duncan Lear, for nearly two decades.
“I think this is a great concert, not just for opera lovers, but music lovers in that it’s a visual and aural feast,” Radvanovsky said. “And for anyone who loves Tudor history and the British royals.”
• • •
Sondra Radvanovsky in “The Three Queens”
Location: Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, (312) 827-5600 or lyricopera.org.
Showtimes: 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1; 7 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, Dec. 4 and 7; sung in Italian with projected English translations