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She’s the belle of the Met’s ‘Ballo,’ now onscreen

SondrRadvanovsky as AmeliVerdi's 'Un Ballo Maschera.'  (Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Taken November 1 2012 Metropolitan OperNew York City.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia in Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera." (Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) Taken November 1, 2012 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

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When: 11:55 a.m. Saturday

Where: Area cinemas, including City North

Tickets: $20-$25


Updated: January 8, 2013 6:12AM

Berwyn native Sondra Radvanovsky, now starring in Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, admits to stage jitters.

Especially when she’s singing before an in­ter­­­national audience of thousands, as will be the case Saturday when “Ballo” is simulcast to cinemas worldwide as part of the Met’s “Live in HD” series.

“Thinking about the mil­lions of people watching you close up adds to the stress,” said the soprano, in an interview last week from the Met offices. “It’s a sleepless night beforehand. Anyone who will tell you otherwise is lying,” she added with a laugh. “But also it brings out the best in the performers. The ‘Live in HD’ dates are often the best performances of the run. It brings the performers to a whole other level.”

Though “having a camera in your face complicates things,” she keeps focused on creating the best possible performance and avoids letting the video component affect her portrayal. “Maybe it’s not a problem for others but it’s a problem for me: Do you sing for the 4,000 in the house, who have paid to see you, or do you sing for the 250,000 have come to see you in the movie theaters? I am definitely more aware of my movement and facial expressions for the HD performances. But in the end, I remember that I was hired for me. First and foremost, I am a singer and then an actor second.”

As for other firsts, Rad­vanovsky, 43, is universally con­sidered “today’s most exciting Verdi spinto soprano,” as the magazine Opera Canada has noted. “Un Ballo in Maschera” offers one of opera’s greatest spinto roles: Amelia, the opera’s tragic heroine, wife of a count but the lover of a king, her husband’s best friend.

The Met’s new production of “Ballo,” directed by David Alden, and co-starring Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the count and Marcelo Alvarez as King Gustavo, marks only her second go-round as Amelia. Radvanovsky made her role debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago in its 2010 production, directed by another great spinto soprano, Ren­ata Scotto. “That was a wonderful experience,” she said. “It was a very traditional production, but in her interpretation, she viewed Amelia as being supremely dramatic.”

At Met, where Alden has updated the opera’s setting to the mid-20th century, with an ever-present mural of Icarus falling from the sky, “his take is also traditional but he puts a twist on it, especially for Gustavo and role of Icarus. There’s doom and gloom hanging over us at every moment. It really adds to the drama.”

Alden had a definite vision for this production, and kept his cast in check. “He was very specific and told us how he wanted us to do it,” she said. “It was very clear that ‘this is my idea,’ and we stuck to it. I don’t mind. I love being directed. I’m one of those performers who thinks the director should do what he’s supposed to do.”

Later this season, which marks the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth, Radvanovsky will sing Amelia again at the Vienna State Opera, and then at La Scala, which will reunite her with Alvarez. Though she’s known as a Verdi specialist, “a few roles have passed me by. I’ve never been offered the role of Desdemona in ‘Otello.’ I’m hoping to do it in the future, but some might think my voice has grown past that.”

Of all the great Verdi heroines, her favorite remains the Swiss miss of “Luisa Miller.” “I love this opera. In other Verdi operas, the heroine is usually secondary. But ‘Luisa Miller’ is all about me,” she said with a laugh. “It’s much better than ‘Don Carlo,’ where the queen is swept under the rug until the last act.”

Radvanovsky sang “Luisa Miller” a few seasons back at the Met and also at the Spoleto Festival in 2000. She hopes the Verdi bicentennial will renew interest in the rarely staged “Luisa,” which “has sadly gone by the wayside. I’m going to talk soon to [Met general manager] Peter Gelb about upcoming roles, and I’d love to have him program it again. Also, I’d love to sing it at Lyric Opera — are you listening, Anthony Freud?”

Between engagements, Radvanovsky will return to the Met as the “Live in HD” host for the March 16 simulcast of Zandonai’s “Francesca da Rimini,” another rarity. She enjoys serving as a “Live in HD” host. “It’s so much less pressure, as opposed to singing! I feel I have a lot to bring to it. I understand the pressures of being onstage and can help relate that to the audience.”

Meanwhile, “Ballo” reunites her with old friends. “The whole cast is the same as the ‘Live in HD’ performance of ‘Il Trovatore’ from April 2011, only with Stephanie Blythe [as Ulrica] replacing Dolora Zajick. It’s funny, you run into same people over and over in the opera world. It’s always like family time.”

More from Sondra:

On the impact of the “Live in HD” series:

“What Peter Gelb has done is brilliant. It has made other opera companies follow in the Met’s footsteps. Now Covent Garden, La Scala and others are all adding simulcasts. Not everyone can afford to come to New York City, with the cost of the tickets, airfare and hotel. People write to me on my fan page, saying, ‘Thank you for the simulcasts.’ Many can’t travel or have other circumstances that keep them from coming to the house.

“So ‘Live in HD’ is bringing opera to the masses. It’s helping to keep opera alive but also introducing it to kids and other new audiences. I don’t think the HD is taking away from the experience. To hear opera live is a visceral thing. There’s nothing like it. But ‘Live in HD’ is an important complement and just adds to operagoers’ appreciation.”

On working with Dmitri Hvorostovsky, with whom she recorded the duet disc “Verdi Opera Scenes” (2011):

“He’s always a joy, and often hilarious. During our performance last night, Dmitri was making faces at me in ‘Morrò, ma prima in grazia’ [Amelia’s Act 3 showcase aria]. We are like children onstage. You have to be, you can’t things too seriously.”

On what inspired her to go into opera:

“I have to thank Placido Domingo. When I was growing up, I saw him singing on TV [in Puccini’s “Tosca” on the PBS series “Great Performances”], and I thought, what’s that? How wonderful. So I have to also thank PBS. Thank goodness they’ve kept their funding because that’s where I got my first exposure to opera.”

On how a gal from Berwyn becomes a diva:

“I must admit, Berwyn is not the heart of the opera world. But I had great support from my parents. My mom noticed at an early age I was interested in music, which for me started with listening to hits by Karen Carpenter — who’s probably not the best example for an opera singer. I also sang in church, where the choir director told my parents, ‘This girl has been given a gift.’ That allowed me to grow and flourish.”

On what inspired her to go into opera:

“I have to thank Placido Domingo. When I was growing up, I saw him singing on TV [in Puccini’s “Tosca” on the PBS series “Great Performances”], and I thought, what’s that? How wonderful. So I have to also thank PBS. Thank goodness they’ve kept their funding because that’s where I got my first exposure to opera.”

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