ShowOne Productions’ ITALIAN OPERA SPECTACULAR! reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

March 20, 2010, Roy Thompson Hall, Toronto.

Hvorostovsky alone onstage in a form-fitting velvet suit compels the eye with the perfection of a Dresden china doll. His Aria, “Resta immobile” from the third act of Rossini’s William Tell is the hero commanding his son to stand still while he shoots the apple off his head. The music pours out of Hvorostovsky like the tones of a polished mahogany organ. He gallantly escorts Sondra Radvanovsky to centre-stage and leaves her to sing Verdi’s “Ernani, Ernani involami,” Elvira’s appeal as the sun sets for her lover to save her from a forced marriage. As the orchestra, conducted by Constantine Orbelian, introduces the aria, Radvanovsky visibly merges with her role. Her voice is kaleidoscopic, reflecting Elvira’s desperation, passion, vulnerability, and the power of her character’s integrity. There is a natural simplicity to her gift that brings to mind Callas at her best.

The program, focused on Verdi, showcases the dramatic and melodic beauty of Italian opera that brings one to feel glimpses of the sublime, of the larger-than-life. Hvorostovsky dramatizes Don Carlos (La Forza del Destino) discovering that the friend who saved his life seduced his sister; Radvanovsky’s “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s Rusalka is totally naked in it’s tender longing. In the duets from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Un Ballo in Maschera, a father and long-lost daughter are reunited , and in the latter a disgraced woman begs her husband to spare her life. The beauty of the music invites us to allow the larger-than-life drama to serve as a perspective for the dramas in our own lives. The “Finale” duet from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in which Tatyana walks away from Onegin, the unworthy man she secretly loves, is Horostovsky’s most ‘alive’ performance: his sensitive vocal shadings compensate for his statuesque stage manner.

In a way, the dramatic limitations of Horostovsky—the ‘recitalist’—highlight the thrilling fullness of Radvanovsky’s artistry. As their tour continues through North America, audiences will decide whether they belong in the company of the great recitalist couples: Netrebko and Villazon, Alagna and Gheorghiu, Callas and di Stefano. What most interests me is that Radvanovsky will make her Toronto operatic debut next season as the COC’s Aida.

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