When the venue for a Rosenblatt Recital is scheduled to be anything other than the Wigmore Hall, one knows that a world class singer has been booked. The last time we moved to the Cadogan Hall was for a performance given by veteran baritone Leo Nucci; on this occasion it was for the London recital debut of Sondra Radvanovsky, a favourite at The Met for her assumption of some of the most difficult roles in Italian opera, including the title role of Norma.

Sondra Radvanovsky © Jonathan Rose
Sondra Radvanovsky
© Jonathan Rose
Her programme was nothing if not varied. No-one could complain about a sense of repetition in a concert that started with Vivaldi, charged through to Barber and concluded with Giordano. There was a degree of experimentation too. Radvanovsky has done little with the German repertoire, but elected to try four Strauss songs on us. Diction and pronunciation was generally quite good in the Italian and French songs, but here, Radvanovsky’s inexperience with the German language showed, umlauts being a substantial stumbling block. Other than that she was generally clear enough, getting through some of the longer German compound words without issue but if she is to take on German opera in the future as she implied, a little more work with a language coach would be beneficial.

After several recitals when singers have made little attempt to adjust their voices from a volume worthy of La Scala down to a comfortable level for a small concert hall, it was good to see Radvanovsky scale the vocal proportions down without any compromise in tonal colour or in the higher register. Radvanovsky showed an excellent knack for finding the heart of every song and striking an individual tone each time. Vivaldi’s “Sposa son disprezzata” had nobility and torment, the Bellini songs, particularly La ricordanza, were full of sincere intensity. The raw punch of bereavement in “La mamma morta” from Andrea Chénier, the final item on the programme, was very well done, the dramatic narrative clouded with an acrid note of bitterness. Radvanovsky will be making her role debut as Maddalena in Barcelona next year and judging by her rendition of this aria, it will be a performance worth seeing.

Anthony Manoli and Sondra Radvanovsky © Jonathan Rose
Anthony Manoli and Sondra Radvanovsky
© Jonathan Rose

Radvanovsky’s technique is refined and carefully balanced; her diminuendi in particular were a delight, well displayed in Liszt’s Oh! Quand je dors and Strauss’ Befreit. All registers of her voice seemed secure; the top easily reached with notes sustained and floated, the bottom thick and fruity. Breath control and phrasing were strong, unsurprisingly at its best in the Bellini where she has a natural affinity with the composer’s expansive lines, and her timbre felt innately rich; any approach which requires a thin, austere style is probably closed to her. The addition to the programme of five of Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs was a pleasant surprise; as with “La mamma morta”, she displayed a fine ability to infuse narrative with a feeling of character in “Saint Ita’s Vision”, while “The Monk and His Cat” was delivered with an amusing quirkiness that matched the subject material.

Radvanovsky was a warm and lively performer, offering a range of anecdotes about her career and motivations for singing each piece. She gave four encores, of which “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, sung in the original Czech (taking total languages sung that evening to five), beautifully and movingly sung, and a poised “Vissi d'arte” were the highlights. Her accompanist, Anthony Manoli, played in a manner that whispered “Gentleman!”: silky and deliberate, nuanced and measured - an ideal partner.