What would a semi-staged performance of the finales of three operas be like, I wondered, as I approached the Civic Opera House where Lyric favorite Sondra Radvanovsky was about to debut in the “The Three Queens”. Comprised of the finales of three bel canto operas by Gaetano Donizetti, Illinois’ own Sondra Radvanovsky triumphed in this semi-staged concert at Lyric Opera of Chicago on Sunday, December 1. The production was brilliant.  There are only two more performances, December 4th and 7th at 7:30. If you don’t have tickets- get them!  You won’t be sorry.

Sondra Radvanovsky THE THREE QUEENS, ANNA BOLENA, Lyric Opera of Chicago Photo: Todd Rosenberg The Three Queens Sondra Radvanovsky, Soprano Riccardo Frizza, Conductor Ryan Opera Center Members Lyric Opera Chorus © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Gaetano Donezetti’s operas about the Tudor period in England deals with three of the most extraordinary women in history . The “Three Queens” trilogy: proud Mary Stuart, passionate Anne Boleyn, and mighty Queen Elizabeth I each present a role that is not easy to fill.  They require a singing actress, who must combine glorious sound with masterful technique and incomparable charisma. According to Lyric Dramaturg, Roger Pines an opera company can only undertake the production Anna BolenaMaria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux “when the right singer comes along”.  He points out that after years when these operas were not in favor these operas that are “unique gift” began to be restored to favor  with Maria Callas singing Anna Bolena in 1957 and later all three operas. Now Sondra Sondra Radvanovsky takes her place beside Beverly Sills, Leyla Grencer, Montserrat Caballe and Mariella Devia.  However, Sondra Radvanovsky took an additional step.

Gaetano Donezetti’s operas about the Tudor period in England deals with three of the most extraordinary women in history . The “Three Queens” trilogy: proud Mary Stuart, passionate Anne Boleyn, and mighty Queen Elizabeth I each present a role that is not easy to fill.  They require a singing actress, who must combine glorious sound with masterful technique and incomparable charisma. According to Lyric Dramaturg, Roger Pines an opera company can only undertake the production Anna BolenaMaria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux “when the right singer comes along”.  He points out that after years when these operas were not in favor these operas that are “unique gift” began to be restored to favor  with Maria Callas singing Anna Bolena in 1957 and later all three operas. Now Sondra Radvanovsky takes her place beside Beverly Sills, Leyla Grencer, Montserrat Caballe and Mariella Devia.  However, Sondra Radvanovsky did more with these operas.

Sondra Radvanovsky THE THREE QUEENS, MARIA STUARDA, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Photo: Todd Rosenberg The Three Queens Sondra Radvanovsky, Soprano Riccardo Frizza, Conductor Ryan Opera Center Members Lyric Opera Chorus © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

After in which Radvanovsky performed all three opera in one season for the Met in New York, she was working with Richardo Frizza in Roberto Devereux when he suggested that it would be great if she did the last scenes of the “Three Queens”.  There is a unity in these works as they all deal with facing death and it is the best music in each of the operas.

The resulting performance is remarkable.  The back story of each opera is succinctly told in huge letters projected onto a screen and the projection is set to coordinate with the timing of the overture to each work bringing in a very current technique.  The chorus and orchestra were outstanding as were the Radvanovsky costumes. But at the center of each work was Radvanovsky’s exquisite voice maneuvering the highs and lows of these works and especially noteworthy as she sustained a top G over the chorus for 21 beats, and then moved up note by note to a high B-flat.  What a treat for the audience.

The Three Queens, ROBERTO DEVEREUX Sondra Radvanovsky, Soprano, Riccardo Frizza, Conductor, Ryan Opera Center Members Lyric Opera Chorus Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

The Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus were led by Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza, a celebrated bel canto specialist. The noted director Matthew Ozawa presided over the semi-staged performance, and Lyric’s chorus master Michael Black prepared the choral ensemble. The following artists from The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center portrayed several supporting roles: mezzo-soprano Kathleen Felty, contralto Lauren Decker, tenors Eric Ferring and Mario Rojas, baritones Christopher Kenney and Ricardo José Rivera, bass-baritone David Weigel, and bass Anthony Reed.


American designer Rubin Singer created three breathtakingly distinctive gowns fit for the characters of the three queens, collaborating with jewelry designer and philanthropist Ann Ziff, who underwrote the creation of the gowns. Radvanovsky’s jewelry for the performances is by Ann Ziff for Tamsen Z.

Sondra Radvanovsky, Mario Rojas, THE THREEQUEENS, MARIA STUARDA, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Photo: Todd-Rosenberg The Three Queens Riccardo Frizza, Conductor Ryan Opera Center Members Lyric Opera Chorus © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

For the Dec. 1 premiere Ms. Radvanovsky wore jewelry by Ann Ziff for Tamsen Z that was specially selected to complement each of the gowns created by designer Rubin Singer.  

Sondra Radvanovsky THE THREE QUEENS, ANNA BOLENA, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Photo:Todd Rosenberg The Three Queens Sondra Radvanovsky, Soprano Riccardo Frizza, Conductor Ryan Opera Center Members Lyric Opera Chorus © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Note: ROBERTO DEVEREUX actually focuses on Queen Elizabeth I and Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn who was killed by her father King Henry VIII. The operas are not completely historically accurate but do capture the flavor of the times depicted.

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