Q&A with Sondra Radvanovsky: Down-to-earth diva

For all the glamor she exudes as today's leading Verdian soprano, Sondra Radvanovsky lives a rather quiet life offstage. "I walk around the house in my pajamas all day if I want to," she says of the rare time she spends at home in a ten-acre house in the Canadian countryside. Given recent real estate deals like Russian diva Anna Netrebko's new digs on the Upper West Side, it all seems rather modest, something Radvanovsky is okay with. We caught up with her by phone (presumably in pajamas) to talk about her upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall with Dmitri Hvorostovsky (April 1), the pair's onstage antics and Lady Gaga. Click past the jump for more.

You've been touring right now with Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the same concert program we'll see at Carnegie Hall on Thursday. How has it been working with him?
He's great, really. We first met each other two years ago when we sang a concert together in Moscow, which is now a CD. He's such a joy. Besides the obvious that he has a God-given talent with his voice and it's one of the most beautiful voices I ever heard in my life, on top of that he's the most generous person in real life. There's not enough wonderful things to say about him.

You mentioned in an interview with blogger Opera Chic that you've also pranked one another onstage. What's gone down?
He'll do something to me at a point when I can't do anything to him—which is not fair. In San Francisco [in Il Trovatore], he had the makeup artist draw this devil about the size of a fist on his chest. And then he blacked out one of his teeth and at one point cracked a smile. And here we are singing this duet where I say "I don't love you, but I'll give you myself if you save the tenor's life"—pretty interesting, hot stuff. And then at one point, where he's hugging me, he pulls his shirt to one side and I can just see the devil. And Dima has this little devilish grin that he gets that says "I got you." In London when we did Trovatore together, he painted eyeballs on his eyelids. And at the concert on Saturday night, he apparently did something but then chickened out and didn't do it. So I'm just waiting for when we do our concert together or in New York for something. I just have to be prepared for it.

Have you ever gotten him back?
I did [once]. I wrote on my hand...in the last act of Trovatore when I'm dying, he comes in and hangs over me and cries, like "Why did you die??" So I wrote on my upstage hand "I heart Dmitri Hvorostovsky." But that just doesn't compare to a little devil painted on your chest. You can't compete with that, you know? So I've been brooding and scheming. Seriously, we're two kids. And that's what's been so much fun about working with him. It's not the standard boring thing.

Speaking of not the standard boring thing, have you seen Dmitri's pop concert?
We saw the video, right after he filmed it. He had a big success at Radio City Music Hall and I'm really happy for him. In my opinion he's one of the few singers that can do the crossover stuff and do it successfully, and he really had a lot of fun doing it. So why not?

I'm sure we'll see a lot of the same fans from Radio City at Carnegie Hall on Thursday.
Last year, when we were in New York, Dmitri organized this lunch in Brighton Beach. And I've never been to Brighton Beach—all the years I lived in New York and never went. So after we were finishing the lunch, we did a walk on the boardwalk. And this lady who could barely speak English came up to me and my husband, pointed to Dmitri and said "Dmitri Hvorostovsky?" And when we said "Yeah yeah yeah..." she fell to her knees and started crying. We had this entourage following Dmitri, because they were afraid to come up to him and talk to him, so they just followed us as we were walking on the boardwalk. It's surreal, you know?

Back to you, you'll be returning to the Met next year in a new skin of sorts, performing the title role in Puccini's Tosca. Is that going to be a shift for you?
I found that [singing Verdi] has for me helped me keep the lightness in Puccini...It's not happy and cheery stuff. I feel really fortunate that I'm at a point in my life now where I can explore my repertoire. When I was 11 years old, I wanted to sing Tosca. For me it's exciting now that I'm ready, not only vocally but also maturity-wise to sing it. Singing the Verdi led up to it, it was a good segue. And I go right after our Carnegie Hall concert on April 2nd to fly to Denver to sing my first Tosca. This is the role I've wanted to sing for 30 years, now the moment is here and it's so surreal. Kind of like doing this concert series with Dmitri...you pinch yourself.

You don't fall down to your knees crying?
No, but onstage I actually do have to fall on my knees in front of him. And he really enjoys that. That moment of power is very exhilarating for him.

As you mentioned, Verdi and Puccini are both heavy stuff musically. What do you listen to when you're offstage to counteract all of the sweeping and intense emotions?
I don't listen to anything normally. Even when I'm not onstage singing, there's always music going on in my head. It's a curse and a blessing in a way—it's sitting in bed at night, trying to go to sleep, while the music keeps playing in your head—especially when you're trying to learn something new and you're trying to memorize it and get everything. It's great because you're going over it, but it's like a broken record where you want to say "Oh, shut UP!" But Josh Groban is a friend of mine, and Barbara Streisand, and I love their music—the easy pop. And total cheesy stuff, like Lady Gaga and stuff like that. We had to drive from Montreal to Toronto, and Dmitri played the "Telephone" video for me. That is really cool. She just thinks outside of the box and I really like that. I think that's a true artist. Kind of like what we do, too.

You'll also be reprising your role as Leonora in Il Trovatore at the Met next season for their simulcasts. How do you feel about being an HD diva?
I actually got to see one this last season, I went and I saw Tosca. It's really cool what they do with the backstage interviews—what a treat for the audience to be able to see that. It's something you never see in house in a show. But it's a little off-putting knowing a camera is going to be looking down your throat and showing the beads of sweat on your head. Trying to look glamorous while singing is not easy.

It'll also be hard to hide a fist-sized devil tattoo.
That's what I said to him, actually! Two nights ago I said Dmitri, what are you going to do? He said "Well, just because I've always done it on the last show doesn't mean I'm going to do it on the last show at the Met." But I'm gonna have to do something to get him, I really am. This is now four times he's done this to me. We gotta get him good. Ask the readers if they can help me!