She has graced the stage of major opera houses worldwide, including the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden, Paris Opera, Teatro alla Scala and Vienna State Opera, but Sondra Radvanovsky is now gearing up for her Canadian Opera Company debut this fall in Verdi's Aida.
The soprano has a choice of vehicles to drive to the Toronto rehearsals from her home in Caledon, Ont. She and her husband own a 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo, a 2005 Porsche Cayenne SUV, a 2002 BMW 540i wagon and will soon receive her latest purchase, a 1970 Fiat 500.
"We actually bought it on eBay when we were in Italy, if you can believe that. You see them driving around in Italy. Every time we saw one my husband was giggling. He was watching one on eBay and he said to me, 'Isn't this cool?' I said, 'Yeah. Put a bid in.' He looked at me. 'Are you serious?' Yeah. We won the bid."
The vehicle, which started life in Sicily, is currently in Florida. "It's really cute and it's in excellent shape for a 1970 car. We bought it sight unseen. It's a fair deal - it wasn't a steal. It's been taken care of and it's in good shape," says the Chicago native.
"It's a little thing - four feet wide and nine feet long. They're itty-bitty. It has a top speed of 90 km/hr. It's going to be funny. My husband is 6-foot and I'm 5-foot-9! Every time we look at it, we just giggle. It's so funny."
It's not the first time she bought a car without seeing it. "We bought my husband's 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo sight unseen as well in Houston.
"It's a very hot car. We had it shipped up and we met it at the border. Then you go through all the legal fun with the Canadian border and you go, 'Here, just take my wallet.'
"They're both red. Us girls, we don't care how it drives. It's just looks nice."
Even though she can drive a stick, she finds the Porsche a hard car to manoeuvre. "It's not like a standard shift - it's more like a racing car. The clutch is very stiff and finicky. It's very difficult to drive, especially for a girl because our legs aren't as strong as theirs. And there's no power steering - there I am cranking the wheel, 'Honey, my arms hurt, can you do it for me?' " she laughs.
Buying the Porsche was harder than the Fiat. "The Porsche was a little more nerve-wracking because it was slightly more money you were paying sight unseen. But it was from a very reputable car dealership from Houston; it came certified. So I didn't feel bad.
"The Fiat isn't as much money, but I'm hoping that it's okay. That's the artistic side of me - I'm very impulsive: 'Hey I like it, lets buy it.' Why not? You only get to live once. I think you should enjoy it.
"It brings a lot of joy to my husband and myself. We have a big 2,000-square-foot garage that we need to fill now with cars."
But her husband, Duncan Lear, has been known to make a few impulse buying decisions, too. "I had to convince my husband to buy the Cayenne. He doesn't like SUVs, but we needed one.
"One day, my husband was driving me to the airport and I said, 'Hey, why don't we look at the Cayenne?' We looked at it and test drove it, but said sorry we have to go because I have a flight to New York. We drive to the airport and my flight was cancelled. We had another three-four hours and I said to my husband, 'You want to buy the Cayenne? He said, 'Yeah I think so.' So we turned around and bought it. He said it was the most expensive flight I've ever taken in my life!" says Radvanovsky whose first solo CD, Verdi Arias, was released last season. A second CD, Verdi Opera Scenes, recorded live in Russia will be released in a few months.
Her favourite vehicle is the 2002 BMW 540i with an M package. But it has been temperamental. "We were at the cottage just meeting some friends and all of a sudden the heat light went all the way to red and then the huge billowing smoke just started booming out! The radiator went. We were in the middle of nowhere. We luckily made it to the next town and there was a gas station there and had the car towed all the way back to home to Caledon."
The death of do-it-yourself
So which car most resembles Radvanovsky's personality? "Duncan says the Fiat - old and slow. Can you believe that? That's not nice.
"I think I see a little of myself in all of them. I'd probably have to go with the BMW. It's black. It's sleek. I think of it as a very elegant car. I think of cars as having personalities. To me it seems like a beautifully elegant car with not a lot of bells and whistles. Not simple, but not complex either. And it's fast.
"I think of myself as a quick learner with my music. It's very particular, too. Like most musicians we all have our quirks and the car has its own quirks. It has three emergency lights that come on for no reason whatsoever. The first time it came on I thought the car was going to blow up. The lights just come on randomly - it's just like a musician. We're all slightly random, I think. We all have our own personalities. That's why I think the car is kind of like me."