How Marina Abramović and the Opera Singer Sondra Radvanovsky Both Revel in Risk

The performance artist says that meeting Radvanovsky was like finding a “younger sister.”

Article by Zoey Poll

Marina Abramović_1From left: Radvanovsky, 54, opera singer, and Abramović, 76, conceptual artist, photographed at Hotel Grande Bretagne in Syntagma, Athens, on March 22, 2023.

Marina Abramović:

Last year, a friend who I was working with on my opera project “7 Deaths of Maria Callas” in Naples told me, “You have to come to Majorca and hear the voice that is closest to Callas’s.” There was no way I wasn’t going. Sondra was singing [at the Cap Rocat hotel], and the performance broke my heart. Afterward, I was invited for dinner, and we talked about our painful backgrounds. Everything was happening — the death of her mother at the same time as her divorce. I felt like my younger sister had just come out of the cosmos.

Our work is very emotional. My public cries, her public cries. We all cry. It comes from the deep honesty of the work. We’re not acting or pretending. We believe what we’re showing. Sondra’s Medea [at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2022] blew my mind. She crawled, she had blue legs from the injuries, her makeup was running — she didn’t care.

Sondra doesn’t have children, and I never wanted to have them. So many women start as the great artist and then, as mothers, they can’t continue with the same intensity. Right now, if you told me to go to New Zealand, I’d be ready in 10 minutes. I don’t have any commitments that keep me away from what I want to do. I’m 76, and I have work booked until 2028. I have no time to think about dying. I work and then, when my body gives up, it gives up. Picasso made hundreds of erotic artworks in the years before he died. That’s the life force that artists should have.

Sondra Radvanovsky:

I’ve finally gotten to the point where I don’t care if you think I’m fat or ugly, a good or bad singer, a good or bad person. That’s what I’ve learned from Marina. She’s given me the strength to be vulnerable and to take risks. Before “Medea”, I’d never been willing to go that close to the fire, so to speak. It’s thrilling, but it can be dangerous. Imagine singing a very vocally difficult opera while crying. After watching Marina, I decided to try it.

We’re both strong women, and there’s a word that’s usually used to describe strong women — [the word for] a female dog. I can’t imagine growing up with Marina’s strength in her generation. She didn’t just step out of her box, she screamed from the rooftops, and I think about the hate mail she must have received, the nastiness and the words used to describe her.

There’s also a spiritual side to us both. One day, we were sitting in Marina’s apartment in New York when a dove landed on the railing of her balcony. I always equate a dove with my father visiting me. She said, “In all the years that I’ve lived in this apartment, a dove has never landed there. It’s fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it.” I said, “That’s why we’re kindred spirits: we both believe in something bigger than us. It’s where our art comes from.” We sat there for a few moments, looking at the bird.