Anna, in her own words

I was on the bus to Nürnberg today on the way to do Wagner tourism and hear Herr Sacro Fuoco tomorrow, and on the way I translated the juicy bits of the full print edition Anna Netrebko article… I was going to post it as a comment but it turns out I thought a lot of it was interesting (and touches on many of the points that have come up in the comments to the excerpt!) and it ended up long. So here is a translation minus the parts that were already posted and some parts I thought weren’t that interesting.

Translator’s comment: I think she’s pretty great and this is a fun interview. I think the critic she is describing is Wilhelm Sinkovicz from Die Presse in Vienna but I don’t have time to look it up right now. He is very picky about the lady singers he finds attractive.

The article is accompanied by an astonishingly trashy photo of Trebs and Erwin Schrott at Berlin Fashion Week, which I unfortunately can’t find quickly.

[Interview by Christoph Wirtz]

Do you read what is written about you?

Never. I also don’t have internet, I don’t like computers much. I’ve never had one.

Many don’t know that you sing other, serious things [other than light music].

I sang Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater”  in a black dress. A critic wrote afterwards, “She stood onstage like widow!” I asked myself: what did he expect? The piece is about the pain of death! I invited a few people from society to the concert and excused myself beforehand, that there were 45 minutes of serious music and no Lehár as an encore.

But it really doesn’t matter what you sing. People will come, even if they aren’t classical music connoisseurs.

Maybe they weren’t connoisseurs beforehand, but that changed after the concert. Seriously: that’s why I said yes to these giant concerts in Berlin and Munich. At the beginning I was unsure, the amplification bothered me. But now I think that concerts are a good thing. You can take the family along, not dress up, and there are also less expensive tickets.

But you earn much more from concerts than from a state opera house.

Of course. And if I wanted to, I could immediately only give concerts and earn a lot of money. But you know what? That would bore me! One or two times a year is OK, to pay the bills. Other than that I love to do new things. My heart belongs to opera.

Have you sung privately for one of these infinitely rich Russian oligarchs?

I had between 50 and 80 such offers last year alone. I accepted one of them. The date worked very well, it was a matter of half an hour, and really was a lot of money.


The oligarch had to leave Russia right beforehand. So much for that.

Let’s talk about opera in the 21st century. Will it keep going slowly but steadily?

Opera is unbelievably old-fashioned, the stories are mostly boring and long-winded for our fast-paced time. The texts are mostly frightful and, even worse, they’re often sung in a foreign language. But opera fascinates us anyway, because it has something in it that we are looking for: the authentic, the passionate. The heavenly music, the voices… this beauty is timeless.

Many people are scared of opera, or find it all boring.

What? Everyone loves Puccini, everyone loves Verdi! These are of course very easy to love. But then come Richard Strauss, Wagner. It stops there. You have to prepare yourself, otherwise you won’t understand anything.

Many productions don’t help much, either, or…?

Opera has to change. The audience wants a show, something has to happen onstage. It can’t always be the same performance as decades go by.

But grand opera is a part of your Russian soul.

Maybe. Look how I dress in private: always a little spectacular? No. But I like it a lot when people dress fashionably at the opera. You don’t need a lot of money, a black dress from H&M is plenty. [She obviously is thinking of the dress I wore to the Anna Bolena premiere in Vienna. – UZ.]

But isn’t it part of high culture, to turn you nose up at such things?

It’s all the same to me, honestly. I love it when the women at the Salzburg Festival show up in their outfits. People aren’t paying so much money for tickets only to hear the music. They want to drink Champagne and be part of society. That’s part of it! Opera has always been a social event.

Surely many people exalted words from you about your sublime art.

Maybe they want to hear that I’m smart? Serious? That I sit for hours in the library? Prepare difficult roles for years? Uninterrupted practice?


I’m not like that. I think about my job only when I’m doing it. Before and after I live in a whole different world. I practice only when I have to, when I’m preparing a role. My life doesn’t revolve only around opera. It was different when I started. Then music was everything for me, always and everywhere. But since then I’ve drown up, and there are things that mean as much to me, a few mean more. God, I’m getting old…

Listen to you, you’re fishing for compliments!

No, honestly. I’ve been singing for 15 years. At some point I understood that I wouldn’t develop any further if my entire life revolved around music. You come to a point when there’s something else in life. I won’t name any names, but I have colleagues who don’t grasp this. And you can see it in their performances.

But doesn’t a little spirituality matter to a great artist?

That’s totally old-fashioned. I love my life, life is really great! There are so many wonderful things to see and to experience, I don’t want to lie solely in the world of music.

[After some discussion of the restaurant that has already been quoted:] Eating is like music. The popular stuff is often a little banal.

I don’t think so. We’re speaking of two different things. Why don’t classical singers value crossover singers much? Because they earn more money? Because they’re more popular? They sing the old stuff too! Everything else is just a different kind of art.

And often kind of tasteless.

That happens everywhere. One doesn’t need very much to turn something very beautiful into something very cheap, kitschy and sentimental. As well, a lot that is artistic and accurate lacks passion. And at the end of the day you don’t like the music you love anymore.