Cher Public

Anna mirabilis

Deutsche Grammophon has just released Anna Netrebko: Live at the Metropolitan Opera, a CD with 11 excerpts recorded live from her Met performances from 2002 through 2010.  Released to feature the soprano just prior to her opening in the Met’s Anna Bolena, the CD features Netrebko singing solo arias as well as duets with such colleagues as Alagna, Hvorostovsky, Florez, Calleja, and Beczala. 

One of the very real joys of this program is hearing how Netrebko’s voice has changed and matured.  The excerpt from 2002’s War and Peace shows the young soprano with a crystalline lyric sound; it is striking how the voice has become more lush, womanly, and sensual in the ensuing years.  She has gained considerable power, richer and juicier tone, and sounds more confident and charismatic than ever before.

The excerpts are, of course, chosen to show Netrebko’s considerable strengths.  The weakest selection is the first, “Qui la voce” from 2007’s I puritani.  It was wise here to choose a piece of Elvira’s music that is slow and quiet, avoiding any of the treacherous heights and runs that were fudged a bit in the performance.  The singing is quite beautiful in this selection, but the character’s mental and emotional state doesn’t come through.

“Ya ne budu—Kak solnca za goroy” from the 2002 War and Peace, a brief scene between Netrebko’s Natasha, Hvorostovsky’s Prince Andrei, and the Sonya of Ekaterina Semenchuk, is an absolute delight.  Gergiev leads a sumptuous reading of this music, and Netrebko’s charming, fresh-voiced Natasha is wonderful, with an easy top; she imbues this scene with tremendous energy and vivaciousness.

The same energy and vivaciousness grace the next two selections, a limpid “Vedrai, carino” from Don Giovanni (beautiful but maybe a touch too limpid), and particularly in the delightful scene from Don Pasquale (2006) featuring Kwiecien, Alaimo, and Florez.  The singing by all four is joyous and charming, and Netrebko’s bumptious Norina is one of her strongest characterizations.  Maurizio Benini keeps the tempos bright and bubbly, bringing out all the comic possibilities in Donizetti’s rich score.

The selection of the Rigoletto excerpt seems baffling.  Instead of “Caro nome” or one of the duets with the Duke or Rigoletto, we get “Ah, piu non ragiono!”, the scene right before Gilda’s murder.  This excerpt is mostly about the Maddalena and Sparafucile’s music.  Eric Halfvarson and Nancy Fabiola Herrera are fine in those roles, but Netrebko’s contribution is somewhat lost amidst the noisy storm music.

I had the pleasure of attending two performances of Netrebko’s Gilda at the Met, and can testify that her “Caro nome” was one of the most detailed and womanly versions of the aria I’ve ever heard.  Netrebko “gets” that, in this aria, Gilda transforms from innocent playful ingénue to the first stirrings of sensual longing that will make her a woman.  Its exclusion from this tribute CD is inexplicable.

We get two excerpts from the 2007 Romeo et Juliette.  Juliette’s frequently-cut Potion aria is one of the glories of the disc.  Netrebko sings with passion, capturing the character’s terror while giving Juliette a steely resolve that makes her drink the potion at last; she takes us on a vocal journey that is meltingly beautiful in the singing and the phrasing.

Alas, the “wedding night” duet with Roberto Alagna, “Va! Je t’ai pardonne… Nuit d’hymenee”, some of Gounod’s most gorgeously romantic music, falls flat.  The fault must be laid at the feet of the plodding, one-dimensional conducting of Placido Domingo.  This duet must have two distinct sections—the romantic “pillow talk” of the young lovers and the sudden fear when they hear the lark and know that Romeo must hurry away.  Domingo leads an excessively sleepy reading, so slow that the whole thing seems about to fall apart, and then there is no sense of change when we first hear the lark.  Alagna and Netrebko sing well and there seems real chemistry between them when Domingo allows them to “get on with it.”

I was very impressed by the 2009 Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, though one senses that Netrebko will grow into this role and this scene if she continues to sing it.  She knows well that you can’t play madness by “acting crazy” and there are sections of the scene where she brings a very effective, eerie calm to the character that contrasts nicely with “Il fantasma”.  The only disappointment is that Netrebko does not take the final high E-flat; still, the long pianissimo B-flat is striking.

The disc concludes with a lovely “…chanson d’amour” from Les Contes d’Hoffmann in duet with a honey-toned Joseph Calleja and two excerpts from the 2010 La bohème,  paired with Piotr Beczala, Mimi’s “Donde lieta usci…” and the glorious duet “O soave fanciulla”.  It is in these final Bohème selections that the development of the Netrebko voice is most clear.  The sound is darker and more fluid, capable of much more interesting dynamics; it exudes sensuality.  Netrebko the vocal actress has also found far more emotional depth and sensitivity.

In the CD’s notes, Peter Gelb is quoted as saying, “In the prime of her career, she is our reigning superstar diva.”  This CD certainly shows us why.  It also seems clear that the girlish roles of her past are ready to give way to roles with more depth—I certainly hear such roles as Manon Lescaut and the Don Carlo Elisabetta in her voice.  The “rap” on Netrebko has always been some laziness in her process and a flawed bel canto technique.  With this CD, the soprano makes the case for a future in somewhat heavier roles that will play to her current strengths.  This CD serves as a showcase for an artist nearing the height of her powers.

  • brooklynpunk

    NYC’s “classical” radio station , WQXR, has this album as their featured recording of the week..and has been playing cuts from it all this week…I BELIEVE it is also featured on their website,… for listening to , this week….

  • SF Guy

    Thanks for the comprehensive review. However, I have to disagree with your comment about Netrebko “growing into” the role of Lucia. I heard her sing a very fine Lucia with LAO in 2003, equally well acted and sung with greater freedom and stronger technique. (I believe she made her debut in the role at the Maryinsky in 2000.) If anything, due to the changes in her voice you describe earlier, she had almost grown out of the role by 2009

  • Indiana Loiterer III

    There is something to be said here about the current legal status of live recording--surely these can’t all be from broadcasts, and in any case how did they get all the permissions for material dating back to 2002?--the nature of the recital album, and the intertwining of Big Opera and Big Media…but I’m not going to say it. Suffice it to say that such an album would have been unimaginable thirty or forty years ago.

    • Virgilio Guardepassa

      Good point. I’d like to know what the Met orchestra players got out of this… Studio time to have made an album like this could have been over $100,000. As to the exclusion of standard arias and excerpts from the operas included; well, as Oscar Wilde said -- “things are ALWAYS what they seem”….

    • Arianna a Nasso

      Why couldn’t the Met have permission to pull the entire contents of this CD from broadcasts dating back to 2002? The Met is selling complete performances from decades ago, the Levine 40th Anniversary CDs and DVDs, the HD performances on DVD, playing historic broadcasts on Sirius, etc.

      I remember reading that when Gelb started, he signed a profit-sharing deal with the unions which allows the Met all kinds of media exploitation. One assumes all the above and this disc are covered.

  • iltenoredigrazia

    These couldn’t be all from Saturday afternoon broadcasts or HDs. She sang the high E flat at the end of the mad scene in Lucia for the broadcast/HD, so this take must be from the prior performance, which was broadcast on Sirius. The Sirius live broadcasts must be a huge treasure for the Met. Do the singers, chorus, orchestra, etc., get a cut?

  • zinka

    (October 3)

    Hi all,
    Here is the Handelmanian review of last night’s Met Bolena. Since I am accustomed to the Callas/Gencer/Galvany approach, I was not sure how I would react, but let me tell you that Anna as Anna was a true phenomenon.She does not have the chest voice I like (as in “Giudici,ad Anna…”) at the end of act one) but the seamless,glorious tone is unmatched in the opera world today (and recalls the greatness of my past divas in many ways.).
    The “new Netrebko” now possesses more of a spinto upper middle as well as the usual glorious high pianissimi,and of course a basic quality for the ages. She surely deserved the tremendous ovation she received from the sold-out house.
    A pleasant “discovery” for me and my other crabby buddies was the Smeaton (I never saw it spelled with an “a”) of Tamara Mumford, who reminded us of Von Stade, with a beautiful rich tone, warm rich low tones, and consummate musicianship;I trust she will go far in her young career.
    I have heard Stephen Costello from his earliest days and he is a wonderfully talent young tenor, with coluratura agility, a wide range (but they didn’t let him take a C at the end of his first aria), and a clear and bright voice. He reminds me in a way of Alagna, because the tone is not what I call “golden” a la Beczala or Flores, but he makes a fine impression.However, I would prefer to hear him in more romantic music, as a Romeo (great on Youtube) or Edgardo,which was his first lead at the Met a few years ago. He is one of our fine young artists and we wish him well.
    I was not impressed with Mr.Borodina’s hubby (Ildar Abdrazakov) as Raimondo, and in act one found the voice quite unimpressive, but he rose to the occasion in act two with some fine declamatory singing and although he ain’t no Siepi or Ghiaurov, he did a commendable job. I still think he is the “Ivo Vinco” of opera, if you get my meaning.
    Mme. Gubanova is much more of a soprano than a mezzo;remember, I was weaned on Simionato and later on,the marvelous Olivia Stapp as Seymour. In act one, I was not at all impressed, but like Mr.Abdrazakov, she improved in act two, and the scenes with Anna and Enrico were quite effective, as she sang with beauty of tone and a brilliant top register.
    I must mention Mr.Keith Miller as Rochefort, a role I know well (Ramey and Galvany were my co-colleagues years ago.) ago). He sounds ready for bigger roles, and his brief singing in the Tower Scene showed him to best advantage;some “comprimarios” can sing one line and you know they are special. (Remember Von Stade as Wowkle? She said “Ugh” so beautifully.)
    I look forward to the next Bolena with Mme.Meade, but I wish we had Simionato and Ghiaurov in the cast, because it is a long evening, and Seymour and Henry have lots to sing.

    Respectfully, Carlo Laughton Handelmani