While opera is not
my forte the voice is ... and here is
a voice. Having seen Netrebko sing at
a BBC Promenade Concert on 7 September
1996 with the Rotterdam Philharmonic
under Gergiev, I was taken with this
voice. On that occasion she sang Edison
Denisov's superb orchestration of Mussorgsky's
song cycle The Nursery and the audience
were enthralled. It was simply magnificent,
one of those rare musical experiences
that one will never forget. The whole
concert was excellent, something almost
unique for a BBC Promenade Concert.
There was Prokofiev's greatest symphony,
number 6 in E flat minor (see the article
this site) and Debussy's La Mer.
I have to say at once
that the sound on this DG disc is first
rate but the glory is the voice.
It is a pure voice
with a very secure intonation. It has
a wide range of expression and, in the
main, is unaffected. However, I do shudder
at the ghastly portamenti at the end
of arias and the fact that all singers
do this in opera is really no excuse.
From the very first phrase we are aware
that we are in for something very special.
Listen to the variety of tone and colour
utterly in keeping with such texts as,
"O God, what a conflict of shattering
of warring emotions you war in my breast...."
The music, particularly in the long
recitative, is somewhat mediocre, although
Noseda brings out some fascinating detail
from the orchestra, but the singing
is quite remarkable and totally persuasive.
The Mozart is strong
and does not conform to the usual feeble
effeminacy or lightness of performance.
The top notes are thrilling and the
closeness of the recording makes it
very much alive. You are on the stage
with the singer not twelve rows back
in the stalls. The music is not outstanding
but the voice is.
Here Ilia wonders whether
Idamante really loves her or Electra.
But who on earth cares? This is Mozart
with drama, sung not only by a very
fine singer but a splendid actress as
well. In the nicest sense of the word
the performance is shattering.
We move on to Donna
Anna lamenting being thought cruel to
the one she loves. The singing has a
controlled passion as she vows that
she is true. She does not pile on the
agony as some singers do. The quality
of her voice is all that is required
and even if you do not know what she
is singing about the content is quite
obvious. That is the proof of a great
singer. As a great conductor once said,
"the emotion has to be in the music
first since no performer can bring out
what is not there." However, he also
said, "The sign of a bad performance
is when they bring out emotions that
are not there and accentuate it!"
The Berlioz excerpts
are also impeccably sung but, again,
the music is not outstanding
It is in Manon that
the finest singing comes. It has already
been superlative. How can it be better?
I had to listen to it three times as
it was so exciting, exhilarating and
aided by the fact the music was the
best so far on this disc. The disc would
be worth its price for this six and
a half minutes.
The Donizetti is prefaced
by some pretty inept orchestral music
in which the harp has an important role
but the entry of the voice is a welcome
relief. Here Elina Garanca sings the
secondary role of Alice.
Vincenzo Bellini is
an under-rated composer and what tenderness
the singer brings to the role of Amina.
She sings of her happiness which is
shared by the villagers. The composer
could have easily succumbed to writing
exuberant banal music but thankfully
he does not . After all, real happiness
and joy is not swigging from a beer
glass or being energetic or vigorous
at a party. Real joy cannot be expressed
adequately (if you really think about
it) but Bellini does give us a burst
of cheerfulness. The attention should
be given to those thrilling tessituras.
The closing bars are beyond excitement.
The role of Marguerite
in Gounod's Faust is a sublime role.
Here the recitative and Jewel Song are
given heart-warming and unforgettable
performances. It reveals another remarkable
quality of Netrebko's voice. It sounds
young and makes the usual problem of
middle-aged opera singers with middle-age
voices singing about young love, or
even first love, more ridiculous. I
shall never forget a 47 year old of
20 stone in weight singing Juliet. She
was brilliant but the image was not.
appeal to the moon to find her lover
is the only operatic aria by Dvořák
that is widely known. Netrebko
starts very inauspiciously but do not
despair. The control is super and there
is no attempt at nauseating tear-jerking.
The simplicity is caught to perfection.
The popular Musetta's
Waltz is given a thrilling performance
as opposed to the usual slushy sentimental
wallow. As with all performances on
this disc the control is totally amazing,
the voice is simply tremendous and the
high notes send shivers down the spine.
Impressive in the extreme and utterly
convincing. And Noseda and the orchestra
carefully avoid the maudlin effects
Another Welshman said
that in perfection there is imperfection
and I am sorry to note that Netrebko
has sung some music that is not worthy
of her . While she says that Mozart's
Zerlina is an awful role so is Mahler's
Symphony no. 4.
Such an incredible
voice (we have not heard such a voice
since Callas at her best, but I hasten
to say that she is not another Callas)
should be reserved for worthy music.
In addition, it is almost heart-breaking
to learn that Netrebko likes Robbie
Williams and Christine Aguilera! Oh
But it is the voice.
She can only continue to win hearts.
She will put many in the shade but,
as for me, she has lifted me to a great
height and renewed my faith in my belief
that the finest instrument in the world
is the voice
David C F Wright
OF THE MONTH
- Sempre libera Giuseppe
VERDI (1813-1901) La
traviata: E’ strano … Ah, fors’è
lui … sempre libera; Otello: Era
più calmo? … Mia madre aveva
una povera ancella … Piangea cantando
nell’erma landa (Canzone del Salice)
…Ave Maria Vincenzo
BELLINI (1801-1835) La sonnambula:
Ah! Se una volta sola … Ah! Non credea
mirarti … Ah! Non giunge uman pensiero,
I puritani: O rendetemi la speme
… Qui la voce sua soave … Ah! Tu sorridi
e asciughi il pianto … Vien, diletto
(1797-1848) Lucia di Lammermoor:
O giusto cielo! … Il dolce suono
… Ohimè" … sorge il tremendo
fantasma … Ardon gli incensi … Spargi
d’amaro pianto Giacomo
PUCCINI (1858-1924) Gianni
Schicchi: O mio babbino caro
Netrebko (soprano) Sara Mingardo (mezzo-soprano),
Saimir Pirgu (tenor), Nicola Ulivieri
(bass-baritone), Andrea Concetti (bass),
Sascha Reckart (glass harmonica) Coro
Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi,
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
Recorded February-March 2004 at the
Teatro Municipale Valli of Reggio Emilia
SACD Surround, SACD Stereo, CD Audio
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 474 8812 [68:59]
the best soprano news since Caballé.
... see Full
ANNA NETREBKO Dr
David C F Wright
After a very difficult
time in my life I went to a BBC Promenade
Concert on 7 September 1996 to see the
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under
Valery Gergiev performing that towering
masterpiece the Symphony no. 6 by Prokofiev.
After the interval
and before Debussy's La Mer a young
Russian soprano by the name of Anna
Netrebko came out to sing a truly superb
orchestration by Edison Denisov of Mussorgsky's
song cycle The Nursery. That soprano
seemed so diminutive but she was quite
sensational in her performance being
able to be a child and a grandmother
with equal success in about 15 minutes.
Like everyone in the Royal Albert Hall
I was spellbound by the truly exceptional
and, indeed, unique singing. If the
building had caught fire or there was
an earthquake we would all have stayed
to hear this stunning performance.
Rosa Ponselle was a
great soprano. Callas was superb. Netrebko
is in the same class.
There is a wonderful
story of two other great sopranos in
which Lotte Lehmann asked Geraldine
Farrar, "Where does one get such a voice
The reply was, "Only
Someone has written
of Netrebko, "Here is a singer who simply
has it all, a voice of astounding purity,
precision and scope, extensive dynamic
and tonal range, imagination, insight
and wit, all combined with a dazzling
charisma that makes it all but impossible
to look away when she is performing."
Anna was born on 18
September 1971 in Krasnodar in southern
Russia. Her father Yuri is a geologist
and her mother's name is Larissa. Anna
was very competent at gymnastics but
did not take to certain sports including
basketball and apparently does not have
much sympathy with computers.
It is understood that
her first stage experience was at the
age of sixteen as the back half of a
firebird in Rimsky-Korsakov's Le Coq
d'Or and her first job was in scrubbing
floors at the Mariinsky Theatre in St
Petersburg which housed the Kirov Ballet.
Her first voice coach
was Tamara Novichenko and her mentors
are the fine soprano Renata Scotto and
Gergiev. Her training was at the St
Petersburg Conservatory. It was at the
Mariinsky Theatre that she made her
debut as Susanna in Mozart's The Marriage
of Figaro in 1994. She was 22 years
old. This was followed by the role of
Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata.
In 1993 also she had
won first prize at the Glinka Vocal
Competition in Moscow taking part in
a concert at the opening of the Irina
Arkhipova Foundation at the Bolshoi
She repeated the role
of Susanna on the Kirov's tours of Finland,
Germany and Israel. She learns and performs
other roles including Lucia in Donizetti's
Lucia di Lammermoor, Amina in Bellini's
La sonnambula, Rosina in Rossini's Barber
of Seville, Pamina in Mozart's The Magic
Flute, Michaela in Bizet's Carmen and
Louisa in Prokofiev's Betrothal in a
On graduating from
St Petersburg Conservatory she made
a sensational debut in San Francisco
as Ludmilla in Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla
and, understandably, has been welcome
in that city ever since.
In 1996 she was a prize
winner at the International Rimsky-Korsakov
Singing Competition in St Petersburg
and in September I discovered her, as
did thousands of others, in London's
Albert Hall. This is followed the next
year by her winning the Baltika Prize
for young opera singers in St Petersburg.
In 1998 she repeated
Susanna in San Francisco and then gave
her first solo recital with songs by
Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninov.
To compare her again
with Ponselle, the conductor Serafin
said of Ponselle that her voice was
a miracle, an expression now used of
debut was in Washington in 1999 as Gilda
in Verdi's Rigoletto. She sang in three
concert performances of Berlioz's Benvenuto
Cellini in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and
London each time conducted by Gergiev.
She wisely took a different
avenue in the year 2000 by singing in
Bach's Mass in B minor and in Handel's
Judas Maccabaeus at the Maggio Musicale
in Florence. But opera still dominated
her career and she sang Zerlina in Mozart's
Don Giovanni, a role she says is awful
and one admires her honesty. She made
a super Musetta in Puccini's La Boheme,
repeated Lucia and sang the role of
Antonia in Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman,
a lighter role to show her versatility.
Her greatest acclaim was for Natasha
in Prokofiev's War and Peace under Gergiev
both at the Mariinsky and Covent Garden,
London. The following year she triumphed
in this role at La Scala, Milan and
the Teatro Real in Madrid.
Such a busy life needs
relaxation, She hates golf and it reminds
us of that wise Welsh comment that golf
is a good walk spoiled. She hates business
but enjoys friends, shopping, modern
cinema, (her favourite movie is Dracula)
eating and discotheques. In 2004 she
won a can-can competition at a St Petersburg
nightclub! Oh dear!
But there are more
surprises to come. She likes Brad Pitt,
Justin Timberlake, Robbie Williams and
Christina Aguilera .... how sad!
But to return to real
music. Reluctantly she repeated the
role of Zerlina and performed Ilia in
Mozart's Idomeneo, Adina in L'elisir
d'amore by Donizetti, Nanetta in Verdi's
Falstaff and as Marfa in The Tsar's
Bride by Rimsky-Korsakov.
During 2001/2002 she
made her Metropolitan debut in War and
Peace and her debut at the Salzburg
Festival is as Donna Anna in Mozart's
Don Giovanni conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
Her debut in Philadelphia was as Giulietta
in The Montagues and Capulets by Bellini.
Lucia is repeated for the Kirov and
at the Verbier Festival she sang in
the awful Symphony no. 4 by Mahler under
James Levine, music that is so beneath
her and not worthy of her talent.
She has also sung in
Mahler's Second Symphony.
The 2003-4 season saw
her return to Covent Garden as Donna
Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni under
Sir Colin Davis. Her debut with the
Los Angeles opera was as Lucia and recital
at the Herbst festival with Donald Runnicles.
Back in Europe she sang Violetta in
Munich under Zubin Mehts and as Donna
Anna in Vienna. In Japan she makes her
debut with the Saito Kinen Festival
under the splendid Seiji Ozawa as Musetta
which role she repeated in San Francisco.
At the Verbier Festival, there was a
recital and a performance of Rigoletto
under James Levine.
She hates long airplane
journeys but returned to Salzburg to
sing Giulietta in The Montagues and
the Capulets by Bellini.
Her debut CD album
was for DG (474 240 - 2) (reviewed above)
Even in perfection
there is imperfection. She is a modern
miss with some of the unfortunate aspects
associated with current life styles.
The Russian philosophy she says is that
all Russians want some 'shit' in their
lives, something that goes wrong or
they want something to worry about and
if life was always happy that would
Nonetheless she is
a star but one regrets her being presented
Sadly in music today
we have cross-over situations such as
concerts including Beethoven with Johann
Strauss, Mozart with slushy orchestrations
of songs by the Beatles and great opera
stars singing masterpieces and trashy
Oh for musical discernment!
Let us hope that Anna
Netrebko stays on the straight and narrow!
Copyright David C F Wright 2003.
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