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Anna Netrebko - 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
Gaetano DONIZETTI (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
Anna 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]

Soprano phenomena have come and gone over the last few decades. Some have gone entirely, some have stayed around without exactly dominating the field as did certain names of the past. Some of them got to record Traviatas with elderly and distinguished maestros. And all the while, most of the female singers who have established themselves over the last few years have been mezzos, suggesting that the soprano voice, like the tenor voice, is not so easily produced in the modern world.

Perhaps people will be reading this review with amazement in ten years’ time, but I’m going to risk it and say that I think this is a voice that’s got what it takes. First of all, it’s a voice with a very beautiful, lustrous sheen on it, yet with enough strength behind it to allow a firm musical line in the pianissimo passages, and for it to expand without hardness in fortes. There is no loose, uncontrolled vibrato (it doesn’t sound like a Slavonic voice at all). And this is true in all registers, lower, middle and upper. Then, while the words are not allowed to disrupt the musical line as they could with Callas, we get far more of them than we did from Sutherland. Netrebko is certainly alive to the meaning of what she is singing and to the colour of the words. In all the slow cabalettas, and particularly in the Verdi scene, we hear that this is a voice able to carry emotion as well as sounding lovely. At the same time, her agility in the fireworks which conclude the first four pieces on the disc is apparently effortless, allowing her to find the music behind the flame-throwing. Netrebko herself speaks of her great admiration of Renata Scotto and Mirella Freni. Even before reading this, I had been reminded of the younger Scotto, when her voice was as yet pure and untarnished.

Reservations? More than a reservation, I would point out that the dramatic outburst at the end of the Verdi "Willow Song" is resolved warmly rather than so as to send shivers down you spine. The Puccini aria, too, is resolved with a warm, gentle tone but without the heft of a real dramatic soprano. It is, then, for the moment, a perfect instrument for the bel canto repertoire. Maybe it will acquire greater dramatic thrust over the years but I hope Netrebko’s admiration for Scotto will also cause her to reflect on the not always happy results when that singer launched into the dramatic repertoire, with a hardening and darkening of the tone and then a gradual withdrawal from the scene. So no dramatic Verdi or Puccini roles for yet a long while, please, but lots of Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini, and how about some lieder? The booklet assures us that "she knows what she can do and where her limitations currently lie". Let us hope and pray this is true. Potentially this voice is the best soprano news since Caballé and it would be a tragedy if mistaken repertoire should result in the operatic dustbin claiming yet another victim.

Claudio Abbado is infinitely more than an accompanist. He colours and analyses every strand of these textures with the same care he would give to a Mahler symphony, revealing that Bellini and Donizetti were actually masterly orchestrators, not something you would think in some other hands. I don’t know if this is the first time the original glass harmonica is used in place of a flute in the Donizetti scene but it’s the first time I’ve heard it. It adds another dimension, sounding quite eerie and genuinely deranged.

The booklet has some slightly odd things to say about the world of opera but we get full texts and translations of the arias, which is not something you can always take for granted even at full price. I’ve only heard the "normal" CD format of the recording, but it is stunningly good in any case (fantastic timpani definition, for instance).

Christopher Howell


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