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Anna Netrebko Russian Album
Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Iolanta (1892): Arioso No. 1 [2:58];
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 – 1943)
Song Op. 21 No. 7 “It is beautiful here” (1902) [2:24];
Song Op. 4 No. 4 “Oh, do not sing to me” (1893) [5:04];
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 – 1908)
The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1900): Aria from act 4 [3:27];
The Snow Maiden (1882): Scene and Aria from Prologue [4:28]¹; Finale from act 4 [5:31]²;
The Tsar’s Bride (1899): Scene and Aria from Act 4 [5:29];
Romance Op. 38 No. 6 Pimpinella – Florentine Song [2:45];
Mikhail GLINKA (1804 – 1857)
A Life for the Tsar (1836): Cavatina and Rondo from Act 1 [6:41];
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891 – 1953)
War and Peace (1944): Excerpt from Scene 4 [8:11]³;
Francesca da Rimini (1906): Excerpt from Tableau 2 [3:16];
Eugene Onegin (1879): Letter Scene from Act 1 [13:03];
Anna Netrebko (soprano), Zlata Bulycheva (mezzo)¹³, Dmitry Voropaev (tenor)²³, Alexander Morozov (bass-baritone)²³, Ilya Bannik (bass)¹
Chorus and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev
rec.  Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, December 2005, January, May, June 2006
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 6384 [63:19]

I gave a whole-heartedly positive review to a Mozart album, sub-titled “Anna Netrebko and Friends” a while ago and was eagerly anticipating this disc where she is, so to speak, on her home ground. Recording it in the house where she made her debut in 1994 and with the charismatic Valery Gergiev conducting, the prerequisites of success seem ideal and the outcome of the enterprise is even more magical than I had hoped for. It is a pity that it is too late to include this disc among my “Recordings of the Year” but I will cheat a little next year … Readers who trust my judgement need read no further. My advice is: Place your orders!

To those who still hesitate I will amend my recommendation by clarifying my criteria for valuing it so highly. Anna Netrebko is blessed with one of the most beautiful voices in the operatic world today and she has polished her technique to such an extent that she can carry through anything she wants to do. But this is only one prerequisite of becoming a good opera singer, albeit an important one. What makes her stand out is her ability to catch the various moods of her arias and create a believable character. To start from the beginning of the recital she opens Iolanta’s arioso with a frail, thin voice, inward, filled with sorrow, but gradually it grows in intensity to the full voice which is thrillingly vibrant. A detailed portrait!

She differentiates nicely the moods of the two Rachmaninov songs, adopting a silvery tone for It is beautiful here with ravishing pianissimos up in the highest reaches, while in Oh, do not sing to me she excels in long unbroken legato phrases, like a vocal viola.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas are rarely heard in the West but they are filled with wonderful music and Anna Netrebko is a fine advocate for them. The Tale of Tsar Saltan is best known for the short orchestral Flight of the Bumble-Bee, performed in various arrangements to show off the virtuosity of instrumentalists, but Swan-Bird’s aria, sung here, is a ravishing piece and Ms Netrebko sings it absolutely gloriously with that seemingly effortless silver tone. The two arias from Snow Maiden with their high tessitura pose no problems either. She glitters enticingly in the first and is beautifully melancholy in the second. As Marfa in The Tsar’s Bride she soars beautifully in long cantilenas. This is one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s loveliest arias, Massenet-like in its romanticism and the end is truly magical.

Tchaikovsky’s lively rhythmical Pimpinella, complete with castanets in Elena Firsova’s fine arrangement, comes as a welcome contrast to the predominantly slow music that has preceded it and she makes it light and airy. Her voice also easily encompasses the wide range of Antonida’s cavatina from A Life for the Tsar. I have listened to a number of recordings of this piece lately and Anna Netrebko surpasses them all with horse-lengths. The only comparable version I know of is Antonina Nezhdanova’s, and she recorded it back in 1913!

She is also a lovely Natasha in War and Peace. In the waltz scene she is aptly partnered by a lyric Dmitry Voropaev as Anatol and she sings the “letter aria” – Prokofiev at his romantic best – with deep involvement. Alexander Morozov is a characterful Rostov and mezzo-soprano Zlata Bulycheva should also be mentioned for her contributions. Only a couple of months ago I reviewed a Naxos disc with scenes from three Rachmaninov operas. I wasn’t too impressed by some of the singing (see review), while my colleague Ian Lace rated it more highly and even made it one of his Recordings of the Year (see review). Going back to that issue I still have problems to swallow some of Mariana Zvetkova’s shrill and unsteady singing; turning to Anna Netrebko one gets the full picture, so to speak, with ethereal top notes. Whatever version one chooses, the aria itself is worth a listen.

Arguably the finest soprano aria in all Russian opera is Tatyana’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin. In certain performances there is a risk that it becomes too lachrymose, which robs it of the glow that is also part and parcel of this masterly scene. Semyon Bychkov in the Philips recording, reissued less than a year ago managed this excellently. “Bychkov shows Tchaikovsky’s heart without carrying it in the open”, I wrote at the time, and Gergiev’s reading is even more de-sentimentalized with an irresistible urgency that is obvious from the dramatic introduction. Anna Netrebko’s reading is full of life and nuances and now I long to hear her in a complete recording of the opera. Please DG, take note!

The excellence of Gergiev’s conducting is not limited to the Eugene Onegin excerpt; he supports his soprano to perfection all through the recital and the Mariinsky forces are of course in their element. There are full texts and translations and a good essay by Andrew Huth and the booklet is adorned with some nice photos of Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev.

Anyone still hesitating? Oh, I see! Apart from the Letter Scene there is very little that is of the “I have heard it before” category. But have no fear. As I hope I have already made clear there are musical riches aplenty and once heard these arias will be friends for life – especially in Anna Netrebko’s readings.

Göran Forsling


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