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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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,
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.
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.