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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Anna Netrebko - Opera
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Gianni Schicchi
1. O mio babbino caro [2:47]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
La traviata
2. Libiamo ne’ lieti calici (Brindisi) [3:09]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Rusalka
3. Mĕsíčku na nebi hlubokém (Sont to the Moon) [5:04]
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
Manon
4. Suis-je gentile ainsi? … Obéissons, quand leur voix appelle [6:33]
Giacomo PUCCINI
La bohème
5. Quando men vo (Musetta’s Waltz) [2:39]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801–1835)
La sonnambula
6. Ah! Non credea mirarti [4:48]
7. Ah! non giunge uman pensiero [2:36]
Giuseppe VERDI
La traviata
8. Parigi, o cara [4:24]
Charles GOUNOD (1818–1893)
Faust
9. Les grands seigneurs … Ah! je ris de me voir si belle (Jewel Song) [6:24]
Giuseppe VERDI
La traviata
10. È strano! … Ah, fors’è lui … Follie! [4:53]
11. Sempre libera [3:35]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Don Giovanni
12. Crudele? … Non mi dir, bell’idol mio [6:34]
Giuseppe VERDI
La traviata
13. Un di felice, eterea … Ah, se ciò è ver [3:37]
Vincenzo BELLINI
La sonnambula
14. Elvino! E me tu lasci senza un tenero addio? … Sono geloso del zefiro errante [8:49]
Giuseppe VERDI
Otello
15. Ave Maria [5:11]
Bonus Track:
Vincenzo BELLINI
I Capuleti e I Montecchi
16. Eccomi … Oh! quante volte [3:48]
Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Rolando Villazón (tenor) (2, 8, 13); Saimir Pirgu (tenor) (6, 7, 11); Joseph Calleja (tenor) (14); Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor (2, 4), Coro Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi (6, 7), Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 15, 16), Wiener Philharmoniker/Carlo Rizzi (2, 8, 13), Gianandrea Noseda (3-5, 9, 12), The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Carlo Rizzi (14)
rec. Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, March 2003 (3-5, 9, 12);t Teatro Municipale Valli, Reggio Emilia, February and March 2004 (1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 15, 16); All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London, May 2005 (14), Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, August 2005
Song texts and English translations included
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6344 [75:28]



‘I’m in love with Anna Netrebko’ swooned a poster on an internet message board during the Russian soprano’s recent Proms debut. One assumes it was the voice that elicited all that adulation but just in case Deutsche Grammophon are covering all their bases with the artwork for this new release. The cover is pretty lurid but then it seems when CD sales are flagging it’s time to revert to the old stand by, ‘sex sells’. And what on earth are they on about with that tacky tagline on the back of the box – ‘The Cinderella of classical music presents a fairytale of vocal enchantment. Prepare to be whisked away.’ Apart from not making a whole lot of sense – why is Miss Netrebko a Cinderella, for starters – this is a rather depressing sign of things to come, when classical artists are brazenly marketed like pop stars.
 
Netrebko began her singing career with the Kirov under the watchful eye of Valery Gergiev before going on to a triumphant debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1995. Since then she has been much in demand the world over, both on stage and in the recording studio. Her Mozart and Russian ‘albums’ and other compilations – from which items on this disc are plundered – seem to be typical of the majors’ advertising strategy of getting photogenic ‘stars’ on as many CD covers as possible. Overkill, surely?
 
All this recycling aside Netrebko has certainly made her mark on the stage. Her Violetta in the 2005 Salzburg Traviata (DG DVD 0734189) has been justly praised; she certainly has a powerful stage presence – more so than Georghiu in the same role for Solti – but how does she fare on voice alone? The much-recorded Schicchi aria ‘O mio babbino caro’ has had some wonderful interpreters, not least Maria Callas and Lucia Popp, so Netrebko is up against some stiff competition. That said she does find a degree of tenderness here, although there is little of the melting loveliness one associates with Popp. Diction also appears to be a problem – as indeed it seems to be generally.
 
The first of the Verdi items is the Brindisi from Traviata. Just listen to the classic Carlos Kleiber set (DG Originals 477 7115) with Ileana Cotrubas as Violetta and Domingo as a virile Alfredo for a drinking song that absolutely fizzes with energy. Netrebko and Villazón sound rather flat by comparison – not much of a party, this – although Netrebko does have a thrilling top note at the end. That’s probably a good metaphor for her singing, on this disc at least. She has tremendous vocal range and can negotiate all those difficult peaks but there is a lack of colour in the voice, and a steeliness, that are wearying after a while.
 
‘ Parigi o cara’ doesn’t get off to a good start, with Villazón a surprisingly tremulous Alfredo. For her part Netrebko sings sympathetically enough, although a little more vulnerability would not go amiss. Ditto in ‘È strano’, where her rival Cotrubas finds a pathos that chills one to the bone. The playing (Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra) is a little on the rumpty-tumpty side, which is surprising given this conductor’s Verdian credentials. For all his ‘Toscanini-like rigidity’ Kleiber really makes the music levitate in a way that few conductors manage to do, reminding one that great Verdi is as much about the music as it is about the singing.
 
The cabaletta ‘Sempre libera’ is more successful, no doubt helped by rather more alert, well-sprung playing from Abbado and his band. (What a pity he never added Traviata to his fine collection of Verdi recordings.) Netrebko’s vocal agility is just astonishing and this is one aria that really would bring the house down, as would that loveliest of duets ‘Un di felice’ (this time with Rizzi and the WP). Netrebko is more affecting here than just about anywhere on this disc, but Villazón still sounds a little tentative at times.
 
The final Verdi aria, Desdemona’s ‘Ave Maria’ from Otello, finds Netrebko in a much more reflective mood, with some lovely inward singing, not to mention that floated pianissimo at the end. Still difficult to hear the words, though, but there is plenty of time to improve on that, and perhaps sing a great Desdemona one day.
 
‘ Musetta’s Waltz’ from Bohème is one of several arias plucked from an earlier disc with Gianandrea Noseda and the Wiener Philharmoniker. Noseda – not always the most subtle of conductors – secures some delectable playing from the orchestra but Netrebko’s steely Musetta is not nearly so easy on the ear.
 
The bel canto arias from Bellini’s La Sonnambula are probably the least satisfying on the disc, dramatically at least. Callas made the role of Amina her own and despite all her vocal imperfections sang with an intensity that has never really been equalled. Alongside her Netrebko sounds beautiful, thrilling, occasionally even moving, but seldom involving and believable. Of the two Elvinos in these excerpts – Saimir Pergu and Joseph Calleja – the latter sounds rather ingratiating in ‘Elvino! E me tu lasci senza un tenero addio?’ Rizzi doesn’t help matters by overdriving the orchestra and chorus in the tuttis. Elegant it most certainly isn’t. The ‘bonus track’, Giulietta’s Act I aria from I Capuleti e Montecchi, is scarcely more memorable. Why DG didn’t just include it in the recital itself is hard to fathom. (No details of orchestra or recording venue are given; there are no texts or translations, either.)
 
Few singers can tackle Italian, French and German repertoire with equal success, though that doesn’t stop them trying. One of the most popular French ‘plums’ is the so-called ‘Jewel Song’ from Gounod’s Faust, an aria most closely associated with Dame Joan Sutherland. Netrebko sings it well enough, although if anything her French is even less clear than her Italian. And she doesn’t find a great deal of colour or warmth in her voice, either; that is also true of the Manon, which is all but ruined at the outset by a strident and overbearing orchestra (Noseda again). That said, she negotiates the vocal lines – particularly the more florid ones – very well indeed. At the top one might expect the voice to take on a pinched quality but thankfully it doesn’t, which is just as well as this is one of the most remarkable features of Netrebko’s instrument.
 
The Don Giovanni and Rusalka arias are also taken from the Noseda/WP disc. Netrebko just about persuades us of Donna Anna’s tender heart, even though one senses she is working very hard to do so. She seems much more at ease in the ‘Song to the Moon’, where she produces some lovely tone. For those who find Netrebko’s voice a little to unyielding Renée Fleming’s Rusalka offers rather more colour and, yes, more feeling (listen to either her recital disc with Solti and the LSO or her complete recording with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Czech Philharmonic).
 
The good parts – the phenomenal range and vocal dexterity – are beyond doubt. The bad parts – the poor diction and the inherent hardness in the voice – are aspects that can and probably will change over time. What is more worrying is the relentless and frankly rather crass marketing of classical artists like Netrebko – just look at the number of compilations and compilations of compilations DG has already produced for her. It’s easy to lose sight of one’s priorities with this hard sell; the booklet is a case in point, with no background information given on the arias and the operas from which they are taken. Yes, this highly photogenic diva has an extraordinary voice and the makings of a very fine singer, but there’s still some way to go before she becomes a truly great one.
 
Dan Morgan

see also review by Göran Forsling 



 


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