Posts Tagged ‘Anna Netrebko’

I have never met anyone who would say that La Forza del Destino is their favorite opera by Verdi. It does feature some of Verdi’s best arias and duets, but everything else is either dramatically ineffective, pointless, kitsch or a combination of these adjectives. I myself have seen it in the theatre only twice: once at the Met (Voigt, Komlosi, Licitra, Delavan, Pons, Ramey) and once in Tokyo (I left after the intermission, so technically I saw it 1 1/2 time).

The reason why I was at the Royal Opera House this evening is the same reason the performance was sold out: the starry group of singers. The role of Leonora, for instance, is particularly hard to cast. Its tessitura is exceptionally low for a soprano and yet it requires exceptional control of dynamics and legato in high lying passages. I have never heard a Leonora that I could call faultless – and Anna Netrebko comes really close. The naturalness with which she plunges in her low register is something to marvel, and one never has the impression of crudeness suggested by some singers who just knock the audience out with their chest notes. Accordingly, she has tackled exposed high notes with a softer, essentially lyric approach that made her sound consistently dignified yet vulnerable. Ms. Netrebko produced beautiful mezza voce throughout and delivered a La vergine degli angeli poised but not purely angelical, an element of disquiet still lurking in the background. It is difficult to listen to Pace, mio dio with any other singer once you have got used to Leontyne Price, but I have to say that this evening I did not feel shortchanged.

Jonas Kaufmann’s tenor has grown throatier and more effortful since I last saw him sing an Italian role. His acuti lacked brightness and he was often overshadowed by the baritone (what is unusual) and yet he sang with his customary care for the text and tonal variety. His phraseology does not always go along with legato, and at some point one would trade all the highlighting and nitpicking by just good old cantabile. That all said, differently from most tenors in this role, Mr. Kaufmann was able to project a sense of fragility and desolation that made his Alvaro simply interesting in terms of drama. In comparison, Ludovic Tézier sounded as a paragon of vocal health in the role of Carlo, his baritone dark, rich and vibrant. He is not the most electrifying singer in this repertoire, though. Don Carlo is a character difficult to pull out, there must be a psychotic drive behind everything he does – and Mr. Tézier rather skated on the surface of a generic intensity.

Ferruccio Furlanetto’s bass is big and dark enough for Padre Guardiano, but the tonal quality does not suggest the spiritual authority deeper and ampler voices can provide here. In any case, he was better cast than Alessandro Corbelli, who – in spite of his comic verve and congeniality – lacks volume for the part. Veronica Simeoni’s light, slightly hooty mezzo is not my idea of Preziosilla. Last but not least, it was endearing to see Roberta Alexander and Robert Lloyd in the first scene.

Although Antonio Pappano received a standing ovation, his conducting was kappellmeisterlich in the bad sense of the world. After a band-like overture, strings scarce in sound, he seemed to be accompanying his singers in a way that no one of his stars would complain of having their lives made difficult. As a result, one never felt his soloists enveloped in orchestral sound and pretty much alone to produce themselves all excitement and expression. This is not the kind of score that works its magic by itself – so we had to do with the magic-less version this evening.

Christof Loy’s was a one-trick production. Leonora has always been trapped in her childhood of abuse – and the audience soon realized that by watching the same set of her father’s house morphing into Padre Guardiano’s church, Preziosilla’s inn and the barracks. But that cannot be all that he had to say. The plot of La Forza del Destino has a lots of blanks to be filled, and not all of them by pocket psychology, I am afraid.


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It has been a while since Dresden was in the forefront of the operatic world, in spite of its world-class orchestra and enviable acoustics. Christian Thielemann’s tenure in the Semperoper has already made some serious attempts of changing this, none as glamorous as this year’s Lohengrin, in which both Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala made their Wagnerian debuts along some of the most celetrabted Wagnerian singers these days. The expression “golden age” is rarely used to performances after 1980 and one tends to believe that this is just what reviewers write when they are old and nostalgic of their own “golden” days, but the truth is: nothing like watching a cast of A-listers competing for the love of their audience. This is the kind of phenomenon in which the sum is always far greater than its parts, especially when a strong-handed conductor healthily keeps it under tight control.

For instance, Anna Netrebko is not just a great soprano, she is one of the leading stars in the world of opera. One would have imagined a crowd of fans to guarantee thunderous applause – and she surely received it, as much as every other singer on stage this afternoon. In any case, Netrebko’s Elsa is no vanity project. She clearly studied the part with utmost care and made sure that she was singing her own personality into it. When Victoria de los Angeles sang Elisabeth in Bayreuth, purists called it “sentimentalized”; I wonder what they would think of the Russian diva in these Wagnerian shores. Hers was certainly no conventional Elsa: her full, luscious middle and low registers alone made her different from almost anyone else in this role. This Elsa was everything but cold and bloodless. She carefully worked on her pronunciation, on her delivery of the text and on what one would call “German” style. Yet she caressed her lines and coloured her tone very much in bel canto style (and the discrete use of portamento would reinforce that impression), for truly interesting results. It is true that the first scene caught her a bit off her element (and also that she could be once or twice a bit more precise with intonation), but hers developed into a very solid performance, sung with rich and voluminous tone throughout (she was impressively hearable in ensembles), floated beautiful mezza voce and had this intriguingly sensuousness that showed entirely new sides of this role.

Evelyn Herlitzius’s squally singing is not for everyone’s taste, but even those who dislike it must concede that an Ortrud unchallenged by a loud orchestra is a refreshing experience. She did make efforts in terms of subtlety, but her voice does not suggest the chic of a Christa Ludwig or the seduction of a Waltraud Meier. It is rather Ortrud, the witch, and that is not necessarily a drawback. Moreover, she was in good voice, supplying hair-raising powerful acuti without flinching.

Piotr Beczala’s matinée-idol lyric tenor is ideal for the role of Lohengrin. If his top notes lack some power, they are well connected and in keeping with his ardorous phrasing and appealing tonal quality. The farewell to the swan both in act I and III were soft in tone and the long duet with Elsa passionate and sensitive. One must always remember that Mr. Beczala is no newcomer to German repertoire, having sung roles like Tamino and Belmonte. He was well contrasted to Tomasz Konieczny’s steely, powerful Telramund, very much in control of the difficult part, especially in act II, where most baritones are desperate with what they have to sing. Georg Zeppenfeld is an experienced King Heinrich, this evening a bit short of resonance in his high register, but still firm and true. Derek Welton’s Herald, however, had his woolly moments.

Christian Thielemann’s approach to this score is, not surprisingly, very objective, forward-moving, favoring a big yet clear orchestral sound, for truly impressive effects in the prelude to act III. His reaction to the notorious homogenity of tempo in this score is a marked flexibility with his beat, usually for the faster whenever a singer started an “aria” or to mark the changes of mood throughout the opera. The Furtwänglerian Wagnerian would find it lacking depth, and I remember being more moved by Barenboim in this opera, particularly in the opening bars and especially in Gesegnet soll sie schreiten, but complaining of such high-level music-making would be totally unjustified. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance.

I have already written about Christine Mielitz’s 1983 production, but one must register that costumes and sets look fresher than last time and that the Spielleitung has added some efficient touches to the proceedings, notably a woman’s point-of-view of the oppression experienced both by Elsa and Ortrud as key players in a men’s game and how it seemed to produce some sort of connection between them.

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There have been so many words written about Krzysztof Warlikowski’s 2007 production of Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin for the Bavarian State Opera that I wonder if there is anything left to say. In any case, the production has been nicknamed “Brokeback Onegin”, and there is no ill will in the joke: the director does acknowledge the reference, not only to Ang Lee’s movie, but also to David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. I would add something of Elias Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass in the way the young Tatyana is portrayed (and I guess that a reference to Natalia Zakharenko – a.k.a. Natalie Wood – is not out of place here). The cinematographic references are hardly what the nay-sayers complained about – but the fact that the fact that Tchaikovsky’s own homosexuality here stands for the reason why shirtless cowboys do everything but lap-dance Onegin just after he has killed Lensky. On choosing this wording, I mean that many of those who dislike the production probably do not find problem in suggestion that there is more than friendship in the feeling between the two leading male characters in the plot. Even if Pushkin did not envisage that, this perspective is compatible with a plot in which the young poet rages and – most puzzlingly – vilifies his adored Olga without much reason while Onegin accepts the provocation that leads him to kill his only friend instead of acting with the kind of condescension typical of his haughty personality (as we have seen in his reaction to Tatyana’s letter). I even believe that the staging has grounds to put the matter in a more than “Platonic” way; the part I don’t go along with is the premise that both Pushkin and Tchaikovsky could have done better, that they got the second act all wrong and that the third act is a mistake that had to be corrected. I am sorry, but the only misjudged thing in Pushkin’s life was the duel – the real-life one that got him killed way too young. Tatyana’s refusal of Onegin is the culminating scene of the book and the opera – and the Lensky/Olga situation is the main step that took them to that point. I am not a cynical person – call me silly if you want – but I appreciate Tatyana’s decision to be faithful to herself and what she stands for (even if one does not share her beliefs). And I say all this having found the cavorting cowboys far less camp than the ballet numbers usually seen in the third act.

I always say that Onegin is the opera I’ve been most often lucky with: last time I saw it Mariss Jansons was conducting the Concertgebouw. My very high records with it made me difficult to feel happy about Leo Hussain’s conducting this evening. By saying this I do not mean it was bad, but rather that it did not bring me any satisfaction. It lacked the fundamental sense of sustained and increasing tension, some of Tchaikovsky’s famous emotional passages were played without any conviction, the orchestral sound lacked warmth and apparently the chorus could not really understand the conductor’s beat. I also have the impression – especially in the girls/boys quartet in act I – that soloists were basically doing their thing. I will never forget the exemplary sense of control and demi tintes that Jiri Belohlavek achieved at the Met with Mattila, Semenchuk, Beczala and Hampson – and what I heard today it miles away from that experience. And one cannot fault his cast.

This is the first time I see Anna Netrebko in a Russian opera and it seems that it is true that one has always an extra sparkle in the repertoire of his or her own country. She sang with extraordinary richness of tone in her whole range, tackled the exposed high notes roundly and without hesitation and gave a lesson in how to tell apart act I Tatyana and act III Tatyana just by the sound of her voice. The Letter Scene – where a most compelling conductor would have done all the difference in the world – she could find unusual alertness to the changes of mood (and there are many). Brava. It was more than a lucky coincidence that she could find a top-notch Olga in Alisa Kolosova, the best I have seen live, her mezzo ideally young-sounding with judiciously used reserves of depth in her low notes. Also, she knows exactly what kind of woman her character is. Brava anche lei. Since I last saw him, Pavol Breslik has grown immensely in the role of Lensky. It is still a light voice for the part, but the lightness is now used entirely in his favor, in phrasing of Mozartian poise and ductility, not to mention that he has developed in strength to deal with the most outspoken passages.

There is much to admire in Mariusz Kwiecien’s Onegin – he sings with sense of style, an unmistakably baritonal sound and commitment. He does seem a little tired in the last scene, but so are most singers in this part. And yet I missed the sheer chic a great Onegin exudes in acts I and II and the truly spiritual exhaustion in act III. The intent to portray this is there, but I have the impression that a voice of more depth and weight is required to fully accomplish that. Günther Groissböck, on the other hand, has the voice for Prince Gremin, but his aria was sung too objectively, the mellifluous legato a Russian bass would never fail to employ there largely missing.

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This time I won’t reproduce Caruso’s quote, but only mention that the Salzburger Festspiele presented Verdi’s Il Trovatore only once in 1962 when Karajan had Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Franco Corelli and Ettore Bastianini (and the next year, without Corelli). Some would say that you will never have a cast like that again, but the Festival has decided that you can always try something different when you cannot offer the traditional choice. Their bold move has paid off – this was a performance that showed the audience many interesting possibilities about staging an opera by Giuseppe Verdi in our days. But let’s start with the cast.

Since she has become a mother, Anna Netrebko’s voice has developed in an interesting direction – her middle and low registers have become truly luxuriant and, if her extreme top notes have become less reliable, how many sopranos in lirico spinto repertoire actually venture above a high c these days? I am not sure if Lady Macbeth is her repertoire, but – if you have in mind that probably only Zinka Milanov or Maria Callas were truly beyond reproach as Leonora – Netrebko is a Leonora to be reckoned with. First, the voice as it is now is extra rich, surprisingly voluminous and still flexible enough. The velvety tonal quality, especially in her mezzo-ish, well-connected low register is particularly appealing. She has tried all trills and was successful more often than not, her mezza voce is a bit smoky, but in a good way and, even if one can notice that florid passages require her full attention, she tackles them if not with poise, certainly with diligence. If something requires some extra work, this would be staccato, which could have been tackled with a little bit more roundness and spontaneity. Maybe breath control too – even if she disguises it expertly, some phrases were too often chopped for extra intakes of air. In terms of interpretation, things are rather generalized, but there is passion and animation. In moments such as D’amor sull’ali rosee, one feels that spiritual concentration was secondary to getting the notes done. All that said, the glamor is there, and this is an underrated requirement in this repertoire.

I’ve read the name of Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Azucena with skepticism. I had seen her in Verdi only once as Ms. Quickly and found her light-toned for this repertoire, but today she has shown some unexpected possibilities of her voice. Although her middle register is soft-grained, she opens up in some very rich and forceful mezzo soprano top notes, while still retaining her dark contralto bottom register. Her voice is not Italianate either, but this gave her Azucena a very particular color. Her performance never had a dull moment – she is an experienced Lieder singer and never sang a word without considering its musical-dramatic weight, but did not succumb to the trap of making it fussy and too subtle: she managed Italian emotionalism very well. Actually, I have found many of her Handel roles exaggerated in an almost expressionistic way – but this was put to good use in this role. A compelling and intelligent performance.

Francesco Meli too is light-voiced for the role of Manrico. He is what one calls “a natural tenor”, his voice is spontaneous and appealing and has a good volume for a lyric tenor. He beefs it up a bit for this repertoire, and his high notes sound a bit straight sometimes. However, there is no hint of ugliness here. He is an elegant singer, capable of tone coloring and dynamic variety, what made his Manrico more vulnerable and sensitive than usual. Di quella pira, as predicted, even with adaptations to accommodate the unwritten top note, does not really come in the package, even if he cannot be accused of disgracing himself in it.

Replacing an ailing Plácido Domingo, Artur Rucinski too proved to have had interesting developments since I last saw him as the Count Almaviva in the Schiller-Theater. As the Count di Luna, he sounded like a lighter version of Giorgio Zancanaro, singing with unfailingly firm-tone and bel canto-ish poise. His extremely long breath is particularly amazing. He deservedly received thunderous applause this afternoon. Riccardo Zanellato offered a vivid account of Ferrando’s aria, and Diane Haller was a bright-toned and well-focused Ines.

Daniele Gatti found a good balance between a musically detailed approach, bringing to the fore many hidden niceties in the score, and the need for raw energy in strong accents, animated tempi and richness of sound. In this, he had the world’s ideal orchestra for this music: the Vienna Philharmonic at its most crystalline and flexible, singing together with singers on stage. This was Verdian music-making of the highest level.

Il Trovatore is an opera that resents the “régie”-treatment, but Alvis Hermanis has found a very particular niche where this works: the opera opera is staged in a museum in which museum guides and guards mix fantasy and reality under the influence of the paintings they “live” with. Not only these paintings in their red wallpaper museum walls are very atmospheric, but Hermanis has studied the score to find the right moments to shift from present to the past. For instance, Azucena is first seen in modern clothes leading a group of art students when she sings the more “conventional” verses of Stride la vampa, but is transformed in a gipsy woman when telling the more “realistic” and modern music of Condotta ell’era in ceppi.

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In order to raise funds for the renovation of the Lindenoper, Daniel Barenboim invited star soprano Anna Netrebko for a concert with the Staatskapelle Berlin in the Philharmonie. They have worked together before – the result is a disc of Russian songs with the Argentinian conductor as accompanist on the piano.

The first part of the program was devoted to Richard Strauss, and the audience was treated to a very theatrical account of Till Eulenspiegel, in which his musicians could invest their solos with almost graphic narrative purpose. However, Barenboim might be a heavy-handed Straussian and some tutti could have been a bit more smoothly balanced. I had never heard Netrebko sing any music by Richard Strauss and was curious for her rendition of three of his most famous songs. I have to say that I had seen her live only twice – a Puritani at the Met and half a Don Giovanni at the Covent Garden. Since then, she sang Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, had a baby and announced she is going to sing the title role in Bellini’s Norma. Her voice has gained depth in the meanwhile – in the first notes of Wiegenlied, her voice sounded so dark that one could mistake her for a mezzo soprano, but then she floated truly exquisite mezza voce so effortlessly in a way only a full lyric soprano would do. I remembered she had a substantial voice for her Fach, but now I would say that her voice is substantial full stop; Renée Fleming sang the same repertoire with the Berlin Philharmonic and Thielemann a while ago, and her voice sounded somewhat less generous in comparison. Not everything was perfect here – the Russian soprano was not very sure of her breathing points and could be caught short in the end of some long phrases in which she did have an opportunity for an extra breath. Intonation had its dubious moments too, especially around the break into her low register, which sounded a bit throaty and puffy. This would pose more problems in Morgen!, and Cäcilie would finally prove to be the most interesting among the German items. There, she sang with unfailing richness even in climactic high notes. I must say that I am curious to hear more German repertoire from her – it seems that she once approached the Bayreuth Festival to check if they would be interested in her Elsa, but I reckon her glamor would probably overshadow the iffy productions they were showing then. Being a singer who often sings Mozart, she knows how to keep a pure line in “German style”, but more than that: she can make it in a grand scale, and even when not in her absolutely best voice (as probably this evening) always knows the moment to display her “special effects”. In these songs, she never let down in the key moments and easily got the audience on her side; she is entirely at ease on stage and, relying on her healthy vocal production, can sing for those seated behind the orchestra – the fact that she had her back towards the seats in front made very little difference in terms of volume and colour.

After the intermission, Barenboim offered some Faust-related items: a very punchy and here aptly brassy Marche hongroise from Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust and, with Netrebko, Margherita’s L’altra notte from Boito’s Mefistofele. In this item, she still had some issues with passaggio and some low-lying stretches sounded hollow. She was cunning to adapt that into some sort of hushed expressive effect. True abandon was not there, though, and substantial as her voice is, I wouldn’t call it – at least not now – a lirico spinto. The next two items were highlights from Verdi’s Les Vêpres Siciliennes.  In the overture, the Staatskapelle Berlin gave a tour de force, a true technical display from the string section. It is still a full-toned German sound that allied to Barenboim’s heavy-footed approach in which every little note was milked as if they had been composed by Mahler, offered little buoyancy and  grace (even grace in its athletic guise, as one can hear in Riccardo Muti’s EMI recording, less richness of sound notwithstanding). Elena’s bolero (Mercè, dilette amiche) takes some courage – and, with the help of a slightly slower tempo, Netrebko pulled it off better than most. In this item, her voice was noticeably lighter and, although some of the fioriture were on the careful side, she worked her charm in it and offered a couple of commendable trills.

For the encores, a piano has been brought and Netrebko sang two songs – if I understood it right by Tchaikovsky. Barenboim had to read his notes and look at his fingers in some very flowery piano parts for which he had not probably rehearsed. I had never agreed with those who say that one sings better in one’s native language (it depends of which is one’s native language, I would say…), but this seemed true this evening. Only in these songs I really recognized Netrebko’s voice as I heard it a couple of years ago. Here it sounded truly radiant and spontaneous. This is not “my” repertoire and I cannot tell you how they should sound – they certainly sounded gorgeous to my unaccustomed ears.

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I am something of a veteran in what regards Mary Zimmerman’s production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor for the Met. I have seen every cast featured in the opera with the exception of the most controversial one (unlucky me) – that of this year’s revival with Anna Netrebko and her three tenors. Fortunately, there are things that only the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series can do for you, even if my experience was far from live.

First of all, it is quite peculiar to watch the opera at a movie theatre. It is darker than in the opera house, the sound is louder (so you don’t feel like killing your neighbour when he or she starts to fidget with his or her personal belongings or coughing his or her lungs out), you have that funny camera angle as if you were hanging from the edge of the stage (I am not sure I really like that), everybody seems to have a HUGE voice and the orchestra is so powerful as if the Berliner Philharmoniker were playing in your bathroom. There is also the intermission, with Natalie Dessay apparently on drugs manically asking around questions that she herself was ready to answer.

Actually the funniest event of the evening is her appearance at Netrebko’s dressing room’s door. Dessay asks about her approach to the role. Netrebko says something like “it is very difficult and you have to know where the traps are in order not to fall in any of them”. And then Dessay insists – but you mean vocal, interpretative or scenic traps? And Netrebko goes on with “yes – all that”. But Dessay wants to know the secrets of Netrebko’s mind and suggests – you mean you have an intuitive approach? And Netrebko says “yes – something like that”. But Dessay is indefatigable and says “You mean you can be open to the possibilities because you have already carefully worked out them in rehearsal?”. Netrebko looks at the camera, thinks “Uvy…” to herself and says “Yes – I practice a lot”. That is the moment when Netrebko should have said “Look, Natalie – I am not French. I don’t do philosophy – I just sing”. Dessay winks at the camera with “well, folks, I’ve tried” and leaves Netrebko to her preparation for the Mad Scene. The curious thing is that Netrebko goes to her dressing room with the microphone on her hand. A guy rushes in after her. I guess his mission was to turn the microphone off before it broadcast to the world the word “Bitch…”.

Back to the performance. Although I was not live at the theatre but using my experience with Netrebko’s Elvira from the Met’s Puritani, I feel comfortable to say I would have probably enjoyed her Lucia more than I did either Dessay’s or Damrau’s. Although Dessay’s voice had seen healthier days, the role did not seem to pose her technical challenges and she projects efficiently in the auditorium. What bothered me, it was her detached, over-analyzed approach that, together with indifferent enunciation of the Italian text, gave me the impression that the whole Lucia thing was below her intellect. As for Damrau, she just should not sing that role in a gigantic theatre such as the Met, where a certain curdled quality in her tone brings about the opposite of loveliness. Although both these ladies deal with the coloratura demands far more efficiently than Netrebko – I still feel more comfortable with Netrebko’s richer, larger and more beautiful sound. I also believe that she understands that she is no soprano coloratura and deals with her fioriture in a more delicate, rather Mozartian way that could not be wiser considered the role and her possibilities. Until the Mad Scene, her performance seemed to me a valid alternative to Lucia if you want to hear a darker tone and a more lyric approach to this role. But the fact is that this fearsome scene finds her in disadvantage. She did not let herself overwhelm by the many difficulties, but she did not really transcend them. It was acceptable considering the beauty of her voice and her good taste. Although the close-up angles showed a very much self-possessed look, I somehow liked her more economical gestures in that scene, compared to Dessay and Damrau’s more semaphoric attitude, which seemed finally distracting to my taste. If I have to point out another good novelty, this would be the very light suggestion of repressed incestuous feelings between the siblings. I had never thought of something like that, but this could offer a modern-psychology explanation for a lot happening in this opera.

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The fact that the visual imagery proposed by designer Marja Björnsson in this 2002 production by Francesca Zambello – frankly anachronical in its disparaged style of costumes and sceneries – is ultimately unconvincing could be the reason why the intendant decided to give it a twist by selling the show as a “feast to the eyes both to ladies and a gentlemen” (I swear this sounds more appealing in French when this woman said it to a friend next to me while entering the theatre).

What is beyond doubt is that the Royal Opera House has succeded in its purpose of catching the attention of new audiences – Lorenzo da Ponte’s jokes rarely missed the mark and the cast would more often than not felt inclined to overact in order to boost laugh in a way that would have been splendid if it not tampered with Mozart’s music.

Although Paul Syrus proved to know his Mozart, the house band did not feel inclined to respond to his athletic yet not overfast approach. The sound picture was restricted, ensemble often imprecise and articulation blurred. Laughs had an easy advantage on them.

Anna Netrebko was supposed to be a treat to the eyes, but she proved to be also a treat to the ears, even announced to be indisposed. That could be felt in her reluctance to sing softly and a certain caution with high notes. That did not prevent her, however, from pulling out a dramatic and full-toned Or sai chi l’onore, guilt, regret and revolt finely balanced. Although she felt she was unable to go on after the intermission, I could bet she would still be the highlight of this performance in case she had decided to keep singing. Her replacement, Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya does have a forceful flexible voice, but not the polish of a Mozartian singer. She is scheduled to sing Elisabetta in Verdi’s Don Carlo soon – she should work on her mezza voce before that.

Ana María Martínez has indeed the temper for Donna Elvira, but cannot disguise the fact that she cheated with her high notes during the whole performance. When a young soprano has problems with a and b flat, something really wrong must be going on. After a shaky start, Sally Fox managed to produce a teazing lovely Zerlina in spite of a technique more proper to Bach cantatas than to Mozart. I have to say Robert Murray’s grainy tone prone to curdling in high notes is not to my liking, but he sang both his arias well. Erwin Schrott’s long experience with the role of Don Giovanni is evidentin his mastery of all dramatic aspects – especially the intelligent use of recitatives. The French would say he is bien dans sa peau as a seducer, as a rogue and as a nobleman. Sometimes he lets himself go too much and one is inclined to find the performance narcissistic but that is soon dispelled by the singer’s irresistible charisma. His bass-baritone is also in mint condition. The fact that Leporello has less rich a voice than his master’s is always a good dramatic point, but Kyle Ketelsen is more a baritone than a bass-baritone and the low tessitura really seemed uncomfortable for him. He was not fazed by that and sustained the challenge of interacting, establishing a splendid partnership with Schrott. Matthew Rose was a strong-voiced likeable Masetto and, in spite of the occasional rusty moments, Robert Lloyd was an efficient Commendatore.

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I confess – I went to the Met last night with a why-the-fuss attitude. Widely mediated Russian soprano Anna Netrebko starring Bellini’s Puritani covered with benign reviews of usually fearsome critics. This is always something to be suspicious about. What is beyond debate is she more than meets the look for the role. And moves gracefully and, even with apparently no stage direction (at least that is the way everybody else seemed to behave), has imagination for some beautiful stage gestures. That is already something. She also had a concept to the role – and now that is pretty commendable and even rare. Although the opera is named I Puritani, her Elvira had nothing cold about her. Her unusually sensuous passionate attitude bridled by noblesse-oblige modesty made her sudden insanity more believable than usual: sexual frustration allied to romantic disappointment could do that. What about the voice then? Netrebko’s slightly dark-tinted creamy-all-the-way homogeneous soprano is per se something to marvel. Hers is indeed an admirable voice – and used with unfailing technique. The problem remains if Giulia Grisi’s Elvira is a role fit to that voice. If you have Sutherland, Gruberová or Mariella Devia in mind, the answer is obviously “no”. Netrebko is no soprano coloratura – but there is nothing to be ashamed about that. Neither was Caballé – and she recorded the part (among many other bel canto roles) for Muti, with Alfredo Kraus. And, as much as Caballé, she adopts this cleverest motto (and that’s valid for everything in life): when you have to do something you are not comfortable with, do it your way. So she does – using all her LYRIC soprano powers, she pulled out an expressive touching Elvira, a true Romantic heroine. It cannot be denied that her passagework is not athletic, but slower tempi and solid legato made everything sound dependable and musicianly. Some may complain her in alts were short-lived, but all her excursions above top c were solidly produced. As for the much denounced pitch situation, yes, a couple of notes were not true to the expected frequency, but ultimately… who cares?! Netrebko proved to master the most difficult element in bel canto: she colours her voice with unending variety and is an expert in playing with tempo for expressive purposes. Let’s take for example the cabaletta in her mad scene. Instead of trying to dazzle the audience with pyrotechnics (unavailable to her, truth be said), she delicately handled Bellini’s strings of notes to depict the wanderings of Elvira’s mind with the expertise of an actress. I had read that she would do something like that, but I could only believe it when I saw that. Amazing.

American tenor Eric Cutler took the part of Arturo and, as much as his leading lady, he knows the art of expressive phrasing and, what is more, his Italian sounds really legit. His voice is not exquisite in itself, but it is capably used – and he has physique de rôle. Franco Vassallo tackled Riccardo’s act I aria impressively – his is a solid dark baritone – and produced bright forceful high notes with commendable ease. Later he would prove somewhat awkward when Bellinian lines revealed themselves a bit more tangled. As for John Relyea, he is a reliable singer, but his bass sounds curdled too often in this kind of role. That said, how many truly commendable basses have appeared in a Bellini opera? Pity. Patrick Summers accommodates the needs of his singers as this repertoire requires, but does not command his orchestra to produce the graceful and light sounds this score asks for. Sandro Sequi’s uninspired staging is supposed to take second place in the proceedings, but the truth is a beautiful prima donna such as Netrebko deserved costumes that took more advantage of her figure and that made her look more diaphanous (as one could see otherwise in the similarly uninspired production of Lucia from the same theatre) and scenery that could anticipate the beauties reserved by the composer.

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