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Anna Netrebko

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


My Classical Notes

May 16

Manon Lescaut with Anna Netrebko

My Classical NotesSoprano Anna Netrebko is one of my favorite singers, because of her fine voice, her great stage presence, and her sense of humor. Now… have a look at a fine recording in which she stars: Puccini: Manon Lescaut With the following singers: Anna Netrebko (Manon Lescaut), Yusif Eyvazov (Des Grieux), Armando Piña (Lescaut), Carlos Chausson (Geronte), Benjamin Bernheim (Edmondo), and the Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Marco Armiliato conducting. This outstanding concert performance of Manon Lescaut with Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov was the absolute highlight of the 2016 Salzburg Festival – a moment of operatic glory, captured live for this unique release. Anna Netrebko excelled with the perfection of her exceptional voice, her unrivaled interpretation and her devotion to this very part – she is the Manon Lescaut of our time. While Verismo already features the aria “In quelle trine morbide” and the fourth act of Manon Lescaut in a breathtaking studio-version, documenting her great passion to this work, the complete recording of Manon Lescaut will be a great addition to Anna’s fans and opera lovers alike. It has also been a matter of personal importance and dedication for Anna Netrebko to document this work in its entirety. BBC Music Magazine wrote the following: “Netrebko’s Manon soars over the rest of the cast, framed attentively, eloquently and imaginatively by Marco Armiliato and the Munich Radio Orchestra. It’s a riveting, sometimes wayward performance that fails to sound remotely girlish in Act I but captures perfectly the greed, impetuousness, self-destructiveness and lust for life in Acts II and III, with a full-throated, full-hearted account of ‘Sola, perduta, abbandonata’” Here is Anna Netrebko in a brief scene from Manon Lescaut:

My Classical Notes

May 14

Netrebko Concert in Spain

Soprano Anna Netrebko will appear in a concert on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. Here are some details, although the program is not yet announced: Performers: ANNA NETREBKO AND YUSIF EYVAZOV Venue: Starlite auditorium, Marbella, Spain Time: 22:30 Date: Wednesday, July 19th, 2017, 22:30 The image of Ms. Netrebko is from a few years ago, standing on the Kapuzinerberg, overlooking Salzburg, Austria.




parterre box

May 8

Fifty shades of gold

Anticipation of events like the Metropolitan Opera’s 50th Anniversary bash turns me back into the newly opera-soused kid who begged his parents to let him watch the highlights of the Bing Gala on the family color television since the little black-and-white set in my bedroom just wasn’t good enough. (They agreed!) Since becoming an “adult” I’ve been lucky to attend a bunch of these aria-and-ensemble parades and remain besotted with them despite their usually being both wonderful and terrible, too much but not enough, exhausting yet exhilarating. Sunday’s Met extravaganza was all of these things but also unusually thoughtful and moving. Although most of my gala-going has been at the Met, the first one I attended was the concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Since it was taking place on my birthday and Chicago is in easy driving distance from Ohio, how could I not go? As poor college students, we got the cheapest seats in that cavernous place and I got to hear Mirella Freni, Luciano Pavarotti, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Alfredo Kraus, Leontyne AND Margaret Price for the very first time. And it proved to be the only time I witnessed Jon Vickers, Carlo Cossutta and Geraint Evans live. Still being pretty green, I realized only in retrospect that the most special part of that afternoon were the retired artists who introduced each musical selection—great singers whom I never could have heard perform—Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Bidu Sayão, Eleanor Steber, Leopold Simoneau, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (yes, even her little speech was terribly mannered) and more. During the long drive home, my head was spinning! I probably didn’t even know what opera was when the closure of the old Met in 1966 was commemorated by a star-stuffed occasion. By 1983 though I had already attended a few performances at the Met when the colossal all-day Centennial Gala took place and I sat transfixed in front of my television that entire afternoon and evening. I moved to New York in 1990 and although these events don’t occur all that often I didn’t have to wait very long. The Met celebrated the 25th anniversaries of the debuts of Freni, Kraus and Ghiaurov with a lovely and touching gala in March 1991. A number of my fellow standees were audibly sobbing during the final portion of that afternoon when Freni sang Butterfly for the first and only time on stage—just the third act unfortunately but we were all grateful to be there. Since then I’ve attended the marathon Levine Gala in 1996 (so enervating that when I jumped into a cab at 2AM I could scarcely remember my address), the Volpe Gala a decade later and then in 2009 Peter Gelb’s first big Met wingding, the ambitious but uneven 125th Anniversary Gala. The latter was directed by Philem McDermott and co-directed by Julian Crouch who also designed the sets. Crouch was invited back to be the sole producer and set designer for Sunday’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the opera house at Lincoln Center and it was his contribution in particular which made this long evening such a success. Rather than the usual format of singers parading in and out in concert dress performing in front of sets drawn from the Met’s repertoire, Crouch placed each number within a particular design conceit drawn from productions seen at the Met during the past 50 years using a few traditional set components but mostly filling the stage picture with eye-popping projections. The “set” for the big chunk of the first act of La Boheme for exampled looked remarkably like the long-familiar Franco Zeffirelli production. Crouch, in collaboration with the projection design team 59 Productions and lighting designer Brian MacDevitt beautifully evoked August Everding’s Boris Godunov and both Marc Chagall’s and David Hockney’s Die Zauberflöte as well as Otto Schenk’s Tannhäuser and Don Pasquale among many others. This often astonishingly effective use of technology made one wonder why the Met doesn’t make more use of it. In addition, nearly all of the performers wore costumes designed for the “production” in which they were appearing (presumably Kevin Pollard supplied amended designs for costumes that no longer exist in wearable condition). The odd exception was Renée Fleming who sang her selections from Le Nozze di Figaro and Thaïs (where she was joined by Domingo in black tails) in a striking black gown with red highlights and long black gloves that jarringly had little to do with either Mozart or Massenet. Looking thin and a bit wobbly, Dmitri Hvorostovky also arrived in concert dress to sing an excerpt from Rigoletto. Needless to say, his brave appearance introduced by Peter Gelb was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation that clearly touched the ailing baritone. After a dazzling montage relating to the opening of the Lincoln Center house, fascinating film clips mostly devoted to that topic were scattered throughout the event, beginning with a short interview with a radiant looking (and sounding) Leontyne done several weeks before her 90th birthday earlier this year. The most delightful and surprising segment told the story of the accidental creation of the design concept behind the Met’s glorious signature chandeliers. During the final number from Aïda s shower of black-and-white images of nearly 80 of the greatest performers from the past 50 years (listed in the program) cascaded behind the six soloists and full chorus in ersatz-Egyptian costumes from the current Sonja Frisell productions. I spotted Mignon Dunn, Martina Arroyo and Justino Diaz among those attending the performance. The excerpts from a number of James Levine interviews and footage of him at work with the orchestra and various singers shown just before his entrance late in the gala was apt and effective and not too hagiographic given the Met’s recent annoying tendency to describe its past Music Director in only god-like terms. A most arresting transition from film to stage came after remarks delivered by then President Dwight Eisenhower at the ground-breaking for Lincoln Center about the power of the performing arts to transcend international differences. Perhaps not by accident, immediately thereafter beaming Mexican tenor Javier Camarena entered to sing an astonishing “Ah mes amis” from La Fille du Régiment to an ear-shattering ovation (but no encore). Some Gelb-haters decry him as a marketing man rather than as an artistic leader, and it must be said that the 50th anniversary gala had some canny planning behind it. Putting on a pleasing chunk of Adès’s The Tempest might encourage some to attend next season’s The Exterminating Angel. The printed program included asterisks next to the name of singers who are scheduled to appear in their roles in future Met seasons. So it was pleasing to learn that Pretty Yende will be singing Norina, Camarena Tonio, Elina Garanca Dalila and Angela Meade and Michael Fabiano Giselda and Oronte in a revival Verdi’s I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata. However, anticipation of a Kristine Opolais Tosca, a Diana Damrau Violetta and an Eric Owens Porgy proved more a cause for real distress based on their alarming performances on Sunday. As it seemed that most of the opera-loving world listened in to the Met’s streaming audio of the gala (I saw no cameras so I doubt there will be a video of the event), I will try to briefly note some responses to the performances in the house. Domingo’s Gérard sounded better than any 76-year-old should sound (although still nothing like a baritone) but his Athanaël just didn’t work and one is grateful that Gerald Finley will instead be singing the role in next season’s revival. Piotr Beczala, Susan Graham and Zeljko Lucic were in as good a form as I have heard them recently (and a shout-out to Matthew Polenzani for learning Énée to beautifully partner Graham in a marvelous Troyens duet). René Pape, having pulled out of an excerpt from Boris Godunov at the 125th Anniversary Gala, redeemed himself with a powerful “mad scene.” I usually love Joseph Calleja but his Rodolfo was sadly prosaic and relentlessly forte and was shown up by Sonia Yoncheva’s ravishingly poetic Mimi although I remain troubled sometimes by her tight high notes. Wagnerian Michael Volle showed impressive Mozartian ease as the Count, less so as Papageno, while Joyce DiDonato’s doleful Werther aria was more impressive than her dramatically commanding but vocally mannered “Bel raggio.” As I missed Vittorio Grigolo’s Roméo earlier this season, I was grateful to hear his “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!” (replacing an ill Juan Diego Florez) as well as a preview of his Cavaradossi, but he remains a far too self-aggrandizing artist for my taste. Revisiting the past can be a chancy thing but to my surprise Stephanie Blythe sounded lovely in the duet from Handel’s Giulio Cesare with David Daniels with so spellbound the audience at his Met debut in 1999. He was in better voice than the last several times I’ve heard him but it was very fragile and careful. Dolora Zajick never sang the Principessa in Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met but memorably did so at Carnegie Hall with Opera Orchestra of New York in 2002. Although less free and opulent than Jamie Barton in her rendition of the aria at this year’s National Auditions Finals, Zajick, with reduced resources at age 65, still packed a punch. James Morris, whose recent performances have sometimes verged on the unpleasant, appeared refreshed in an intense Philip-Grand Inquisitor scene from Don Carlo alongside a more and more impressive Günther Groissböck who had stepped in for an absent Ferruccio Furlanetto both here and in the inescapable Lombardi trio (also featured at the closing of the old house and at the Levine Gala). Fleming whose final Met (and last ever?) Nozze Countess occurred in 1998 returned to it for an excessively morose and slow “Porgi amor” which was otherwise quite lovely, as was her plaintive Thaïs. If there was ever any doubt that Anna Netrebko is queen of the Met, there wasn’t after she literally crowned herself during the extended scene from Macbeth that ended the first half. Many singers have sung that demanding music with more accuracy but her flamboyant abandon was mesmerizing. I was less convinced by “Un bel di” which began badly but rose to a powerful climax. I’m always reluctant to revisit audio recordings of Netrebko performances that I have attended in person as the flaws in her singing, notably the wayward intonation and increasingly gusty style, bother me less than when in her galvanizing presence. I expect that next season’s Tosca will be one of the most essential—and controversial–events of next season. The heroic conducting duties of the over five-hour show were shared by Levine, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Marco Armiliato. Except for a bad stumble in the Troyens excerpt, the indefatigable orchestra played splendidly and the chorus and its director Donald Palumbo earned their well-deserved applause after a stirring “Entrance of the Guests” from Tannhäuser vividly conducted by Nézet-Séguin whose sensitivity and dynamism throughout boded well for the Met’s future. Armiliato was a surprising choice for Mussorgsky and Handel but acquitted himself decently. Levine didn’t seem to really be on his game particularly in the Lombardi trio which plodded despite David Chan’s bravura violin solo. All in all this was a well-planned and -executed evening that despite some really dicey moments exceeded my inevitably unreasonable expectations. I expect that more than a few opera-lovers remain disdainful of this sort of fancy circus, but I’m already wondering what will be the next big Met event—Domingo’s 50th (due in 2018) or Levine’s 50th (due in 2021)? A final urgent question: should one say “gay-luh” or “gal-uh”? All photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera, except Jonathan Tichler for Aïda.



parterre box

May 7

From the sublime to the stentorian

W.C. Fields used to have a funny trope about in show business you should never work with children or animals. To that list should perhaps be added the soprano Anna Netrebko. L.A. Opera presented Ms. Netrebko, for the first time in a decade, along with her husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov in concert Thursday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a collection of operatic favorites that ran the gamut from the sublime to the stentorian. This was very welcome homecoming for Ms. Netrebko since the last roles she sang here were Lucia, Juliette, and Manon, all partnered by Rolando Villazon. A crackling rendition of the overture to La Forza del Destino led by the evening’s conductor Jader Bignamini started things off. His Verdi was exemplary and it’s easy to take these familiar warhorses for granted until you’re sitting there with 60 plus people are sawing away at it for your musical pleasure. The strings had a wonderful dark tone and the horn paying was absolutely precise from the first. Then our soloists took the stage for the the Act I duet from Otello. Principal cellist Dane Little giving us all a warning that we might need a hanky with his tender introduction. Mr. Eyvazov, being the relatively unknown quantity here, displayed an attractive voice with a dry, almost metallic, timbre that continued to gain color as the evening progressed. If the top doesn’t thunder and bloom as much as you’d like it is all of a piece and uncommonly even in register. Ms. Netrebko’s Desdemona is an interpretation we deserve to hear in full and she used that limpid top of hers to dazzling effect. The short overture to Verdi’s early Attila came next with its echoes of the same composer’s Macbeth proving a fitting introduction to Ms. Netrebko’s party piece, the entrance aria “Vieni t’affretta!” She strode on stage, letter in hand, and proceeded to “read” it from memory. After the,’…addio’ she crumpled it and tossed it to a friend in the front row. You could hear the chuckle starting in the audience just as she flung a blazing, “Ambizioso spirto!” into the auditorium that probably stunned the pigeons outside on the Music Center plaza. She proceeded to give us the cavatina and both verses of the cabaletta and spared absolutely nothing from glittering top to burnished bottom. She displayed an astonishing amount of technical control and proved her credentials as a super-breather. She also gave a full theatrical performance that showed her more than able to conjure the dark arts whilst turning herself into the human equivalent of a vocal grenade launcher. Mr. Eyvazov followed with Manrico’s “Ah,si ben mio” followed by the “Di quella pira” and I found it a poor choice for his gifts. In spite of an accurate and apparently easy top ‘C’ he made heavy work of the cavatina’s line and ignored the composer’s modest decorative markings altogether. He made a simple snack of a cadenza that many tenors have turned into a buffet of emotion. Then the Act II prelude to Un Ballo in Maschera brought our singers out for Verdi’s fiery duet “Teco io sto.” In spite of Ms. Netrebko’s obvious suitability to this role there were three participants involved; herself, her husband, and her music stand. Nevertheless she threw herself into the line of fire of Mr. Eyvazov’s ardor and in spite of her feigned dismay was easily vanquished in a few page turns. Her “Si, t’amo!”—full and opulent at the moment she surrendered—was, literally, breathtaking. The finale of the first half found both in strong voice on the final high C. A grateful audience welcomed the singers back after the interval for the love duet from Lehar’s The Land of Smiles. “Tu che m’hai preso il cuor.” Does it sound better in Italian? Only if you’re not German, I think. They certainly had a lot of fun with it and it was a nice sorbet after the heavy drama of the first half. Ms. Netrebko returned to offer up Adriana Lecouvreur’s “Poveri fiori.” She charmingly announced that as this was her first public performance of the aria she was using her score and begged our indulgence. I wouldn’t call it a polished interpretation but certainly the bones of the piece were there. As her mature voice flirts with those deep purple colors she’s got on the bottom it’s obviously a role she could have a great success in. Plus she’s got that killer fil di voce. She seemed to wish phrase through the end of the first section to the beginning of the second in the grand diva tradition but she wasn’t quite there just yet. Mr. Eyvazov answered back with Maurizio’s “L’anima ho stanca” from the same opera (I’m seeing a future contract here) and this showed him to his best advantage of anything on the program. His shining upper middle filled out the composer’s phrases beautifully and he gave an impassioned performance that won bravos from the crowd. Our diva returned to give us the ubiquitous “Ebben! Ne andrò lontana,” which must be the most performed aria from the least performed opera in the repertoire. Once again her technical control dazzled. I’m glad to say I only heard her tone loosen once or twice, and that just a shade, for an evening with this much heavy vocalism. Announcements of her coming Abigaille in Nabucco, Maddalena in Chenier, to say nothing of Turandot and Salome leave me clutching my pearls. But, then again, this was the year she was supposed to sing Norma so we shall see what we shall see. Giordano’s Andrea Chenier took up the last part of the program with Mr. Eyvazov giving us the Improvviso from Act I. Perhaps it’s a bit easier to sing with a good warm-up than where it falls early in the opera. He took his time on the big phrases to the delight of the crowd. (It strikes me that Eyvazov in an unenviable position. On the one hand he’s married to one of the greatest vocal technicians in the world and someone who I am certain is able to share with him most of the mysteries therein. On the other he’s married to Anna Netrebko and her career which I’m certain has its own set of plusses and minuses. Standing onstage next to such a vivacious and beloved performer can’t be easy and apart from the affection they obviously feel for each he does manage to hold his own vocally.) After a brief flirtation with the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut we were back in the thick of the French Revolution with the final duet from Chenier. Mr. Eyvazov and Ms. Netrebko gave their all even to the point of she bridging phrases up to those coruscating high notes before their names are finally called for the guillotine. It was utterly and completely thrilling. The crowd stood and cheered with good reason. The encores were surprisingly bountiful, especially after such a grueling program. First our Anna, who you know likes to have her fun, favored us with “O mio babbino caro” where she held the penultimate ‘pieta’ for such an impossibly long time, spinning, spinning, spinning out, that people in the audience started to laugh and applaud mid-note. Then Mr. Eyvazov brought his A-game with the operatic national anthem “Nessun dorma.” He too displayed his lungpbusting abilities on that penultimate high B. Then they started the “Libiamo” from Traviata and my eyebrows hit the roof. Ms. Netrebko sailed through the fiorature of the drinking song with a stunning assurance that left my mouth hanging open though I’m afraid those skills still eluded Mr. Eyvazov. The charming duet “Cantami” from the Russian composer Igor Krutoy sounded like the kind of tune they play over the end credits on a film. Los Angeles has a very healthy population of Russian emigrés and they were out in force dressed to the absolute hilt making the Dorothy Chandler look more like a Las Vegas casino than a classical music venue. Which, of course, brings me to the clothes. Our diva wore a stunning red satin sheath silk-screened with large black roses with a loosely gathered train in the back that was very flattering. For the second half she came out in Cinderella’s ball gown all in pink with a blood red bodice and literally carpeted with crystals. She is currently blonde. Mr. Eyvazov clearly fancies himself a bit of a dandy from his publicity photos. Although he was in tails and white waistcoat he also ported a jewel studded cravat. I wanted to slip him a biography of Beau Brummell. Photo: Vladimir Shirkov

Anna Netrebko

Anna Netrebko (18 September 1971) is an operatic soprano. She now holds dual Russian and Austrian citizenship and currently resides in Vienna. She has been nicknamed "La Bellissima" by fans.



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