Recordings > Editor's Choice

Anna Netrebko: "Verdi"

spacer Arias from Macbeth, Don Carlo, I Vespri Siciliani, Il Trovatore, Giovanna 
d'Arco. With Villazón; Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Regio Torino, Noseda. Texts and translations. DG 479 1052

Exploring New Territory

Anna Netrebko meets new artistic challenges honestly — and excitingly — in her much anticipated disc of Verdi arias.

NetrebkoVerdiCD

For her first solo recital disc in five years, Anna Netrebko explores Verdi territory. It's the composer's bicentennial, after all, and the Russian diva gave up Gilda and Nannetta long ago, leaving only Violetta — a role she's already recorded — in her repertoire. Plenty of lyric-coloratura sopranos stop there, but Netrebko has the vocal color and heft, and certainly the temperament, to go further. Her trademark plush, soaring phrasing, combined with the discipline gathered from bel canto roles such as Anna Bolena, suit Verdi's vocal writing, and she meets new artistic challenges honestly in this much-anticipated recording.

Arias from Vespri Siciliani and Don Carlo serve as tantalizing appetizers for perhaps as-yet-unannounced projects, but even though she's been vetting some of this material in concerts — the soprano brought the rarity Giovanna d'Arco to Salzburg this summer — not all the selections inspire confidence. There should be no problem when the soprano takes on Trovatore in Berlin in November. But based on the performances here, June 2014 may be too soon for a convincing, thoroughly characterized Lady Macbeth in Munich. 

The CD opens with the surging orchestral introduction to Lady Macbeth's letter aria, but Gianandrea Noseda and the Torino theater orchestra do little to set the scene. Netrebko adopts a gothic horror tone for the reading of "Nel dì della vittoria" (They met me in the day of success), lands flat on the opening vocal arpeggio and skewers most of the notes with harshly biting, generically witchy tones

There's little psychological complexity or erotic drive to this increasingly ambitious character. Of course Netrebko can sing the notes, but her rudimentary and unnuanced performance won't erase memories of Maria Callas or Shirley Verrett. She fares better with Act II's more straightforward "La luce langue" (Light thickens) , in which hollow low notes contrast with the thrilling abandon of climactic passages marked by Verdi "con trasporto."

Blame Noseda that the sleepwalking scene lacks atmosphere, because Netrebko is attempting her share of eerie vocal effects . Unfortunately, a few chesty and out-of-tune phrases don't add up to a haunted, wrecked characterization, in spite of the touching fragility of some middle-voice phrases and the final disembodied high D-flat.

Banal, colorless leadership and square tempos plague nearly all the other performances as well, especially Giovanna d'Arco's delicate, elegiac "O fatidica foresta." Joan of Arc's moment of nostalgia for the simple life shows off Netrebko's spinning lyrical line , but the phrases don't stretch and breathe, and the conductor's reading of the opening recitative is astonishingly trivial.

For Elena's part of the Act IV gran duetto from I Vespri Siciliani, "Arrigo! Ah, parli a un core," Netrebko brings a sorrowful tone to her already dark timbre, extending from high C down to low F-sharp in the infamous original cadenza, while more flexible tempos highlight the pathos of the shifts from minor to major. Act V's bolero, "Mercè, dilette amiche," sounds sluggish and lacks sparkle, but Netrebko manages a ravishing half-step trill and brings gracefulness to the intricate filigree . She works hard at the coda's chromatic trimmings and struggles to find a real rhythmic edge, but otherwise the rangy melodies are traced with elegance and allure.

The soprano's noble, committed performance of "Tu che le vanità," from Don Carlo, is stunning, showcasing ravishing top notes, impressive breath control and huge dynamic range . In Elisabetta's nostalgic and philosophical valedictory, Netrebko meets all Verdi's demands of power and attack with a variety of vocal shadings and her characteristic easy, expansive lyric splendor.

The final selection, Leonora's Act IV scena from Il Trovatore, is another perfect fit, although she was even better in her August 2011 concert performance from Berlin led by Marco Armiliato. Netrebko seems ideally suited to Verdi's richly ornamented, affecting writing here, and she delivers "D'amor sull'ali rosee" with Bellinian delicacy and dreamlike beauty , except for a violently stabbed trill on the final "le pene." The soprano's incisive delivery of "Quel suon, quelle preci" contrasts with Rolando Villazón's smooth handling of Manrico's offstage lines, which move briskly. The urgency of the cabaletta, "Tu vedrai che amore in terra," brings out a welcome clarity of diction and incisive attack we don't often get from Netrebko, and she caps the scene with a splendid high C.

We'll see what staged productions, challenging colleagues and strong musical and theatrical leadership will elicit from Netrebko in her Verdi progress. The groundwork is laid. Auguri! spacer

JUDITH MALAFRONTE

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Current Issue: October 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 4