The OPERA NEWS Awards: Anna Netrebko
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The OPERA NEWS Awards: Anna Netrebko

Like all great stars, she knows what she can do best—and does it.
by F. Paul Driscoll. 

ON Awards Netrebko hdl 416
Netrebko as Leonora in Il Trovatore, 2015
© Johan Elbers
ON Awards Netrebko Manon sm 416
In the Cours-la-Reine scene of Manon at the Met, 2012
© Johan Elbers
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Netrebko as Juliette at Los Angeles Opera, 2005
© Robert Millard

ANNA NETREBKO seemed destined for stardom from the beginning of her career. She first attracted attention when she was in her early twenties, at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, which gave her assignments that made eminent sense for an artist of her very pretty charms. Among these roles was Lyudmila in Ruslan and Lyudmila, the Glinka fairy tale that marked her U.S. opera debut, at San Francisco Opera, in 1995. When Netrebko made her first opera appearance on the Met stage, again as Lyudmila and as Louisa in Prokofiev's Betrothal in a Monastery performances during a Kirov tour in 1998, she affirmed the favorable reports that New Yorkers had received from San Francisco, St. Petersburg, Salzburg, London, Amsterdam and Paris; this young woman, not yet thirty, was an artist of rare gifts. Here was the ideal opera ingénue, a singer born to play the sweet young things that opera insiders call the “ina” roles. 

Or was she?

By 2002, the year in which Netrebko made her official Met debut, as Natasha in War and Peace, it was clear that she was no mere ingénue. Within the broad, densely populated canvas of Prokofiev’s opera, Netrebko was a transfixing presence. Wherever she chose to stand became centerstage. Her star quality was absolute. Netrebko’s Natasha promised true greatness; that promise has been more than achieved in the years since. Great singing is more than a matter of hitting notes and observing dynamic markings; great singing is characterized by generosity of spirit and imagination that is outside the skill set of most vocalists—but not Netrebko. 

Netrebko has an electric connection to the audience, a dazzling sense of urgency that commands attention. She moves and sings with unequaled spontaneity, and she convinces her audience that she is truly living what her character is meant to be experiencing. It’s a quality that transcends her physical beauty, which is undeniable, and her spectacular grace. Nothing stands between Netrebko and the women she plays; she delivers her characters to her audience with unfiltered directness and without apologies. At the end of the gambling scene in Manon, other sopranos have made a play for the audience’s sympathy by looking shocked or weepy. Not Netrebko, who chose to grab the loose banknotes with the energy and frank greed of a practiced thief. 

Netrebko’s voice—now grown in size and strength since her early career—remains enviably rich in color yet firm in profile, and her stage savvy is sharper than ever. (Nobody steals a scene from Netrebko; it’s not possible.) But her impeccable instincts are now deployed with compelling authority and maturity. This season at the Met, when Netrebko’s Leonora dominated the action of Il Trovatore with the feverish abandon and purpose of a woman in love, it was hard to believe it was the same artist I had admired as a meltingly girlish Juliette at Los Angeles Opera in 2005. It has been a long journey from Gounod’s jeune fille to the full-blooded, full-voiced prima donna roles of Verdi, but Netrebko has now arrived at her artistic destination and has achieved unqualified success as Leonora, Lady Macbeth and Giovanna d’Arco. This season, at Dresden’s Semperoper, Netrebko is scheduled to add her first Wagner heroine, Elsa in Lohengrin, to her stage repertoire. Given her galvanizing dramatic presence and her proven ability to make a role her own through integrity, imagination and hard work, the possibility of more Wagner and Verdi from Netrebko is tantalizing. Like all great stars, Netrebko knows what she can do best—and does it. —F. Paul Driscoll 

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