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Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov: "Romanza"

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ANNA NETREBKO'S new crossover album has eighteen tracks—eleven sung by Netrebko; three duets with her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov; and four by Eyvazov alone. The majority of them are composed by Igor Krutoy, famous in Russia for his crossover music. (In 2009, Dmitri Hvorostovsky released Déjà Vu, a collection of Krutoy selections.) Romanza’s pieces are much lighter than Netrebko’s current Verdi repertoire and less exacting than her past successes with bel canto roles: her high notes are more intimate (dare I say crooned?), while notes are slid to, but not in portamento. The big moments live in mezza voce.

The pulsing drums in Netrebko’s “La Fantasia” sound like a military march combined with a ballad by Andrew Lloyd Webber; a Carl Orff-like choral part in “Credo” accompanies techno effects; and Eyvazov contributes a song penned by Andrea Bocelli. Eyvazov, who sings Andrea Chénier in December and January at La Scala and Cavaradossi under Yannick Nézet-Séguin in May in Philadelphia, is at home in crossover music—so much so that I wonder if it’s his calling. In “Se Tu Almeno Fossi Fu,” he applies warm shading to the middle-lying melody and dials back his power, to adhere to pop standards. The ethereal quality of “Ricomincerò,” mixed with Eyvazov’s coloring of the melody, makes for peaceful listening; the way he approaches the final note would be inappropriate on an opera stage, but it’s apt here. “Gioia” sits perfectly in his high-middle voice.

“Pioggia d’aprile” best illustrates Netrebko as a crossover diva. As she dials back her power, she creates emotional effects through stresses, accents and even, at times, breathiness, while hitting certain syllables pointedly for emphasis—all hallmarks of the genre. “Il Nastro Blu” is the most bel canto-like track on the disc, fun and flirty like an Adina aria. “Unico” is pretty and romantic, “Credo” a Requiem-esque ballad with a refrain that jumps around the staff. Russian—not the most romantic language, but so comfortable on the artists’ tongues—makes “Odna Lyubov’” a most welcome duet. I wish the disc had more of these Netrebko–Eyvazov pairings; their chemistry is palpable, making each of the duets a high point. 

Not every track succeeds. “Tango Mio” sounds like something out of Moulin Rouge; the refined tone gets lost in the quick-step movement and generic melody. In “Cantami,” Netrebko creates too much space, as she should for opera singing, rendering the sound unfocused and strained. “Mi Fa Male” sounds like a haunting Russian lullaby, so why are the lyrics in Italian? You’ll surely need the texts; it took a whole minute of “Angels Pass Away” before I realized it was in English.

Crossover, unfortunately, has a negative connotation in classical music. It needn’t; crossover music is a pop-like outlet for legitimate singers (as Netrebko may have discovered seven years ago, when she released a successful cover of “La Voix” with Russian pop singer Philipp Kirkorov). Debates about whether so-called crossover artists could ever tread water in an opera house are unnecessary; opera and crossover are two different genres. Bravi, then, to Netrebko and Eyvazov for this impressive and satisfying disc.  —Maria Mazzaro

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