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CD Special: Anna Netrebko: "Opera Arias"

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On the other hand, if you haven't heard her on disc yet, you will probably have noticed her because of the gigantic marketing effort by Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Classics, trying to persuade everyone that we are dealing with not just any talented singer here. No, no, on the contrary: this is Anna Netrebko – ‘The Voice’!
Perhaps it is this overwhelming enthusiasm of the people behind the yellow label which has led to the production of a DVD (containing an “artistic” approach to the medium of ‘classical music-video’…) and 2 solo-albums, released on CD and SACD.

Since her debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1995, Netrebko has seen a big part of the classical music scene, performing at the Salzburger Festspiele, the Wiener Staatsoper, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera, just to name a few. The characters she portrayed range from Mozart’s Donna Anna and Verdi’s Gilda to more than one of the roles out of Puccini’s La Bohème. Given the fact that she covered probably all the major russian opera repertoire makes one assume she must be an extraordinarily versatile and accomplished artist, indeed. To make this picture perfect, the critics are almost courting her.

So, really, Netrebko surprises us with an album focussing solely on herself. The fact that this is a compilation of great opera arias (hence the title!) released on the Deutsche Grammophon label almost gives one the impression as though the idea was to underline her status as – well, how shall we call it? – an opera diva. Perhaps it is the format itself which calls for irritation, haven’t we all had enough of these wonderful pieces being torn out of their context, merely to be delivered as a melange of ‘these melodies we like’? Just think of the long preperation and meticulous build-up Puccini applies in his ‘Gianni Schicchi’ before Lauretta tenderly soothes her father (and the audience!) on stage with her aria “O mio babbino caro”. Nevertheless, Netrebko (and many others before her) instead delivers this fantastic composition after a little bit of Lucia di Lammermoor and some Otello on her second solo-album “Sempre Libera”. But who am I to complain, I guess.

As I have only had the CD-version to listen to I can not comment on the SACD. It is clear that Netrebko performs with a constantly high standard, as long as timbre and pitch are concerned, but it is through her phrasing that one feels she somehow lacks true personification with the characters. Instead of, when necessary, taking the initiative, she lets the orchestra take over for large parts of the ‘Opera Arias’ CD. While this, by the way in its own sense very well-performed interpretation, works well on e.g. Gounod’s “Chanson du roi de Thule” from Faust it is, for sure, not what is necessary for portraying Margarete’s state of mind in the following “Air des Bijoux”. I would prefer the use of vocal technique at the service of expression rather than just hearing a great singer.

I enjoyed the role the recording team has played in this production, and a lot of credit must go to the active part of balance engineer Rainer Maillard who has certainly done a fine job in translating the large dynamic contrasts of the music to CD, even though at times I would have preferred a little more “roughness” within the balance, so to make everything less polished. The orchestra was recorded rather present and transparently for a change – something which is rarely to be found on a production with a feature solo-artist – and it adds an extra dimension to the enjoyment of the music that one can follow the orchestral parts so well.

By Dirk Fischer

Homepage: Anna Netrebko
Homepage: Deutsche Grammophon

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