John, David, and I heard soprano Anna Netrebko and pianist Malcolm Martineau in recital at Carnegie Hall on 12/9/18. I emailed John and David a few days before to set up a plan for lunch - - I went to the Carnegie Hall website to confirm the start time and was shocked to see that they had listed her entire program! For me, this has always been the most exciting moment of a voice recital, when you open the program and see what they're singing. So this was very exciting indeed, to know so far ahead of time:
RACHMANINOFF "Lilacs," Op. 21, No. 5
RACHMANINOFF "Before my window," Op. 26, No. 10
RACHMANINOFF "How fair this spot," Op. 21, No. 7
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV "The lark sings louder," Op. 43, No. 1
R. STRAUSS "Morgen!" Op. 27, No. 4
DEBUSSY "Il pleure dans mon coeur" from *Ariettes oubliées,* No. 2
CHARPENTIER "Depuis le jour" from *Louise*
TCHAIKOVSKY "It was in the early spring," Op. 38, No. 2
TCHAIKOVSKY "Tell me, what in the shade of the branches," Op. 57, No. 1
BRIDGE "Go not, happy day"
TCHAIKOVSKY "It is evening" from *The Queen of Spades*
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV "The clouds begin to scatter," Op. 42, No. 3
TCHAIKOVSKY "Frenzied nights," Op. 60, No. 6
R. STRAUSS "Die Nacht," Op. 10, No. 3
R. STRAUSS "Wiegenlied," Op. 41, No. 1
R. STRAUSS "Ständchen," Op. 17, No. 2
FAURÉ "Après un rêve," Op. 7, No. 1
DVOŘÁK "When my old mother taught me to sing," Op. 55, No. 4
RACHMANINOFF "The Dream," Op. 38, No. 5
MOORE "Gold is a fine thing" from *The Ballad of Baby Doe*
OFFENBACH Barcarolle from *Les contes d’Hoffmann*
TCHAIKOVSKY "Whether day dawns," Op. 47, No. 6
A few things leapt out at me: first, a lot of the same Russian songs I heard her do at the Met a few years ago. Nothing wrong with that. The set of Strauss songs was enticing - - she's allegedly doing a new production of *Salome* at the Met in a few seasons, so this will give us a taste of what her voice sounds like in that rep.
I was surprised to see three arias on the program. She didn't have any arias on her Met recital, not even for encores. It used to be expected that an opera singer would do a mixture of arias and songs on a program, but that has fallen out of favor. I had a conversation with my singer friend Ethlouise about this: she's of the opinion that if you're doing a song recital, you should be doing song literature, full stop. There certainly are plenty of songs that give the drama and amplitude of an aria, go ahead and sing those. But for the opera queens in the audience, to get to hear Netrebko sing "Depuis je jour" (really and truly my favorite aria of all time), how could you pass that up. And yes, an aria is best heard in the context of the opera in which is originally existed, but no one is going to be doing a production of *Louise* for her anytime soon.
Lunch was fun, of course. We got to Carnegie Hall and I knew that my seat was in the balcony but I hadn't remembered that it was nearly the last row of the balcony. I'm used to sitting far away from the stage, but this was excessive. I was curious to get a sense of the scale, so I held my thumb about six inches from my face and the concert grand piano on the stage was the side of my thumbnail.
The theme of the program was Day and Night. The first half was day, and she wore a divine white silk satin gown with an abstract floral pattern. She walked out onstage holding a bouquet of flowers, which she placed on the floor in the first song. As in her Met recital from a few years ago, she worked the whole stage, turned each song into a mini drama. John told me at intermission that this is a Slavic tradition: he heard Galina Vishnevskaya in recital (with her husband, Mstislav Rostopovich, at the piano) and she really DANCED the Mussorsky *Songs and Dances of Death.* Netrebko owned the stage, treated it like a stage and not like a concert hall.
My late voice teacher Lois Fisher once described the difference between a song and an aria - - she said a song is often about a remembered emotion, whereas an aria is an emotion that's being experienced at that moment. To put it another way, songs are more introverted, arias more extroverted. To put it MY way, songs are the Mensch, arias are the Diva. Well, there's nothing introverted or Mensch-like about Miss Netrebko. A few of the songs may have been introverted in their affect, but she definitely processed them through her extroverted filter.
David put it this way: "It's not a recital. It's a SHOW." It was Diva Worship: Extreme Edition, and as John said, she's the last of a dying breed. That level of diva adulation doesn't exist anymore, and what a thrill to lavish it on an artist so worthy.
The first Rachmaninoff song was centered in the middle voice. The second gave her a chance to test out her high voice, which she'd be using more soon enough. The third had a held high note that was held so long that it was bordering on bad taste - - but it wasn't bad taste, it was just indulgence. She's a highly indulgent performer, and that's one of the things we all love about her. She holds nothing back.
"Morgen!" featured a violin solo by David Chan, concertmaster of the Met Orchestra. Netrebko walked over to the door and led him, by the hand, onto the stage. That was cute. At first I thought maybe her interpretation was a little too outward-facing, but she was just singing the song on her terms. She does everything on her terms. And she did conjure up a wondrous tenderness at the end. The violinist had the last note, which he held for a nice long time, and he took the bow off the string with such grace! One worrisome question: was she really singing in German? Her German is more than a little murky. The Strauss songs on the second half were better, maybe I just had to get used to HER German.
As I said, "Depuis le jour" is my favorite aria of all time, and I was really excited to hear her sing it. She was amazing. My favorite moment was a moment of "staging": the first section ends with the words "de ton premier baiser," by your first kiss. The phrase goes from an F sharp in the middle voice up to a G an octave above. Netrebko raised her left arm on the G and slowly twirled around, it was darling.
Martineau is a spectacular pianist but an even more impressive COLLABORATIVE pianist. He was her partner, he gave her what she needed. He surged forward, he hung back, I think now and then he did a little vamping, waiting for her to come in or leave her sustained high note. John and David told me later that she was taking quite a lot of direction from him, he was discreetly cuing her about when to come in, covering for her when she made a flub. They're both pianists and know these songs infinitely better than I do, so let me just say that Martineau and Netrebko were such pros that I had no idea that these things were happening.
One thing I CAN say, as an expert: the page turner was applauding when the audience applauded. The page turner should never applaud.
The Tchaikovsky songs were brimming with drama. The Bridge song was darling and silly, and boy was I glad the English text was printed in the program because her English was as abstract as her German. She picked up the bouquet before the last song on the first half, the Leoncavallo, and she threw the flowers into the audience at the end of the song.
The intermission was one of the high points of the program, that was when I got the low-down from John and David about what was going on onstage. John had one other priceless quote about the overall intention of the recital. He chose the beloved Strauss song "Morgen!" as his example, that was the song she did with the violinist. John said, "No one came to hear 'Morgen!' "
The second half opened with a duet from Tchaikovsky's *The Queen of Spades,* featuring the young mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano. Netrebko had changed into a black gown, appropriate to the "Night" theme. She walked out onto the stage holding a silver mylar balloon in the shape of a star. It had a weight at the end of the string, She placed it in a far corner of the stage and it hovered there for the entire second half. It didn't distract me at all. The two singers sounded dreamy together.
She sang the next songs, the Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, curled into the curve of the piano, the standard spot for a singer doing a song recital. It was like her saying, "I CAN behave. When I want to."
The Strauss songs - - can I say they were fascinating, or is that shady? "Die Nacht" is a sweet little song, and she captured much of its magic. John thought her interpretation was too sad, but I didn't see it that way at all. She stood behind Martineau for "Wiegenlied," which might have seemed like a staging decision, but I really and truly think she wanted to have an eye on the music. The last song on the set, "Ständchen," had a dazzling postlude by Martineau. He really is an extraordinary player.
Her French was a little peculiar in "Après un rêve," but she certainly conveyed the mystery of the song and imbued it with her unique vocal glamour. And isn't that, after all, what we paid for? By the way these tickets were PRICEY: my seat in nearly the last row of the balcony was $85. And worth every penny.
"The Dream" by Rachmaninoff speaks of a dream that has "two immense wings," and Netrebko seemed to express the whole song in her wingspan. Martineau's postlude was delicate but strong.
The *Baby Doe* aria was one of the things I was most looking forward to, and it was gooey in its sublime cheesiness. It was baked Brie. The high C sharp was a smidge out of alignment at first, but she found her footing quickly and held it, did a luscious diminuendo followed by and even more luscious portamento down to the next note. Ravishing!
The *Hoffmann* "Barcarolle" was delightful. The final song on the program, Tchaikovsky's "Whether day dawns," was the perfect song to sum things up because it was about both day and night. Martineau, in his postlude, brought it home and then took it to town.
They did two encores: Arditti's "Il bacio," a diva number from WAY back, back before Ed Sullivan, back to the wind-up Victrola! Netrebko delivered all the musty diva goofiness of the number, blowing kisses to the audience and behaving like full on diva fool. She wasn't afraid to be goofy - - she's not afraid of anything! Here she is performing it at the Hermitage in 2014:
I was relieved to hear John say that he, like me, had a hard time hearing Netrebko sing it, and tuning out the Spike Jones recording he had in his head. Here's THAT priceless recording, featuring the toast of Glyndebourne, Ina Souez:
Her final encore was "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's *Gianni Schicchi.* Lovely, melting, extraordinary. This woman is at the peak of her powers and I feel so lucky to have heard her as often as I have. This performance, in particular, was one for the ages.