Richard, Emy, and I went to a recital by soprano Anna Netrebko and pianist Malcolm Martineau at the Met on 2/28. It was stunning, one of the greatest voice recitals I've ever been to. This was her New York recital debut - - Richard thought that was curious, for such an A-list opera singer, but she's made her career as an opera singer, not as a recital singer. Of course they have overlapping skills, but I might say they're about 50/50 in what they have in common vs. what they don't.
She originally scheduled her New York recital debut for 2006 in Carnegie Hall, but canceled because she didn't feel "artistically ready". She made another date (again at Carnegie) for 2011, but had to cancel again - - she was under doctor's order to rest her voice for ten days after a run of performances of *Anna Bolena* at the Met.
I thought it was commendable that she canceled the first time, I liked that she admitted she wasn't ready to present herself as a recitalist. So many other singers would go out there and do a mediocre job, but not her. I was curious to see what she was like in this setting, and she blew me away.
Let me get a few things out of the way before I get to my review. First, what she wore: in the first half she wore a white long-sleeved sheath with a silver pseudo Art Deco design on the front, paired with a silver sequined headband, secured by two thin strands of rhinestones criss-crossed across her head. Her hair was down and wavy. In the second half she wore an aquamarine silk gown, sleeveless, with black beading on the bodice and down the front. A tasteful train in the back. The hair was up. Both gowns made the most of her newly curvy figure. Martineau wore a handsome black suit, white shirt, and black tie. The page turner was suitably invisible.
This was the worst-behaved audience I have ever encountered, in all my years of going to cultural events. I probably heard ten cell phones go off during the first half, and easily saw a hundred flash photos. An usher made an announcement before the second half that if he saw anyone using a cell phone or camera, he would take it away and it would not be returned. That put a cap on THAT.
The program was all Russian songs: Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov on the first half and Tchaikovsky on the second (I've listed all of the songs below). I've heard her singing Italian roles many times, and she has a deep understanding of the Italian style, but hearing her sing in Russian is a completely different experience. I don't speak Russian, but can sense that her singing has so many more shadings, so much more meaning when she's singing in her native language. It's one thing to know what you're singing about, and communicate the drama of the text - - it's another to really taste and savor the words, and put across the poetry and deeper meaning.
Halfway through the first set, I was thinking about my review and trying to come up with the word I would use to describe her performance. The word I decided on is authority. She sang with complete authority. She is a very serious artist, at the peak of her powers. The voice itself is more thrilling than ever: full of thrust and drive, but also capable of ravishing delicacy. And everything in between. The surprise was the level of artistry. She really blew me away.
Many songs were more or less staged, which wasn't something I had seen to this degree. Like in the song "Lilacs", she went over to the flower arrangements on the side and addressed the song to them. Most singers stay fairly close to the piano, but she covered the waterfront, walked from one side of the stage to the other (and it's a wide stage). Most memorably, in "Captivated by the rose, the nightingale", at the end of the song, during the vocalise, she turned her back, raised her right arm, and waved it slowly, illustrating the haunting, rather Moorish vocal line. Here she is singing it at the Met in 2007 - - the vocalise is at 2:14:
A brief interruption to my review - - that recording was made at a memorial tribute to Beverly Sills in September of 2007. Richard and I were there, it was a free event with all kinds of wonderful speakers and singers. This was the first time I heard Netrebko in person and she knocked all my teeth out, I'd never heard a voice like that. Also, it must be said, that song is unbearably beautiful.
I had heard pianist Malcolm Martineau at Carnegie Hall years ago, playing for the great Susan Graham. He is an A-list collaborative pianist, it doesn't get any better. He plays with fervor, with heartache, and he was most delightful when he rippled and splashed. He was always supportive of Netrebko, both of them consistently on the same page in what they were doing. He had a longish postlude in the last Tchaikovsky song, which had me thinking not, "Wow, what gorgeous playing", but instead, "Wow, what gorgeous music." That is the mark of a true artist.
She sang two encores: Dvorak's "Songs my mother taught me" and Richard Strauss's "Cacilie". The audience went coo coo nutty. I will run to hear her next recital.
"Before my window"
"Sing not to me, beautiful maiden"
"What it is, in the still of night"
"Forgive me! Remember not the downcast days"
"It was not the wind, blowing from the heights"
"The lark's song rings more clearly"
"On Georgia's hills"
"To the realm of roses and wine"
"Captivated by the rose, the nightingale"
"The clouds begin to scatter"
"Ivan Sergeich, do you want to go" from *The Tsar's Bride*
"Summer night's dream"
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
"Say, when under shady boughs"
"So soon forgotten"
"Was I not a little blade of grass?"
"Amidst gloomy days"
"Amidst the day"
Encores: "Songs my mother taught me", Antonin Dvorak
"Cacilie", Richard Strauss