I heard soprano Anna Netrebko and pianist Pavel Nebolsin in rectial on Feb 6, 2021, presented as part of the Met Stars Live in Concert series. The recital was done from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna (Netrebko has been based in Vienna for a few years).
Netrebko is one of the greatest singers in the world, I’ve heard her many times, I try to hear her every time she performs at the Met. She’s a priceless artist, truly one of a kind. I’m lucky enough to have heard her in recital twice, first at the Met in 2016 and again at Carnegie Hall in 2018.
I’m such an opera queen, I’ve always said that one of the most exciting moments of a voice recital is when first you see the program. If you’re lucky this happens a few weeks or months before the concert, so you can have that time to start getting hopped up about hearing that artist do those songs and arias. In this case, I had a few days to work on unknitting my brow…
Her program consisted of 19 songs, arias, and duets. The problem is that ALL of them, every last one, was something I had heard her perform in 2016 or 2018. Three of the songs were things she had done at both of her previous recitals, which would make this the third time I’m hearing her sing them. I’ve listed the whole program with the dates of the previous performances at the bottom of this review.
I’m all for someone doing what they feel comfortable doing, and building a core repertoire they feel they can do better than anyone else. But it would be nice if she would have just added two or three new pieces. That’s all I ask. Two or three. There are literally thousands of songs and arias to choose from. I hate to put it so baldly, but it sounds like laziness to me.
Thankfully most of her program consisted of either things I don’t know very well or things I do know very well and am happy to hear her sing again. The first set of Rachmaninoff songs were exciting, propulsive, a great way to get things moving. I knew that I was going to be in for a delightful concert, and I could trust her to give me something special.
YouTube has plenty of clips of Netrebko in operas or in concert with an orchestra but not so much of her in recital. But lo and behold, I found this full recital (with Daniel Barenboim!) from Berlin in 2010, doing a program of Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky:
“Morgen!” is one of the most heavenly songs ever written. Nebolsin played the prelude with such tenderness, it was stunning. And Netrebko spun the song out with such mastery, it was unforgettable. I will quibble and say that her German sounds more like Russian, but yes, that is a quibble.
“Il pleure dans mon coeur” was a surprise. She brought something specific to this song, she made choices in phrasing and dynamics unlike anything I’d heard before. One of the highlights of a Netrebko recital performance is watching her move around the stage. A singer more often stays close to the piano, but Miss Netrebko has dominion over the entire stage. And in such a huge (and empty hall), it was thrilling hearing her voice travel out into the acoustic.
I’ll go ahead and say that “Depuis le jour” is my favorite aria ever, it’s surpassingly gorgeous. Again, Netrebko was full of surprises - - the phrase cresting on a high A near the end of the song (“et je tremble délicieusement”) was unusually dramatic. Meaning unusually LOUD. It was like a Wagner heroine singing about a night of love, not a middle class French girl. Nebolsin gets bonus points for following her as well as he did. When she chose to hold that high A for a long time instead of for just five beats, he was right there with her, somehow kept it together, and pulled off the hat trick of making it feel like part of the greater whole of the aria.
The Tchaikovsky songs were marvelous. She really has a way with over-the-top, grand, Romantic music. She sings it with total commitment and abandon. The Leoncavallo was fabulous Italian camp. The high note that capped off the song was pure indulgence. And that’s what we want.
She took a little break, which was filled by host Christine Goerke interviewing Met General Manager Peter Gelb. He talked about Netrebko's development from a soubrette to a dramatic leading lady. They showed this video montage of highlights from Netrebko’s Live in HD performances:
The biggest thrill of this intermission feature was the news that in a few seasons Netrebko and Goerke will be sharing the stage together. I knew that Netrebko had plans to play Elsa in *Lohengrin* at the Met in a coming season and I was most eager to find out who would be playing the villainess, Ortrud. I had hoped it would be Karita Matilla, but I’m even more excited that it’s going to be Goerke. Goerke will be stunning, she’ll be the second coming of the late Astrid Varnay, who is the gold standard in this role.
The second half opened with a duet from Tchaikovsky’s *The Queen of Spades,* which Netrebko sang with Russian mezzo Elena Maximova. They sounded great together.
The next two Russian songs (by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky) were dark and moody, maybe even a little desperate. OK, definitely more than a little desperate. Nebolsin’s playing was especially strong in the Tchaikovsky. It’s like he was the wave and Netrebko was the surfer. Hanging ten, baby!
Richard Strauss’s “Die Nacht” is another song I adore, and again, Netrebko brought something unusually dramatic and urgent to it. She has a bit of Aretha Franklin to her, in the way that she takes songs that you feel you know already and she totally reworks them by restyling them in her own image (I’ve included Franklin’s version of “Eleanor Rigby” below as a strong example of this). Needless to say, any comparison to Aretha Franklin is high praise indeed.
Dvořák’s “Songs my mother taught me” is a beloved song but it’s never been a favorite of mine. I’ll leave it at that. Rachmaninoff’s “The Dream” was suitably transcendent, full of sparkle and flame. Netrebko and Maxinova sounded delightful together in the Bacarolle from *Tales of Hoffman,* and it was an amusing added bit of camp to have them wearing sequined and plumed masks, reminding us that this part of the opera is set in Venice.
The final song on the program was Tchaikovsky’s “Amidst the day,” which rippled, surged, and soared. Both Netrebko and Nebolsin seemed to be full out, reckless abandon by the end of the song, Netrebko singing slightly sharp (which can be delicious under certain circumstances) and I’m not 100% sure that Nebolsin was playing wrong notes, but he was really slapping his fingers on those keys.
I assumed that they’d do at least one encore. They did not! Another surprise, in a concert of surprises.
“Lilacs,” Rachmaninoff (2016 and 2018)
“Before my window,” Rachmaninoff (2016 and 2018)
“How fair this spot,” Rachmaninoff (2018)
“The lark’s song rings more clearly,” Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (2016 and 2018)
“Morgen!” Richard Strauss (2018)
“Il pleure dans mon cœur,” Claude Debussy (2018)
“Depuis le jour,” from G. Charpentier’s Louise (2018)
“It was in the early spring,” Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (2018)
“Tell me, in the shade of the branches,” Tchaikovsky (2018)
“Mattinata,” Ruggero Leoncavallo (2018)
“Uzh vecher … Oblakov pomerknuli kraya,” Tchaikovsky (2018)
“The clouds begin to scatter,” Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (2016)
“Nights of Delirium,” Tchaikovsky (2018)
“Die Nacht,” R. Strauss (2018)
“Ständchen,” R. Strauss (2018)
“Songs my mother taught me,” Dvořák (2016)
“The Dream,” Rachmaninoff (2016)
“Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour,” Offenbach (2018)
“Amidst the day,” Tchaikovsky (2016)