Thursday, 20 September 2012

Anna's birthday: Postscript

As if to prove the point I was trying to make in my previous post, about Anna's kindness and consideration for her fans, she posted this clip on her Facebook page yesterday. Sweet!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Спасибо, дорогая Анна и с днем рождения!

The first time I really noticed her was on a DVD of a concert in Berlin in 2006. She appeared alongside Rolando Villazón and Plácido Domingo in a programme of popular arias and duets. I had seen her before, of course – in La traviata and Manon with Villazón, and as Susanna in Harnoncourt’s Figaro – and while I had certainly enjoyed that, this was different. This was something truly special, and at one particularly point, about an hour into the concert, came the defining moment.

She came on stage in a snugly fitting, long red dress, and launched into ‘Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiß’ with a mischievous glint in her eye. She went on to, not just sing the song, but perform it, moving around the stage, seemingly lost in reverie, beguiling and so incredibly … well, there is no other way of putting it … sexy. There and then, I was hooked. For life.

‘She’, as you have probably guessed already, is of course Anna Netrebko. ‘Oh, and what’s so special about her,’ you might ask. Where do I start?

First of all, and most importantly, the sensuous beauty of her voice, the dark-hued timbre that sets it apart from any other voice and makes it so instantly recognizable. It lends a dramatic edge to most of her roles.

Secondly, her emotional dedication and involvement in her stage performances, capturing your imagination and bringing the characters to life. Oh, and death, if it comes to that.

Let me give you an example. For many a seasoned opera lover, La Bohème is one of those works you know by heart. So you won’t be surprised to learn that ‘Mimí is very ill’, and it is not an earth shattering shock that she does in fact die at the end of Act 4. But the great performers are those who can make you cry at her death, even though you’re well prepared for it to happen. Most sopranos worth their salt can bring this off.

But the truly extraordinary artist is the one who can make your eyes moisten as early as the Third Act, when Mimí is eavesdropping on Rodolfo and Marcello, when she’s pleading with Marcello, and when she’s saying her goodbyes to Rodolfo. The one who then has you welling up as she lies down to die in the bohemians’ garret in the final act, and who has you blubbering uncontrollably when Rodolfo realises that she is no longer alive – even though you’ve seen that self same performance dozens of times! To accomplish this requires a very special talent, a kind of innate, emotive genius. And Anna Netrebko has that genius in spades.

Thirdly, rather than resting on her laurels, she is broadening her repertoire. She has made marvellous recordings of the Stabat Maters of Rossini as well as Pergolesi, showing in the latter her ability to scale down her (in every sense of the word) great voice to fit the music. Some of the roles that made her name has been jettisoned, but she is adding others which will surely give her a chance to develop as a singer and an actress. She is sensibly choosing roles that suit her voice and her personality, taking in comic roles as well. Later this month, she will be starring in another run of L'elisir d'amore at the Met, eagerly awaited by her fans – and by herself! As she said, ‘I’ll be happy to not die, finally!”

She will be singing her first Tatyana in Eugene Onegin next spring at the Wiener Staatsoper, and in 2014 she turns her attention to Leonore in Verdi’s Il trovatore. A forthcoming disc of Verdi arias will give us a taste of that and a number of other Verdi roles, including Lady Macbeth – an intriguing prospect, perhaps one day for the stage and not only the recording studio! Further on, in 2016, she will enter the Wagnerian repertoire as Elsa in Lohengrin under the aegis of conductor Christian Thielemann. Can she pull it off? Well, it should be remembered that Wagner himself valued beautiful voices - it was the dramatic aspects of bel canto that he railed against, not the actual singing. I am sure we can look forward to one of the most beautifully sung Elsas of all time when Anna takes on the role, and that, at the very least, is something to be grateful for. If she can engage emotionally with the role as well, as she always seems to do, her Elsa will certainly be one to anticipate with great fervour.

But my admiration for Anna Netrebko, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, goes beyond her glorious voice and her ravishing looks. What to my mind sets her apart is the warm and generous spirit that she exudes towards her fans. She always comes across as approachable and friendly, taking time out to sign autographs and have her picture taken with her admirers. I think she realises that for many of them, meeting her and chatting to her, however briefly, is a dream come true, and invariably it makes them love her even more. Oh, the cynics among you might say, ‘Sure, being nice to the punters is always good for business’, but I do believe there is more to it than that.

Her openness even extends to letting us have a glimpse, not just behind the scenes, but into her home life. Her 
official website has a section entitled 'Ask Anna', where fans can pose questions on just about any aspect of her professional, and even private, life, and Anna will answer them in brief video clips. The tone is very informal and cosy, many of the clips are filmed in her home in New York, and she seems completely relaxed and often very funny, letting us see a glimpse of the ‘real’ Anna.

And again, we love her all the more for it.

Today, Anna Netrebko celebrates her 41st birthday – here’s hoping for many more to come, and many more years of her exquisite artistry!