Verismo: Anna Netrebko (DG 479 5015)
Anna Netrebko’s clearly game for a laugh. Some time in 2015, the Russian soprano wrested control of her social media from the PRs. Her selfies reveal someone who doesn’t take life – or herself – too seriously, and her recent #TheSoundofManon tweets from Salzburg were hilarious. The cover of her new album has her looking like a cross between Turandot and a Valkyrie. I admire her chutzpah too. Netrebko recently tackled her first Wagner role, an acclaimed Elsa in Dresden, and here moves into heavier Italian repertoire. You can quibble about the title ‘Verismo’, a word now used as lazy shorthand for Puccini and his mates, but this isn’t the first album to be mistitled thus, and I doubt it will be the last. It’s basically good old-fashioned Renata Tebaldi spinto rep… and she sings it gloriously.
Apart from Manon Lescaut, these are all roles that Netrebko has yet to sing on stage, including one or two that she has previously expressed no interest in performing. Thankfully, she’s had second thoughts about Tosca, her debut slated for The Met’s new production in 2017-18. Her “Vissi d’arte” here reveals sumptuous tone, but maintains dramatic tension without wallowing. I hope she reconsiders Madama Butterfly. “Un bel dì” contains far more than just beautiful singing. Netrebko is alive to the text. Her Cio-Cio San is less hopeful than most, anticipating the tragic decision she will be forced to take at the end of the opera.
Her dark, luscious lower register has mezzo richness and the way Netrebko negotiates the passaggio is remarkably skilful. The vocal and dramatic scale of this repertoire is entirely within her range and she offers impassioned, no holds barred singing, matched by red-blooded playing from the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Antonio Pappano’s expert hand. Netrebko can still scale the voice back to a decent pianisismo when required, as in Liù’s “Signore, ascolta!” but the real surprise is just how much her Turandot thrills without the spills that often come with some squally helden-sopranos. “In questa reggia” is superb, fiery and fearless whilst revealing a sliver of vulnerability.
Netrebko gets to the dark heart of these characters. Margherita’s “L’altra notte in fondo al mare” from Boito’s Mefistofele is splendid. Her smooth phrasing is sculpted from marble and her laser-like ascents make me long to hear her sing the entire role. And seriously, how long are we expected to wait for a Mefistofele production at Covent Garden? Or La Gioconda? The doom-laden “Suicidio!” bristles with drama, sometimes at the expense of vocal polish, while Wally’s “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” – the opening taken at a flowing tempo – is very fine, slowing for the central “O della madre mia casa gioconda” section.
Not everything quite comes off. Her Nedda arguably lacks a little bling, but I understand Netrebko wishing to include her – a real verismo character among this gallery of divas and ice princesses. Mr Netrebko – Yusif Eyvazov – guests, appearing at the climax of “In questa reggia” and joining his wife in the whole of Act IV from Manon Lescaut which closes the disc. His gritty, metallic ring is not especially appealing, but Netrebko herself is compelling. She’s lived with the role for a while now and it shows in a sensitive portrayal, especially her anguished “Sola, perduta, abbandonata”.