Die Csárdásfürstin – Heia, in den Bergen
Der Opernball – Im chambre séparée
Giuditta – Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss
Louise – Depuis le jour
Les Contes d’Hoffmann – Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour
Peer Gynt – Solveig’s Song
Fortunio – Lorsque je n’étais qu’une enfant
Gypsy Melodies, Op.55 – No.4: Songs my mother taught me [orchestrated Jiří Teml]
Not the wind, blowing from the heights, Op.43/2
Enslaved by the rose, the nightingale, Op.2/2 [both orchestrated by Andreas N. Tarkmann]
Schlof sche, mein Vögele [orchestrated Friedrich Meyer]
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Requiem – Pie Jesu
L’Enamourée [orchestrated Tarkmann]
La rosa y el sauce [orchestrated Guillo Espel]
La tempranica – La tarántula é un bicho mú malo
Il bacio [orchestrated Leo Petri]
Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Elīna Garanča (mezzo-soprano), Piotr Beczala (tenor) & Andrew Swait (boy soprano)
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Recorded March 2008 in Dvořák Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague
Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson
Reviewed: December 2008
CD No: DG 477 7639
Duration: 63 minutes
This is a box of assorted confectionery, with no tangible connection other than the position of the various sweetmeats as landmarks in Anna Netrebko’s musical life-story.
The selection of repertoire is haphazard and unevenly suited to Netrebko’s vocal gifts. Operetta is one area where there is a reasonable match. The opening track is a promising start: she seems to feel at home with the gypsy-inspired contrast of smoky melancholy and foot-tapping high spirits in Kálmán’s “Die Csárdásfürstin”, the final dance section crowned with an exciting top C. It is also good to hear the duet version of the Heuberger piece with Piotr Beczala. The two artists convincingly portray the palpitating feeling of falling in love, Netrebko with her darker, almost plummy tone in the lower reaches giving an impression of seniority, while Beczala projects his character with eagerness and vocalises freely.
The “Giuditta” aria betrays a systemic weakness, even in operetta. The Lehár piece is identified as a particular favourite: it is described as Netrebko’s “signature tune” in the accompanying booklet note. This tempts her and conductor Emmanuel Villaume to overdo things. She spurns delicacy. He keeps the volume level relentlessly high and the orchestral interludes are brash. Too much energy is spent before the climax is reached and it consequently lacks its full impact.
Moving to opera, ‘Depuis le jour’ is a gift for an able soprano: I can’t think of a single failed recording of it. Netrebko is able to exploit the sexy, breathy potential of her voice to create the effect of wonder. If the words are sometimes swamped, an excess of downward portamento and the endings of certain phrases threaten to sag, there is still much to enjoy here. In the ‘Barcarolle’ from “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” the impressively firm-voiced Elīna Garanča joins her.
The two Richard Strauss songs are also sure winners. There is a natural piquancy to the tone and some will doubtless say that Richard Strauss’s soprano-writing demands a more creamy sound, but I find this a perfectly acceptable alternative. “Cäcilie” receives the right breathless interpretation and she luxuriates in the unbroken line of his “Wiegenlied”, showing ample supplies of breath.These two songs were orchestrated by the composer, in both cases within a short time of their voice-and-piano composition. Several other pieces in this selection are offered in less-than-suitable orchestral arrangements. Rimsky-Korsakov is a sufferer from this. While his ‘Nightingale and Rose’ song has a haunting flavour, the second one – “Not the wind, blowing from the heights…” – loses its essential astringency in the soupy orchestration by Andreas N. Tarkmann.
Misgivings about the recorded sound were troubling me from an early stage. I should say “sounds”, because quite a lot of manipulation occurs. The predominant characteristic is excessive reverberation. The second Rimsky song and “Il bacio” are particularly conspicuous examples of the final chord being audible echoing away for some time. The placing of the singers varies, ranging from well back for soprano and boy-soprano in the Andrew Lloyd Webber duet to close-up in the following Hahn track. The orchestra is generally reproduced in immediate terms, sometimes booming, while in Strauss’s “Wiegenlied” there is a peculiar balance, with harp harmonics and flute arpeggios artificially highlighted.
There are, though, rewards in this collection. There is no doubt that Netrebko possesses ‘the voice beautiful’: some of the most memorable moments in the recital stem from the wordless vocalises in the second Rimsky song and in the Guastavino. Her natural sound suits the doleful Yiddish cradle-song and her temperament the rhythmic energy and mischievous humour of Gerónimo Giménez’s zarzuela aria. Some of her opera performances have revealed that she is not well suited to relentless demands for coloratura skills in the bel canto repertoire but here ‘Il bacio’ is more than a formal nod in the direction of vocal athleticism: she sweeps exhilaratingly through the divisions and throws off a final E flat in alt. The tracks which I enjoyed most were the delightful miniature from “Fortunio”, in which, with its elusive melody, she has to concentrate on the words and characterise with care, and her guileless ‘Solveig’s song’.
The possession of a charismatic voice is no guarantee of fruitful interpretations of the music to which it is applied and Netrebko has yet to acquire maturity in this respect. She currently relies more on generalised beauty of tone than engaging different vocal colours. None of the tracks on this release rival the best versions of these arias, songs and duets. I cannot help feeling that this singer has been prematurely elevated to superstar status and would have been better advised to postpone this exercise until she had mastered her true core repertory of lyric-soprano operatic roles.
A collection of bonbons, then, rather self-indulgently assembled for two markets – the die-hard Netrebko fans and the casual buyer of easy-listening compilations. Both are likely to find her tastes and the biographical background to their selection endearing. A diet with as much sugar in it as this, however, although it may please the taste-buds, risks overloading the aural palate. I have no doubt that Netrebko is more than a marketing phenomenon but I fear that commercial cashing-in on her celebrity has played a larger role in this issue than serious musical motives.