Opera star Anna Netrebko talks about the new album and what makes sense to spend energy and voice
Opera singer, soloist of the Mariinsky Theater Anna Netrebko
Anna Netrebko’s new album Amata dalle tenebre on Deutsche Grammophon, scheduled to launch internationally on November 5, 2021, will be the first solo release of a Russian opera diva in the past five years. The dramaturgy of the album, recorded with the symphony orchestra of the Milan Teatro alla Scala under the baton of Riccardo Chailly, is built around two poles – Italian and German.
Its concept allows one to assess the vocal and dramatic potential of today’s Netrebko: Tristan and Isolde, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin by Wagner, Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, Verdi’s Aida and Don Carlos, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and “Manon Lescaut” and “Adriana Lecouvreur” by Francesco Chilea.
In recent years, Netrebko has been sounding brighter and more multifaceted in the dramatic opera repertoire, and the new album allows one to fully appreciate the singer’s skill: the unfulfilled hopes and despair of the romantic heroines Puccini and Chilea are painted with luxurious, rich, dark colors. To no lesser extent, she succeeds in Wagner’s “temperature differences” between aloofness and ecstasy.
The singer today is not often heard in the Russian opera repertoire, but the album also gives such an opportunity: Anna Netrebko included in it Liza’s arioso “Midnight is approaching …” from “The Queen of Spades”. Another touch that hints at a new sphere of the singer’s creative interests is the baroque repertoire: the album contains Dido’s cry from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.
Netrebko has a long-standing relationship with the German recording studio. The Russian opera diva has released several dozen releases on Deutsche Grammophon. And her first album was released there in 2003, when Netrebko, together with Elina Garancha, released an exquisite collection of bel canto arias, accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Gianandrea Noseda, who at that time was the chief guest conductor of the Mariinsky Theater, native to the singer.
In the near future, the singer promises the audience a debut in the most difficult part of Abigail (“Nabucco”). The production, slated for April at the Metropolitan Opera, has been postponed due to the pandemic.
– You have just released a solo album Amata dalle tenebre. This is the result of five years of work. The scale is impressive – from Puccini to Wagner to Purcell. How would you describe this album?
– The idea to release this album came a long time ago, and at first they wanted to record only German music. But since my whole life is very tightly occupied with performances, I practically did not have time for a new album. I just didn’t know when I could do it, so I didn’t even think about it seriously. And when there were lockdowns and the closure of theaters, it became possible to concentrate, choose a repertoire and seriously work on the album. The disc consists of two parts – Italian and German. Italian was recorded on the stage of La Scala, during a live concert, but then this theater, unfortunately, was closed for a very long time. The second part – already a German program, as well as music by Purcell and Tchaikovsky – we recorded already in April, also at La Scala, but with an empty hall. The disc itself turned out to be wonderful, very interesting. Amata dalle tenebre is a poetic Italian phrase that means “beloved by the shadow”. I think this shadow personifies everything together: death, illness, depression; that is, everything that the shadow symbol itself stands for.
She was born in 1971 in Krasnodar. Studied at the St. Petersburg State Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory. People’s Artist of Russia
debuted at the Mariinsky Theater as Suzanne (Le Nozze di Figaro), and the following year at the San Francisco Opera as Lyudmila in Ruslana and Lyudmila
made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, in War and Peace, and at the Salzburg Festival, in the opera Don Giovanni
British Classical Brit Awards in the category “Best Classical Music Performer”
debut in the title role in Verdi’s opera Jeanne d’Arc at the Salzburg Festival. Release of the album “Verdi” on Deutsche Grammophon
laureate of the International Opera Awards in the category “Best Singer”
Laureate of the Russian National Theater Award “Golden Mask” (special award “For a unique creative duet in the Bolshoi Theater of Russia performance” Manon Lescaut “)
– Was the work with the album affected by such a difficult – including morally – time of the pandemic? How?
– Oh sure. As I said, this album is due to a pandemic. In general, this time was a test for all of us. And it continues because the pandemic is not over yet. It was not easy – there were depressions, but we dealt with them, and the best method to cope with depression is to do something, to find something to do.
– In your youth, you relied on sports, achieved significant success. It is difficult to imagine anything more distant from the world of opera. Do you remember the beginning of the path?
– I was not going to be a singer at all and did not fully know if I would be able to become one, even when I was already performing on stage. Everything happened faster than I could think and dream. For quite a long time there was a fear that I might not cope with this or that role. But I coped and overcame. And I’ve always brought more to the stage than I did in class – I call it stage magic.
– What has changed dramatically in you as an artist?
– Today I know what I am doing, I am confident in myself, I enjoy the performances. But this does not mean that performances are easy for me, the stage is a huge work. I always say that if you sang well today, it does not mean that you will sing well tomorrow.
– Tenor Rolando Villazon is known for his witty caricatures on operatic themes. But he initially began to draw them to overcome the excitement before important performances. How did you deal with anxiety at the beginning of your career? And are you worried now before going on stage?
– Naturally, when I was young and just starting out, there was excitement and fear, and they had to be fought with. But I somehow “saddled this horse” and made him gallop the way I needed.
– You were planning your debut in the role of Abigail (Nabucco), which is considered one of the most difficult in the soprano’s repertoire and even received the nickname “murderous”. Why is she so deadly and how is this role important to you, how did you prepare for it?
– I have not yet performed this role, because due to the pandemic, two productions with my participation were canceled, so this has not happened yet. But I am getting ready, and very soon, literally in a couple of months, I will present this party. Yes, it is really very complex, there is a huge range, there are legato, cantilena, coloratura, complex upper and lower notes. She’s probably even harder than Macbeth. But I like it and I can handle it.
– You call Lady Macbeth one of your favorite games. Why? Dramatically and vocally, how does she attract you?
– The part of Lady Macbeth is indeed still one of my favorites. I feel her very well and understand how she should be sung, I understand her character. And I have performed it many times, in seven different productions in all theaters in the world. I have just performed it at the Vienna State Opera, and in December I am opening the season at La Scala, for the fourth or even fifth time, and this time with Macbeth.
– Does it happen that you refuse productions?
– Yes, I refuse, and with age, I generally began to clearly understand what I want and what not.
I believe that I should not waste my energy, time and voice on what I do not see the point in. Today I perform what I like – I think I have already earned good operas and good productions. I sang more than 50 roles in different languages, “walked” from Mozart through bel canto to Verdi and to Verizma. She performed parts of composers of different eras and styles of singing: both the so-called parts of beautiful singing, or light (bel canto), and serious dramatic. Of course, the director, his concept and artistic embodiment are of great importance. Recently, I have been more and more inclined towards a beautiful visual range: costumes, decorations and light that does not interfere or distract from the music. Maybe I’m just tired of the constant mix of gray, black and blood red in modern productions. In general, I love working with directors who know and understand what they want. Everything must be done before the artist appears on stage. And we just have to come and sing.
– When you are rehearsing a new part, what does your vision of your character come from? What do you need to make the puzzle work?
– When learning new parts, I always watch the clavier and listen to the recordings of the greats, delve into the material – I definitely need to know the history, translation, what exactly each character says, because musical phrases should be varied and meaningful. But in general, this is my “kitchen”, and, to be honest, I don’t really like to talk about it. How I get used to it, how I rehearse, what I do – this is my job. The main thing is that the role ultimately works out.
– What connects you today with the alma mater, the Mariinsky Theater?
– I lived in St. Petersburg for quite a long time, and it helped me a lot in my life, brought up my fortitude. Because to survive in the Mariinsky Theater, you need to be a fighter. So the Mariinsky brought up fighting qualities in me and helped me to form, for which I am very grateful to her. During the pandemic, I quite often performed at the Mariinsky Theater and, of course, I intend to periodically return to my native stage.
– You travel a lot, change your environment often and communicate a lot. How do you prefer to relax? What gives strength and inspiration?
– Strength and inspiration still gives love to music and your favorite work, because if it were not there, there would be no sense in it. At the same time, I understand that now are the most eventful years, and, no matter how much I would like to rest sometimes, I understand that I need to work, and then, probably, it will be possible to slow down.
– Do you sometimes need to take a break from music? And what kind of music do you listen to at home?
– Divine silence. (Laughs) I love listening to hip-hop, western music. But, of course, you also need to take a break from music.
– What will Anna Netrebko wish for herself for the next 50 years?
– You know, in fact, there is nothing much to wish for for yourself. I would say this: let it not be better, but let it not get worse. (Laughs.)