Thursday, April 7, 2011

Netrebko as Anna: Can no one really touch her?

A lot of fuss is being made about Anna Netrebko's ability (or inability if you see it that way) to perform the title role in Donizetti's Anna Bolena. I've listened to the recordings and videos from the prima in Vienna and find her rather exciting, if not the last word (or even close) to real bel canto style.

Several friends have argued no one in the past - at least since Callas - can properly take on the role, and that "no one today" - or even in the last ten years can compete with Anna as Anna. I'd have to disagree.

Here is Carol Vaness, not a singer I (or anyone else) would typically associate with Donizetti, but here she is in an absolutely thrilling reading of "Coppia Iniqua":

Two more Anna's who take the unwritten high note option at the end adding a degree of frisson to the proceedings:

First up, Mariella Devia who seems as if by the role possessed - wonderfully so:

And finally, a Netrebko contemporary, Elena Mosuc, who brings a Sills-like razzle dazzle to the role, and interpolates (wildly) some thrilling high notes and sends the crowd into a frenzy!

So, in my opinion the notion that no one can touch Nebs is a faulty one. She's exciting but hardly the last word in the role.

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Blogger Will said...

OK, I'm probably going to stir up a real hornets' nest here, but I have always questioned how some people can say "authoritatively" that a soprano (recently mostly Renee Fleming but also Anna) "has no idea how to sing bel canto." I truly believe that NOBODY has any real idea how bel canto was sung.

1) There were, obviously, no sound recordings to document the style;
2) Written descriptions are notoriously unreliable, being highly subjective and sometimes involving radical disagreement over how a singer phrases, produces tone, and ornaments between commentators;
3) The argument that Diva Z studied under Diva Y who studied under Diva X who sang under the composer's favorite conductor, thereby guaranteeing an unbroken chain of tradition back to Composer W has been shot down repeatedly. Many commentators have pointed out how singers' vocal style evolves during their careers and that by the time they teach they often do not sing in anything like the style of their youth when studying with someone who had walked the very same path. Similar incremental straying from a teacher's style has been commented upon concerning instrumental soloists.

We also know that there were a lot of singers who crashed and burned during the so-called bel canto period (the term was coined decades after it was over). The new and unfamiliar demands of vocal music in the Romantic Era took a huge toll. Giuseppina Strepponi, whose career was over at age 31 (!) was not the only one to suffer catastrophic early vocal decline by a long shot; Rossini's great star/wife Isabella Colbran was in serious vocal trouble by age 38 and quit altogether very shortly thereafter. If they had a less than secure idea how to sing this music and preserve their voices, how can we at an almost two century remove claim to know?

I have come to believe that "has no idea how to sing bel canto" actually means "she doesn't sing bel canto the way Maria Callas did."

Where it can be proven via recordings, we know that over a hundred year period singing style changes a great deal. Listen to Fernando de Lucia and Mattia Battistini and then to Luciano Pavarotti and Leonard Warren or Titi Gobbi in the same material. Listen to Lilli Lehmann and Frieda Leider in Wagner and then listen to Birgit Nilsson and Astrid Varnay in the same material. We embraced those modern-era singers with admiration sometimes verging on idolatry. Why should we not allow singers in the bel canto repertory the same leeway to sing in the manner of their era?

April 11, 2011 at 8:36 AM  
Blogger Sharky said...

Good points, Will! I am generally not a fan of Netrebko's bel canto roles - though I found her Lucia better as it went along. However, I've listened (and watched) a good bit of the Bolena and repeat what I said in my original post, that I found her "rather exciting."

I'm often put off my her acting because it "feels" like she's acting and a lot of what she does seems generic/generalized - but good Lord, how many singers can we say that about? A great many I should think. Yet, with Anna Bolena, I feel she has made a connection and I saw much less of that generic posturing that sometimes puts me off - I felt she "felt" the role deeply and she pulled it off far better than I imagined.

I look forward to seeing her get this role under her skin and think she'll have a major success with it at the Met - though many naysayers have already made up their minds that they hate it. How silly.

I DO think she could be better used in other repertoire - I'm seeing (and hearing) Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Tatyana, Desdemona, Luisa Miller, Amelia (Ballo) in that voice very strongly. With her sound, I'm also hoping someday she'll take on Janacek's heroines. I think she would be amazing in those roles.


April 11, 2011 at 9:38 PM  

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