Anthony Tommasini, 'Don Pasquale' in a New Production at the Met by Otto Schenk (New York Times, April 3)
Martin Bernheimer, Don Pasquale, Metropolitan Opera, New York (Financial Times, April 3)
Robert Hofler, Don Pasquale (Variety, April 4)
Marion Lignana Rosenberg, Vamping taints an all-too-merry widow (Newsday, April 4)
Ben Mattison, Photo Journal: Netrebko in the Met's New Don Pasquale (PlaybillArts, April 1)
[Director Otto Schenk] also allowed – encouraged? – Anna Netrebko, the glamour-diva-du-jour cast as Norina, to treat the scene as her personal camping ground. She preened, purred, twitched, gesticulated, cackled, grimaced, beamed, waved to the crowd, wiggled her toes, danced, pranced, twirled, somersaulted (yes, somersaulted), modelled a mock-Tosca costume for comic effect, flashed a lot of bare leg, sang brightly and loudly, forgot to trill, and mushed the Italian text. The fans adored her.
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Violetta: Arias and Duets from Verdi's La Traviata, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Thomas Hampson, Vienna Philharmonic, Carlo Rizzi (released February 14, 2006)
Verdi, La Traviata, Vienna Philharmonic and Vienna State Opera Chorus, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Thomas Hampson, Carlo Rizzi (released November 8, 2005)
The marketing nexus between opera and sex is as old as the hills, so I do not understand why anyone would object to having images of a woman as beautiful as Anna Netrebko thrust in one's face all the time. She is lovely to look at, which is a dramatic strength for a role like Violetta -- the thought of Netrebko as a temptress driving men wild is believable. She also sings very well: her voice is strong, dark, if perhaps not as accurate in turns and runs or as dazzling in the very high range as one could wish. Still, I can understand why people experiencing her live in an opera house would go crazy. (Vilaine Fille called Netrebko's Norina "repellent," but I think the criticism was more on dramatic grounds than vocal ones.) We will be able to hear the audience's reaction this Saturday during the broadcast of Don Pasquale.
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Anna Netrebko - The Woman, The Voice, Anna Netrebko, directed by Vincent Paterson (released November 23, 2004)
There are other singers on the Violetta CD (and in the complete version). Rolando Villazón is an excellent tenor, well suited for singing with Netrebko. His voice also has a dark quality, with a big, throaty high C added at the end of "De' miei bollenti spiriti." Without a doubt, the most beautiful duet moments in this opera are not between Violetta and Alfredo, but between Violetta and Alfredo's father, Germont. As sung here by the exquisite voice of Thomas Hampson, these are well-realized ensemble moments, as is the finale of Act III. Hampson's voice is the incarnation of polish and refinement, in contrast with the younger soprano and tenor.
Anna Netrebko, Sempre Libera, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (released August 10, 2004)
All this fuss about La Traviata is fine, but the other tracks on the 2004 CD, now probably mostly forgotten, are worth comment. Bellini's "Ah! Non credea mirarti" is one of the prettiest things he wrote in La sonnambula, an opera that I reviewed in its Baltimore Opera production last fall. Some people have compared Netrebko's voice, with its sometimes dark tone, to that of Callas. That similarity is perhaps most pronounced here, as Netrebko's voice matches elegantly with the solo cello. In the cabaletta that follows ("Ah! Non giunge uman pensiero"), Netrebko sings high E's but does not linger on them. (Valeria Esposito's live performance in Baltimore was more exciting, but that is probably more due to the energy boost of live performance than to the two voices under comparison.)
La Traviata seems to be within Netrebko's reach, and she has had some success with Puccini. However, in the middle part of this CD, Netrebko loses a wrestling match with most of the Bellini excerpts. She has a good sound, nothing phenomenal, on the long lines of the slower pieces, like "O giusto cielo!" from Lucia di Lammermoor. The fast runs in "Vien, diletto, è in ciel la luna!" from I Puritani are laughably bad; those in "Spargi d'amaro pianto" (Lucia) are better, up to a point. There is hope for the flexibility of her passage singing, to be sure, with some good singing in the cadenza section of "Ardon gli incensi" (Lucia), although the final high note is strained, especially at the release. The final three tracks are all good, although I hope Netrebko eschews Desdemona for the time being, if the two excerpts from the final act of Otello are an indication. She throws in the encore piece of "O mio babbino caro" (Gianni Schicchi) and benefits, as all sopranos do, from the melodic genious of Puccini.
One thing is for sure: whether for her looks or her voice, I can't tell, but Anna Netrebko has one new four-year-old fan. Mini-Critic spent part of the morning yesterday listening to these recordings with me while he played with his toys. He even watched the bonus DVD with me (he liked the big clock in the Salzburg Traviata but insisted that I turn off the "scary opera with the tree people"). Mrs. Ionarts then told me that Mini-Critic had asked to "listen to the opera" yesterday afternoon while I was up at the National Shrine singing for Holy Thursday. She put the "Sempre Libera" CD on the player, and he listened for about 20 minutes with his blanket. High praise, indeed.