When Anna Netrebko released her first solo disc, she was the poster child for a supposedly new breed of opera star: glamorous young singers who photographed at least as fabulously as they sang and whose publicity machines whirred at hyperspeed. Like any sudden sensation, she was greeted by both acclaim and skepticism: was she precisely the new blood opera needed, or an omen of Hollywoodification? Did she really have the voice and stage instincts to back up her superstardom – and how long would it all last? Ten years later, Netrebko has not only fulfilled her early promise, but moved well beyond it. If she’s a poster child now, it’s for singers with staying power, and this new disc of Verdi arias, although timed to celebrate the composer’s bicentenary, is also a milestone for the soprano herself, now slowly but surely moving into heavier repertoire.
Never a timid performer, Netrebko opens her program at full throttle, with twenty minutes of Lady Macbeth, before moving into heroine mode with arias from Giovanna d’Arco, I Vespri Siciliani, Don Carlo and Il Trovatore. The Orchestra Teatro Regio Torino under Gianandrea Noseda (who also conducted the soprano’s debut album) are sympathetic partners throughout, but the limelight is all Netrebko’s, and it’s thrilling to hear how her singing has developed. The voice is more sumptuous and powerful than ever; and while it’s still more lyrical than muscular, it has a full toned vibrancy, which stands Netrebko in excellent stead for this dramatic repertoire.
Hers may not be the steeliest Lady Macbeth you’ll ever hear, but she is remarkbly tasteful in her approach to the lower register and the three arias still pack a devilish punch – Vieni, t’affretta is especially hair-raising – and she brings desolate dignity and gleaming security to Elisabetta’s Tu che le vanità, undermining somewhat her own claims that the whole role is not for her. As ever, Netrebko’s voice is on the slow moving side; she’s excellent in Giovanna’s limpid and serene O fatidica foresta but doesn’t quite negotiate the florid passagework of Elena’s Mercè, dilette amiche and the lower register, though undoubtedly alluring, has a tendency to waylay her here. Yet none of these glitches comes close to derailing her performance, and in the face of such assurance and commitment, it seems pointless to nitpick.
Whatever her flaws, Netrebko has turned out to be a mature, self-possessed artist, and this disc is a most encouraging sign of vocal things to come.