The much debated cover shot – there was a competition to redesign it – says a lot about Anna Netrebko’s approach to verismo, the late 19th-century phenomenon that sought to bring real flesh and blood onto the operatic stage. The choice of what appears to be several costumes at once – and all of them out of Game of Thrones – shows a muddy thinking about the genre, manifested in some odd choices. What is La Gioconda doing here?
Some roles suit Netrebko better than others – she sounds too old for Butterfly, and definitely too heavy-voiced for Liù or Nedda. More mature characters like Tosca (Vissi d’arte is a real highlight), Adriana Lecouvreur and Boito’s Helen sit far better. Maddalena de Coigny in Andrea Chénier fits like a glove and her La mamma morta is often thrilling. La Wally’s Ebben? Ne andrò lontana also works well, the steel in the voice suiting this fierce maid of the mountain.
As the voice has darkened, dramatic roles like Lady Macbeth have come within her compass. To judge from this recording, Turandot (again, technically not a verismo role) is one such. Opera houses should be booking her now! Inconsistencies abound, however, as if some arias were put down on sunny days, others when things were rather more overcast. Signore, ascolta! is not just a poor character choice, it reveals a nasty beat in the voice above the stave (as does Stridono lassù from Pagliacci). However, that doesn’t show up in her Un bel dì or the La Wally aria, both of which remain steady.
Of course, Netrebko’s stream of sound is often beautiful, though text isn’t her strong suit and she is inclined to colour words for the sake of colouring them, regardless of meaning. Her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov, joins her for chunks of Manon Lescaut. Tight of tone, sadly he isn’t in her league. One area beyond reproach is Antonio Pappano’s flexible, impassioned way with his excellent orchestra. Both come across very well indeed.