Archive for August 23rd, 2013|Daily archive page

Verdi. Betrayed.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Verdi on August 23, 2013 at 8:04 am

Review – Verdi Arias (Anna Netrebko, Orchestra Teatro Regio Torina, Gianandrea Noseda)

It sometimes feels like the Verdi bicentenary is being overlooked. Verdi has certainly not fared as well as his German contemporary at the Proms. Or maybe it’s just that Wagner fans are more vocal.

However I recently picked up three recital discs of Verdi arias so perhaps he has not been completely forsaken.

The first disc, by Anna Netrebko has the full weight of the label’s marketing effort behind it.

Initially I wasn’t going to pen this review because of Ms Netrebko’s position on the dehumanization of gay people in Russia and her own sit-on-the-fence statement. However this recital marks a well-publicised shift in the soprano’s repertoire that will also see her tackle the role of Lady Macbeth on the Munich stage. As such there is no avoiding that this disc being positioned as a major additional to the catalogue.

But that it were. In the true sense of a Verdian tragedy, this recital is one that betrays the listener.

Voices change and talented, wise sopranos manage the transition with great skill.

So I am not quite sure what has happened with Ms Netrebko.

Listening back to her Giulietta in Bellini’s Capuleti – a recording I still enjoy immensely – she seems to have lost a great deal and gained not very much as a consequence.

The Verdi roles featured here require two qualities, to varying degrees, which are lacking in this recital – profundità and agilità.

The first is essential for any successful and meaningful characterization with agilità equally vital not only to tackle the coloratura but also to ensure that the purity and fluidity of Verdi’s vocal lines are uninterrupted.

The voice is indeed darker or rather heavier and at times unwieldy. There isn’t the assurance in terms of navigating the more florid passages and the longer phrases are marred by distracting gasps for breath and are neither smooth nor fluid.

Moreover Ms Netrebko exhibits distinct intonation problems, more often than not a distinct wobble and a spread in the higher reaches of her range. These factors heighten a general lack of clear diction.

Indeed on repeated listening it seems to be a voice not quite where it should be – still very much in transition and a voice not yet under the control of a secure technique.

As I mentioned earlier, Lady Macbeth is a role she will tackle in Munich in 2014 and here they form the weakest part of the recital. The faux melodrama of Nel di della vittoria is matched only by the photography in the booklet and the subsequent cavatina is hardly helped by a lack of any sense of urgency in terms of tempo. The result is that Ms Netrebko makes heavy work of what should be a thrilling scena, heightened by some rather clumsy handling of the closing coloratura.

La luce langue is similarly lacklustre with Netrebko declaring the deed of killing Banquo as if she was reading a shopping list. In this aria in particular, the soprano mistakes the ability to generate over generous volumes of sound for dramatic interpretation while a greater attention to the words and dynamic range would have been more effective.

The famous sleepwalking scene is unintentionally more somnambulistic that either Shakespeare or Verdi intended. This is not helped by Noseda’s rather bland handling of the orchestra and the lack of any sense of breadth in the marvelous tune that Verdi spins out and here more than elsewhere on the disc Netrebko sings to get through the music without any sense of interpreting the horror of the scene. Shaky intonation mars the ending.

A letto, a letto indeed.

In the title role of Giovanna d’Arco she fares slightly better. Perhaps this is because this scena and romanza are closer to the Verdi roles she has sung previously.Indeed there are moments of delicacy and wistfulness to O faticida foresta that underline for me that perhaps there is true capability somewhere in Ms Netrebko but it needs more tutoring and development.

Sadly what follows undermines the success of the previous romanza.

I Vespri Siciliani is represented by Arrigo! Ah, parli a un core which Netrebko sings through competently enough only for the listener to be subjected to limping Mercé, dilette amiche.

Where is the swagger? The lightness of touch? Not only in the vocal line but also in the orchestral playing? It’s missing, perhaps lost in the ponderous tempo that Noseda sets.

Tu che la Vanità again comes close but doesn’t quite past muster. The orchestra –sadly lacking any sense of finesse, colouror energy throughout the rest of the recital – play their best in this famous scene. How could they not? But it still seems underpowered and bland.

Anna Netrebko – gasping it seems for breath at points – demonstrates that she almost has the notes down pat, but there is a distinct lack of character. Again, it as if she is reading a shopping list rather than portraying a woman riven by inner conflict – “I’ll take a Prince to go. Don’t bother wrapping him, I will just throw Carlo in with the rest of the shopping”.

The final selections come from Il Trovatore and again Netrebko seems for the most part, more confortable in the role of Leonora. She gets through D’amor sull’ali rosee more or less intact although on more than one occasion the span of the vocal line gets the better of her breath control. The subsequent Miserere … Quel suon, quelle preci with Rolando Villazón – not my favourite tenor with his unattractive and strained timbre – is messy. Netrebko again misinterprets volume for dramatic characterization and her handling of al labbro il respiro, il palpiti al cor is simply ugly.

And the closing Tu vedrai che amore in terra sounds like a desperate dash for the finishing line. Complete with snatched breaths, stodgy coloratura and a distinct harshness in the closing phrases, Ms Netrebko barely makes it to the finishing line.

Considering the hype heralding this release, the recital is a massive disappointment. Hints of technical assurance are betrayed by a general lack of musical intelligence, poor characterization and bland support from Noseda and the orchestra.

Which brings me back to the question of whether this disc and Ms Netrebko’s ambition are far too early? There are hints here and there that with more preparation and training the soprano could successfully tackle some of these roles but at the moment, it is simply premature.

And what of Gianandrea Noseda? As I said of Noseda on the Mozart recital disc with Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, his accompaniment seems for the most part simply there to provide background. In the excerpts from Macbeth – for example the opening tracks, there is no sense of menace or bite in the marvelous music that Verdi wrote – music that should chill the bones. But more surprisingly is that Noseda not only fails to find the expansive lyricism in Verdi’s music but he seems to make no effort to tease out the instrumental colours that the composer fused into this music. Clearly he is better when heard live.

So if Anna Netrebko lets us down through her premature ambition to sing these roles, then Noseda lets both soprano and the listener down with his disinterested conducting.


Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

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