Friday, September 7, 2012

"Anna Netrebko live at the Met" in Review

Track listing available on Deutsch Grammophon's Website

To coincide with Anna Netrebko's performanes of Anna Bolena that is their 2011/12 season opener, the Metropolitan Opera and DG released this series of live complete opera performances compiled from live radio broadcasts.

Shying away from the usual "greatest opera arias" selections, this collection focuses on lesser known ensembles, mostly in trios or quartets, creating an opportunity for a variety of 'guest' stars. The cavantinas of Qui la voce from I Puritani and the Lucia mad scene are the few solos presented here, but without their virtuosic counterparts. The Poison Aria of Romeo and Juliette is a highlight: virtuosic, powerful and full of pathos and determination. The War and Peace excerpt, taken from one of her first appearances at the Met, is a great rarity to hear.

Sound-wise the quality is as clear as any studio recording (most of them are done live these days anyway). However we are constantly reminded of the album's live nature from applause, stage noises and, in the Don Pasquale excerpt, laughter at the sight-gags which we listeners are left out of.

Of the singing, one is again reminded that these excerpts are taken completely live, and performed as part of a larger whole: the occasional late entries, sloppy intonation and the lines sung with a hint of caution. But in exchange we also get the visceral thrill of live performances, as the singers get swept away in the rush of it all. This is most apparent in Juliette's Poison Aria and the equally dramatic act 3 trio of Rigoletto, where Netrebko as Gilda considers herself a prime candidate to be murdered by assassins in place of the libertine Duke. The storm and stress that conductor Asher Fisch drew from the Met orchestra is quite stunning.

As for the voice, it's very much the one we have become familiar with, only stripped of the benefits of studio wizardry. Rich and full in colour especially in her middle range but having a somewhat cavalier approach to pronunciation, adept at dramatic outbursts and playing to the audience but not enough depth or subtlety at required moments, Anna Netrebko shows that she's as much a live performer as she is a recording artist. Another highlight for me is the chance to hear other top stars like Juan Diego Florez, Roberto Alagna, Joseph Calleja, Mariusz Kwiecien and Piotr Beeczala in collaboration with Netrebko, outside of their usual repertoire of arias.

There are better versions of the Boheme scenes (Donde Lieta and O Soave Fanciulla) to be found elsewhere including those of her own recordings, but for everything else, what's on offer here is really quite a pleasant listen. 

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