Anna Netrebko: Verismo
Anna Netrebko is not the first superstar singer to release an album that uses a loose description of the term verismo. Jonas Kaufmann’s disc of the same name (Decca, 12/10 – similarly with luxurious support from Antonio Pappano and his Rome orchestra) also featured arias from Boito’s Mefistofele (based on Goethe’s Faust, about as un-veristic a subject as possible) and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, which both predate Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and the ‘official’ start of the movement by a couple of decades. Puccini’s own relationship to verismo is a complicated one, too; yet his music makes up the bulk of this new album, which even concludes with the whole of the final act of Manon Lescaut.
If Kaufmann’s approach on his album – vividly pointed and dramatically alive at every turn – made such observations seem like so much historical nitpicking, Netrebko’s rather underlines them. The booklet charitably describes the way she approaches the repertoire (none of which, apart from Manon Lescaut, she’s sung in the theatre) as rooted in bel canto. To me, however, it more straightforwardly suggests a basic lack of engagement with the characters involved, a one-size-fits-all approach that makes little of the words, which communicates little of the emotional extremes these arias should convey.
She’s not helped, admittedly, by engineering that hardly seems concerned with realism either, placing the soprano very much in the spotlight, her voice existing in what sounds like a different (over-reverberant, soft-focus) acoustic to the orchestra. It all makes a very nice sound, certainly, but the impression (bolstered by the faintly preposterous cover art) is one of expensive perfume and perfectly applied mascara; it should evoke greasepaint, fake blood, sweat and tears.
Or at least that’s the case until we get to the extract from Manon Lescaut. Here, despite the fuggy sound, we finally get a sense of a real person engaged in a real drama, of Manon and Des Grieux in the direst of straits, as Netrebko and her tenor (and husband), Yusif Eyvazov, tug at the heart-strings. His voice is pleasingly grainy, if not perhaps as robust as we would like here or, especially, in his brief Turandot contribution. She sounds in good voice, too: darker, richer in tone than previously on disc and full across the range.
But the programming of the Manon Lescaut act only emphasises how generalised her responses to the other music are. Her ‘La mamma morta’ and ‘Suicidio!’ achieve a certain intensity, but much else is simply too placid and smooth. There’s no sense of Nedda’s hot-bloodedness in ‘Stridono lassù’ (not helped by Pappano’s rather swift tempo), for example, while her ‘Vissi d’arte’ does little more than chart a stately course towards its top B flat. The notes are all here, then, but the heart – and soul – are only intermittently detectable.