The papers are full of interviews with Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, especially during this, the month of her 40th birthday. They are not exactly carbon copies of each other, but very similar: plans to open a restaurant, overcoming geographical boundaries to meet up with hubby Erwin Schrott, and her adopted home, Austria.
Peter Pomerantsev, a British television producer and nonfiction writer, interviewed Netrebko in Salzburg, in Russian. He gives some unique insights as to what makes the diva tick in an in-depth article for Newsweek:
To the Russian ear, Netrebko is immediately provincial, her speech full of the singsong vowels and intonations of the Krasnodar region of southern Russia. It's an accent that's the butt of jokes in the Big City, and she was teased for it when she came up to study in St. Petersburg. So much about her character, tastes, and even voice are defined by Krasnodar, a cultural opposite to the snowy wastes and deep depression usually associated with Russia. It's a region of gaudy emerald and vermilion shawls, where borscht is transformed from the cabbage-y gruel of the northern climes to a sunset colour cooked with a rich stock of goose and the local sweet tomatoes. “I'm from that country: I like colors. I like blings. The more, the better.”
In a country famous for gorgeous women, Krasnodar is famous for having the very best. Here, Cossacks, Armenians, Jews, Adygeans, Gypsies, and Slavs have killed and copulated to produce a harvest of Sophia Loren look-alikes: Netrebko's beauty is typical. “Nobody ever looked at me in Krasnodar. I'm not in the taste of the men there at all.” Southern men yearn for blonde Siberian waifs. “People were ignoring me. Here I become a real beauty.”
In her native Russia, Netrebko's image is less idealized. The very qualities that would endear her to a Western public, the mixture of classical talent and reality-TV attitude, make her irritating: “From dirt to monarchy, and she doesn't know how to behave like monarchy,” bites an editor at a glossy Russian magazine. “Kiss my ass,” retorts Netrebko and blows a raspberry. Bitchy rumors swirl around Netrebko in Russia's tabloids, most notoriously that she was Vladimir Putin's lover. “I'd have loved to have been,” she exclaims, “but when? We only met twice. Officially and briefly. But he's a very attractive man. Such a strong, male energy.”
The Cinderella story that the Mariinsky cleaner became its superstar now irritates Netrebko. She was just paying her way through college like most students.
“Oh, come on, not that stuff about washing the floors. Listen. I'm just a normal person. It's not like I come home and think about opera. My thoughts are about completely other things. Shoes! Dresses! Expensive ones: with a pretty silhouette, beautiful fabrics.
“I can't stand the awful toska of going around cheap shops with ugly, badly made dresses. They fill me with toska, eurghh!”
If there's one thing Netrebko can't abide, it is toska. No, not the Puccini opera,but a near-untranslatable Russian word that Vladimir Nabokov described as “a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, ennui, boredom.”
Photo: Putin eyes-up the diva; kremlin.ru
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.