This was very much Anna Netrebko’s Anna Bolena. True, it is the title role, but the other characters have to work quite hard too. Her face was emoting from every review, and so here’s a round-up of what the critic’s had to say about Anna as Anna at the Met.
Anne Midgette’s review for The Washington Post loved the voice, but was surprised about our diva’s reaction to the applause (a common theme),
Netrebko has a beautiful voice, and though it sometimes lacked the stamina for this long evening there was one moment on Monday when it really shone. In the aria in the final scene, when the character is lapsing in and out of madness, she sat back and let her signature limpid, round, melting tone pour out. The audience, delighted finally to have something to applaud, rewarded her with a deserved ovation, and the singer acknowledged their applause with a warm smile. Netrebko is not someone who worries too much about staying in character.
James Jorden for The New York Post had no qualms whatsoever,
The new monarch — ruling not over England but the Met — is Anna Netrebko, whose radiant performance at the company’s opening night Monday catapulted her to “prima donna assoluta”: undisputed superstar. Already celebrated for her glamorous face and voice, the fiery Russian-born diva has developed into a great tragic performer. Her climactic, 30-minute mad scene set in the Tower of London ranged from despair to rage.
It’s music that demands everything in a diva’s arsenal, and Netrebko delivered, her ravishing soft high C’s and delicate trills contrasting with slashing coloratura plummeting through the full soprano register. In the last moments, her voice easily soared over the full chorus and orchestra as Anna marched off to her execution.
Heidi Walson in The Wall Street Journal wrote,
With her dark, voluptuous vocal timbre, Ms. Netrebko has the power and range that the role requires, but she hasn’t captured the soul of Donizetti’s beleaguered queen.
Ms. Netrebko’s bel canto execution has improved since she sang Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Puritani” several seasons ago: Her coloratura is cleaner and she sings consonants more consistently. However, her intonation wavered disconcertingly throughout the evening. What is more, the operatic Anne is an entirely innocent victim—everybody (except Henry) loves her—and the character seesaws between despair and queenly defiance. Ms. Netrebko did the defiance part well, and when the role called for power, insistence, conflict and culminating high notes, there were thrilling moments.
But she doesn’t convey vulnerability theatrically or vocally, and if we don’t pity Anne, there’s no show. When Ms. Netrebko had to plead or despair, the tension in her vocal performance sagged.
But Zackary Woolfe in The New York Observer had no doubts that we were in the presence of Callas’ heir,
Ms. Netrebko’s voice, at 40, is warm and full, without edge. Her appeal is deceptively simple: when she sings, you don’t want her to stop. Her performance is both daring and assured. At the end of Act I, she almost chokes out “Guidici? Ad Anna?” (“Judges? For Anne?”) when she realizes her fate has been sealed, then telescopes the following note outward, pivoting from shock to rage. She faces upstage at key moments, trusting that she can convey emotion through posture alone.
Some opera fans imagine coloratura in a vacuum, as a mindless series of vocal calisthenics. This attitude has rewarded singers who merely dazzle. But Ms. Netrebko is in the tradition of Maria Callas, who understood that coloratura should be an organic outgrowth of the musical line, a means of amplifying emotion. Her runs and trills, accurate and stylish, never exist for their own sake.
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim for The Classical Review was in full agreement,
The evening belonged to Netrebko who seems to passionately believe in her character. Her mad scene at the end when, minutes before her execution, she loses her mind and has flashbacks to her childhood and her early romance with Percy might not be historically founded but Netrebko gave it just the right mix of pathos and credibility. There is always a consistent fire in Netrebko’s heroines, and her final gesture, before walking out to meet the axe, was to wrap her long hair around her wrist and lift it up to expose her neck, proud and defiant.
In The Financial Times, Martin Bernheimer noted that with “almost everyone’s favourite overhyped diva” in the title role,
Never mind Anna Bolena. One might as well name the show Anna Netrebko.
And had some doubts whether she had all the vocal requirements for the part,
Netrebko enjoyed predictable ovations, and acknowledged some of them mid-scene with a ravishing smile. Still, it would be an exaggeration to claim that her Bolena can rank with such paragons as Callas and Caballé. Netrebko sang the reflective passages sweetly, with shimmering pianissimo tone and a lovely legato. She earned admiration for holding nothing back in forte outbursts. She comported herself with queenly dignity as needed, and with unaccustomed restraint.
Ideally, however, this excruciating challenge demands a voice one size bigger and one size heavier. It also demands an easier top extension and a better coloratura technique. (Trills? What trills?)
Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times was similarly perturbed by Netrebko’s smile at her applause,
Ms. Netrebko sang an elegantly sad aria with lustrous warmth, aching vulnerability and floating high notes. When the audience broke into prolonged applause and bravos, Ms. Netrebko seemed to break character and smile a couple of times, though her look could have been taken as appropriate to the dramatic moment, since the delusional Anna is lost in reverie about happy days with her former lover.
Then, at the end of this “Mad Scene,” Anna, restored to horrific reality, curses the “wicked couple,” the king and his new queen, and stalks off to her execution, insisting implausibly that she is not seeking divine retribution but going to her grave with mercy on her lips. Ms. Netrebko dispatched Donizetti’s cabaletta, all fiery coloratura runs and vehement phrases, with a defiance that brought down the house.
Yet Ms. Netrebko’s Anna and the overall performance of the opera were not what they could have been.
But let’s give the last word to Midgette,
Even Netrebko, the big star, still comes off as a willing novice, someone who doesn’t always live up to her considerable potential. If she approached the part with the focus and commitment of a Maria Callas, or if opera companies today actually invested time in helping singers to master the music they’re performing, the evening might have been a whole lot better.
Photo: Anna Netrebko as Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena”, Metropolitan Opera 2011, Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
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.