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Reviews of Ruslan and Lyudmila
performances at San Francisco

OPERA REVIEW `Ruslan,' What Took You So Long? Glinka's wonderful opera gets Opera premiere it deserves

Joshua Kosman, S.F. Chronicle music critic, Monday, September 11, 1995

"...Vocally, the evening was most notable for the first-rate American debut of soprano Anna Netrebko as Lyudmila. Here is an exquisite young voice -- clear, graceful and unerringly precise. The tone is a little ``white,'' but no less beautiful for all that; her first-act aria was a glorious display...."

A brilliant "Ruslan and Lyudmila'

Allan Ulrich, 
S.F. Examiner music critic, September 11, 1995

"...Gergiev has brought San Francisco an abundance of fine voices. Anna Netrebko (U.S. debut) introduced her Lyudmila in a soprano of typically Slavic coloration with a lovely high extension."



Care and Feeding Of the Standard Repertoire Novelties `Ruslan,' `Rusalka' outshone traditional fare during S.F. Opera Season


Until September, ``Ruslan'' was known to most of us only as the source of a familiar overture, full of zest but offering barely a hint of what sort of music or drama followed it.

ludclose.jpg (12946 bytes)But this production, a joint creation by the San Francisco and Kirov operas, introduced a work of consummate beauty and inventiveness, and gave it an airing worthy of its splendors....

This mounting, conducted with incendiary passion by Valery Gergiev and deftly directed by Lotfi Mansouri, made a terrific case for the opera. The visual design, re- created by Thierry Bosquet from a 1904 production, was ravishing, and Michel Fokine's 1917 choreography was appealingly realized by Alexander Shavrov.

Vocally, the performance was most memorable for the extraordinary American debut of 23-year-old soprano Anna Netrebko as Lyudmila, a remarkable display of vocal and theatrical allure. But the rest of the cast was strong, too, including Jeffrey Wells as Ruslan and mezzos Elena Zaremba and Valentina Tsedipova as an Asiatic prince and princess.


London Proms 

Ms. Netrebko sang Mussorgsky's "The Nursery - Episodes from the Life of Children" at a Proms concert on Saturday September 7, 1996, with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra led by Gergiev.

"The second of the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s two Proms was also their debut on British television....It was majestically performed by an on-form orchestra under their principal conductor Valery Gergiev.

"Magical moments [opened] the second half. Anna Netrebko, the Russian soprano, was the soloist in Mussorgsky’s 'The Nursery - Episodes from the Life of Children', orchestrated by Edison Denisov in 1976 and receiving their UK premiere in that form tonight. This was just wonderful. Ms Netrebko is quite an actress as well as a fine singer. She ably swapped from one vice mode to another to represent the scolding mother and the child. Her amusing gestures were just right - and greatly amused the Promenaders...."

...amateur review by a London Proms listener



Netrebko's Susanna Makes Happy `Marriage' - Adler Fellows take time to hit stride

Joshua Kosman, S.F. Chronicle music critic, 
Monday, September 11, 1995

...Only Anna Netrebko, in a magnificent performance as Susanna, started out strong and never let up. The 26-year-old Russian soprano, who made an astonishing U.S. debut here two seasons ago in Glinka's ``Ruslan and Lyudmila,'' demonstrated conclusively that her earlier success was no fluke. [an error occurred while processing this directive] With her distinctive vocal quality -- a blend of sumptuous, throaty tone and elegant clarity -- Netrebko lent sonic splendor to Susanna's every note. Her technical prowess revealed Mozart's lyrical melodies and glittery passagework superbly. And her captivating stage presence, marked by a -- sprightly demeanor and deft comic timing, made the picture complete.


In every ensemble, in fact, it was Netrebko who caught the attention first -- not in a scene-stealing way but with quiet, unobtrusive assurance. Her surprise emergence from the closet in the Act 2 finale capitalized brilliantly on what may be the funniest moment in all of opera; her appearance for the Act 3 sextet gave the scene a much-needed spark.

The crowning glory of her performance, naturally, came in the last act, with a rendition of the ``Garden Aria'' that was both heartfelt and breathtakingly lovely.


Netrebko Just About Perfect: Russian soprano's recital shows dazzling talent

Joshua Kosman's S.F. Chronicle review of the 1998 debut recital at Old First Church in San Francisco

There's no more room or reason for doubt. Anna Netrebko has everything she needs to become a huge operatic star.

The extraordinary young Russian soprano has already given San Francisco Opera audiences two memorable performances: her 1995 U.S. operatic debut in Glinka's ``Ruslan and Lyudmila'' and an ebullient Susanna in last month's performances of Mozart's ``Marriage of Figaro.''

Then on Sunday evening at Old First Church, she set the seal on her triumph with a Schwabacher Debut Recital that was as close to incendiary perfection as an artist or audience can hope to come. Over a decade of regular attendance at this series, Netrebko's was easily the finest recital I have heard.

Here is a singer who simply has it all: a voice of astounding purity, precision and scope, extensive dynamic and tonal range, imagination, insight and wit -- all combined with a dazzling charisma that makes it all but impossible to look away when she is performing.

Yes indeed, I've gone a bit gaga. I defy anyone to have sat through Sunday's recital and remained immune.

Expertly accompanied by pianist John Churchwell, Netrebko offered an all-Russian program -- songs by Rimsky-Korsakov and Rachmaninoff in the first half, followed by Mussorgsky's charming cycle ``The Nursery'' and single selections by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Oles Chishko (the encores were also Russian, an aria from Rimsky-Korsakov's ``Tale of Tsar Saltan'' and Piatrov's ``Gypsy Serenade'').

But if Netrebko bypassed the polyglot assortment that these programs traditionally provide, she found enough variety and individuality within her repertoire to keep the audience spellbound.

Throughout the first half, there were long, rapturous legato phrases, in which strands of pearly notes fused into a single utterance, and rhythmic precision joined with crystalline diction to give each song a distinct character. The Mussorgsky songs, on the other hand, were sparkling comic gems, full-fledged dramatic miniatures with Netrebko playing all the parts superbly.


The first thing one noticed was the amazing luster of her vocal tone -- a luxuriantly rich, velvety sound that never misses the pitch at any point throughout her range.

In the first song of the Rimsky- Korsakov set, ``The Clouds Begin to Scatter,'' the tessitura starts out fairly low, and for a second or two Netrebko came off like a mezzo-soprano, her singing husky and vibrant. But then the melodic line began to soar, and her sound exploded thrillingly into the space.

Those big, momentum-driven climaxes, in fact, are what I remember best from the first half of the recital -- the heart-wrenching burst of wordless grief at the end of Rachmaninoff's ``The Harvest of Sorrow,'' and again at the high point of his ``Oh, Never Sing to Me Again.'' It was stunning to hear so much sound pour forth with such ease and technical control.

For the Mussorgsky cycle, Netrebko scaled things back, opting for exquisite detail rather than broad emotional effect. Like the childish imagination they depict, these songs dart and run all over the place, and Netrebko stayed with them beautifully -- singing an affecting lullaby to a doll, and conjuring up the dialogue between child and nanny with two contrasting voices. Not for a moment -- not even when she stumbled coming onstage -- did Netrebko betray any shortage of self-confidence. She is a true diva, and the fact that she affects a slightly outdated repertory of diva gestures -- crossing her hands languorously across her chest or looking seraphically heavenward -- without seeming silly is only a testament to her star power.

Sunday's recital, by the way, was evidently the first of Netrebko's young and brilliant career. Anyone fortunate enough to have been in attendance witnessed a historic event.


Reviews of Kirov Performances
at the Met in late April & May 1998

extracts from JAMES R. OESTREICH, reviewing Betrothal in a Monastery in the NewYorkTimes, 4/28/98

The Kirov Opera, on the third evening of its festival at the Metropolitan Opera House on Saturday, got down to serious exotica. Well, not so serious: Prokofiev's ''Betrothal in a Monastery'' from 1946 is studiedly lighthearted, designed in part to keep the composer clear of deep Soviet political waters at the time. The plot, after Richard Brinsley Sheridan's ''Duenna,'' itself a parody of comic-opera formula, is a mere wisp....[T]he production, which can be seen next on Saturday, is a delight....

But what is most remarkable is the overall quality and consistency of the cast. Anna Netrebko, a soprano, was splendid as Louisa, singing with limpid, agile tone and carrying the role with a delightful combination of fading innocence and budding worldly wisdom. Her Antonio, Yevgeny Akimov, a tenor, grew stronger and clearer of voice as the evening progressed. Vasily Gerello, a baritone, sounded resplendent from the start as Ferdinand, and Marianna Tarassova, a mezzo-soprano, proved a good match for him as Clara....

Valery Gergiyev, the inexhaustible moving force behind the company, conducted. The ensemble, a little loose at the outset, settled into a generally smooth performance. The chorus was excellent: the men especially, in the monks' chorus. The orchestra put its dark sonorities to good use: again, especially in that chorus, with its delightful perversion of a Strauss orchestration....

Daniel Kessler (, posting a review of Bethrothal in a Monastery to the newsgroup on 4/26/98:

Valery Gergiev is known to be ‘big' on Prokofiev and perhaps it is he who has talked the Met into doing Prokofiev's THE GAMBLER in an upcoming Met season. You could also say that Gregiev made a persuasive case for Prokofiev's BETROTHAL IN A MONASTERY last night as seen on the Met stage as given by the Kirov Opera....

Soprano Anna Netrebko was the high-spirited Louisa out to trick her dim-witted father. Years ago, the bass-baritone, Fernando Corena played Louisa's unattractive and buffoonish rich fish merchant suitor to whom Louisa is engaged and Cornea was meant to be very fine in this buffo part in an Italian translataion. Netrebko's voice carried well in the house. However, her soprano can, on occasion, sound nasal....

extracts from Anthony Tommasini, reviewing the Kirov Gala (4/23/98) in the New York Times on 4/25/98:

Most gala concerts tend to be celebratory fund-raisers with too many good will speeches and musical chestnuts and too few performances of substance.

Not so the three-hour gala on Thursday night, when the Kirov Opera commenced its three-week residency at the Metropolitan Opera House. This remarkable company from St. Petersburg is to present 17 performances of four Russian operas from its repertory....

But the conductor, Valery Gergiyev, the Kirov's visionary artistic director, used this gala as a chance to demonstrate his company's surprising range, and in a way the most interesting performances were of music from the Italian repertory one does not associate with the Kirov.

There was a gripping account of the entire final scene from Act II of Verdi's ''Otello,'' in which the soaring tenor Vladimir Galouzine as Otello and the vibrant baritone Nikolai Putilin as Iago vanquished these daunting roles. Later, Mr. Galouzine returned for a ''Nessun Dorma'' from ''Turandot'' that brought down the house. Italianate legato phrasing was not the hallmark of the dusky-voiced soprano Galina Gorchakova's singing in ''Sola, perduta, abbandonata'' from Puccini's ''Manon Lescaut,'' but the prima donna's performance was charismatic and affecting....

Olga Guryakova, a splendid soprano, and Larissa Diyadkova, a molten-voiced mezzo, were riveting in an intense duet from ''Mazeppa.'' Anna Netrebko, a gifted coloratura soprano, just 26, gave a scintillating account of a bel canto-like cavatina from ''Ruslan and Lyudmila.''

Mr. Gergiyev kept changing the program until two days before the gala, so this was more an opportunity to hear the Kirov Orchestra's versatility than its precision. But Mr. Gergiyev has built the orchestra into a formidable ensemble with a sound characterized by deep bass support, penetratingly clear high string tone and winds that emphasize reedy poignancy


Colorful `Betrothal' Fulfills Its Promise
S.F. Opera staging, music, singing strong

Joshua Kosman's S.F. Chronicle review of the 1998 San Francisco production of Prokofiev's Betrothal in a Monastery:

...Soprano Anna Netrebko brought her exquisite tone, easy musicality and considerable stage allure to the part of Don Jerome's daughter, Louisa, and tenor Evgeny Akimov made a heroic debut as Don Antonio, her romantic if impoverished lover...

Symphony's `Messiah' Needs Some Dusting Off

12/21/1998 - Chronicle




Monday, October 25, 1999 ; Page C01

The young Russian soprano Anna Netrebko redeemed the Washington Opera's production of Verdi's "Rigoletto" on Saturday evening. Surrounded by grim staging with often indecipherable or contradictory blocking and character interaction, Netrebko carried the night at the Kennedy Center Opera House, singing with a radiant, precise voice and portraying the not-so-innocent virgin Gilda with simplicity and a convincing sense of sincerity.

Few sopranos can mitigate the absurdities of the opera--Gilda must sing her final farewell half-wrapped in a burlap sack--and even fewer can survive the opera with little or no assistance from the director. Netrebko, oddly costumed as if for a soubrette role in a comic opera, moved through the work without seeming to touch terra firma, gliding from one preposterous scene to the next while building slowly and movingly toward Gilda's tragic self-sacrifice.

That final moment, when Gilda pauses before opening a door that means death, contains all the frustrating elements that make "Rigoletto" the obvious case for arguing that opera is an absurd and irrational entertainment. A fateful decision is delayed throughout a glorious ensemble passage, the decision itself is motivated by an increasingly improbable string of small plot twists, and the characters each seem to be singing their inner thoughts not to the audience, but to one another.

Yet that scene is a stunning musical moment--with Netrebko comfortably overtopping the orchestra and vocalists--sufficient in its aural impact to keep the opera in the repertoire...

It was Netrebko and a handful of smaller characters (John Marcus Bindel's statuesque Monterone, Simone Alberghini's delightful mix of the sinister and businesslike as Sparafucile, and Svetlana Serdar's coquettish Maddalena) who brought true professionalism to the evening. Netrebko's voice is evenly produced, effortless, sharp and clear without any trace of Russian edginess, and is matched with a technique that loves every note precisely and fully in its proper length and dynamic range. Her pianissimos are thrilling, and her rapid passage work almost flawless.

The excellence of great singing actors like Netrebko immediately highlights the flaws all around them. Netrebko makes the evening worthwhile. One hopes it will inspire the opera company to clean up things dramatically and produce a vehicle worthy of her.


Gergiev/Kirov concert performance at London's Festival Hall of Benevenuto Cellini:

May 24 1999 - Geoff Brown in The Times

...Netrebko's Teresa was a marvel: pure, strong and even in tone, winning in looks and gesture, clearly a girl worth every attention of Cellini, master silversmith and rogue....



Final Casts Perform Bland `La Boheme'
Anna Netrebko is the one bright spot

Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Tuesday, January 11, 2000
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle

With grim efficiency, the San Francisco Opera has managed to squeeze in one last week of performances before ceding the War Memorial Opera House to the San Francisco Ballet.....

...``Boheme'' has become a cash cow, as reliable as any Christmastime ``Nutcracker,'' and needs to be milked regularly. And if a flash of superior vocalism or dramatic insight happens to illumine the stage, why, consider it an unexpected perk.

As it happens, the weekend did boast one such moment of brilliance--Anna Netrebko's stunning turn Sunday afternoon as the erotically alluring Musetta. With her bold, precise and richly colored soprano cresting effortlessly above the orchestra, Netrebko delivered ``Quando me'n vo' '' (a.k.a. ``Musetta's Waltz'') with unnerving majesty in a performance graced as much by personal charisma as by vocal radiance....

Don Giovanni Not So Seductive
Baritone Hvorostovsky makes a bland lothario

Monday, June 5, 2000 
Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle


...Completing this trio of Graces was Netrebko, with a gorgeous and fascinatingly dark-toned performance as the peasant girl Zerlina. Her pitch was as laser-perfect as ever, her phrasing if anything more fluid and evocative. The inclusion of Zerlina's duet with Leporello, ``Per queste tue manine,'' usually omitted with good reason, was made more than bearable by Netrebko's spirited rendition....

A Night of Musical Splendor Honors the Mansouri Years

Saturday, September 9, 2000

Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle

... the honors belonged to soprano Anna Netrebko -- first heard in [the] 1995 production [of Ruslan and Lyudmila]-- who reawakened wondrous memories with her beautiful, insinuating rendition of Lyudmila's Act 1 Wedding Aria.

...there were [other] rewards, including...the Trio from Strauss' ``Der Rosenkavalier'' sung by Fleming, Netrebko and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham.

'Tsar's' Double Dose Of Vibrant Singing
Netrebko, Borodina bring out opera's beauty

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle

It turns out the requirements for operatic splendor are quite simple. Just put Anna Netrebko and Olga Borodina on the same stage and await developments. was the presence of the two Russian divas, sharing the War Memorial Opera House stage for the first time, that made this an evening to remember. Just one display of singing this rich-hued and forceful would have been enough to make the production a success; two in a single night amounts to a minor miracle.

... the cast, led by the two women at the top of their form, worked the requisite magic to bring out the score's inherent allure. 

Netrebko...seems to have done the impossible by adding even more color, depth and range to an already prodigious vocal endowment. The throaty quality that has been slipping into her singing during the past year or two has not always sounded fully integrated with her silvery upper range.

But on Monday, it was all of a piece, with a thrillingly strong and complex tone informing fluid phrasing. In her Act 2 aria -- probably the score's single most inspired stretch of lyric writing -- and even more in her final mad scene, Netrebko turned out effortless and exquisitely expressive streams of sound....

Tales of Hoffman Set to Become Mariinsky Favorite

The St. Petersburg Times

Friday, November 17, 2000

by Galina Stolyarova

With her rendition of "The Tales Of Hoffmann" which premiered last weekend at the Mariinsky Theater, Martha Domingo created just what she wanted with this unfinished work by Jacques Offenbach - a romantic, magic tale of a poet caught in an eternal choice between his muse and romantic relationship....

...Anna Netrebko's captivating performance of Antonia was the genuine highlight of the production. Over the last few years, Netrebko has evolved from a newcomer with impressive potential into a dazzling, versatile performer, not only showing technical excellence but also capable of offering original interpretations of the roles.

On the opening night Netrebko stunned and fascinated yet again.

Her tormented Antonia suffering over the paths she had to choose was pierced with despair, and her physical tortures from a mysterious disease appeared secondary. Vocally overwhelming and technically adroit, a head above the rest of the cast, artistically she seemed a little detached.

At this point, Netrebko thrives in playing vivacious and joyful characters, like Susanna in Mozart's "Marriage Of Figaro," or as a playful Natasha in Prokofiev's "War And Peace."

These characters come more naturally to Netrebko - again, in sheerly artistic and not vocal terms - than tragical roles like Lucia in Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," which don't quite suit her personality....

...All in all, the two premiere performances enjoyed the warmest public welcome, and the production has every chance of becoming one of the company's most popular productions.

"The Tales of Hoffmann" plays next on December 5



Opera's 'Elisir' Has The Right Ingredients
Soprano Netrebko sparkles in Donizetti comedy

Allan Ulrich, Chronicle Music Critic
Tuesday, January 9, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

The fall-winter segment of this San Francisco Opera season will not be over -- please forgive me -- until the svelte lady sings.

Anna Netrebko is very svelte, very gifted and very comely, and she is singing as she never has before. The Russian soprano's role debut at the War Memorial Opera House on Sunday afternoon as Adina in Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amore" ("The Elixir of Love") emerged a thoroughly disarming affair, one that should leave subscribers with a happy memory of the past four months' vocal bazaar.

Indeed, Netrebko and her Nemorino, Roberto Sacca, may be the cutest couple since Annette and Frankie. The pair surfed their way through this sentimental comedy with a charm that brought to this revival a logic and credibility egregiously lacking in last fall's performances. With the exception of Donita Volkwijn's pert Giannetta, the cast for this week's reprises, as well as the conductor, are all new to the project.

Netrebko seems destined for her role. She has pursued a curious career here since her stunning 1995 debut in "Ruslan and Lyudmila." The purity and flexibility of her voice have not been in question, yet her Italian assignments have wanted for idiomatic projection, rhythmic verve and sheer heart; Netrebko often seemed to wrap herself in an invisible shield.

Ironically as Adina, a part that invites brittleness, the soprano mingled feigned disdain for the importuning Nemorino with a very real affection for the poor bumpkin, and if you don't know from the first scene how this opera will come out, then the production simply isn't working. Aside from a short passage at the beginning of the opera, the character expresses herself only in duets and ensembles. The necessity for interaction is paramount, and Netrebko's performance yielded responses from flirtatious to wounded to smitten. She proved, too, a careful artist, articulating vocal flourishes without rupturing the musical line....

full review

From the Washington Post review of the Kennedy Center production of Le Nozze

By Joe Banno
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 12, 2001

A 'Figaro' That Doesn't Stand on Ceremony

...The Washington Opera has scored big in casting the role [of Susanna] by bringing back the enchanting Anna Netrebko. This lyric soprano -- a darling of the Kirov Opera who made a big splash in her company debut last season as Gilda in "Rigoletto" -- proves herself again to be a consummate singing actress.

Blessed with a fluid grace, kittenish good looks and one of the sunniest smiles in the business, Netrebko practices the art that conceals art. Not one moment of her performance -- whether she's dazzling us with an aria or unobtrusively watching others in some shadowy corner -- rings false or registers as emotionally vague. This Susanna doesn't have to make a big show of her feelings; a mercurial play of emotions dances in her eyes and flickers across her mouth, as in life. Acting this truthful, this lived-in, is almost never seen on the opera stage and should be cherished.

And let's talk about her voice. Sweet and subtly tangy as dark honey, perfectly placed, evenly voiced across its registers, bell-like and shimmering in the highest notes, girlish at its core but mature in its rich tonal finish: Netrebko's is no less a Golden Age voice than Placido Domingo's or Alessandra Marc's. Add to the mix her seductive beauty and acting smarts, and her value as a performer grows exponentially.

If Netrebko is first among equals, the rest of the cast is an extremely fine one for this opera.... 

Le Nozze di Figaro, through April 7 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Call 202-295-2400.

'Falstaff' falls short
Del Carlo unable to fill meaty lead role

Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Saturday, November 3, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle
photo: Chronicle/John O'Hara

[Kosman first offers a spine-chilling seven paragraph attack on John Del Carlo as Falstaff. You have to read it to believe it.  Read it but don't believe it. At least on Saturday, November 10th, Del Carlo gave a creditable performance warmly received by the audience. Who knows what burr was up Kosman's backside.  As San Francisco is now a one-newspaper town, no second critical appraisal was available to potential opera-goers, and the empty seats were the likely effect of the damning review.]

...As the lovestruck Fenton, tenor Paul Groves' singing was precise and fluid but patchy in the upper range where the most dramatic passages lie.

No such problems for Anna Netrebko, who deployed her silvery, strong soprano to magnificent effect as his beloved Nannetta....

From the Financial Times, November 11, 2001:

The real stand-out of this merry band, however, is not a "Mrs" but a "Miss": soprano Anna Netrebko is stunning as the young Nanetta Ford, possessing a bell-like clarity at the high end of her register, a surprising richness in the lower range, and all the charm and grace that one could hope for.



Anna gives CPR to the fallen Veronese
in Philadelphia rehearsals for 
I Capuleti e i Montechi.
At right, she embraces her Romeo, 
mezzo Ruxandra Donose.

Anna brushes up her Shakespeare in Philadelphia
in Bellini's version of Romeo and Juliet (2002)

link to Mark Burstein's entertainingly over the top account (in Acrobat pdf format)



Anna sings Lucia in Los Angeles to the usual critical acclaim

Nov 22, 30, Dec 4, 7(m), 12, 14(m), 17, 20(m), 2003

From LA City Beat, Nov. 26, by Donna Perlmutter

...[A] huge talent Angelenos [are] lucky to see again is Anna Netrebko, the Russian soprano blitzing the charts right now. Last Saturday, this gorgeous young thing – discovered by lady-killer Kirov chief Valerie Gergiev while she scrubbed floors at the Maryinsky Theater (a story she calls “boolsheet Cinderella”) – took on the title role in L.A. Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor and knocked out even the most jaded buffs. (Performances continue through December 20; visit or call 213-972-8001.)

Here was the real, rare thing – a singing actress whose vocal gifts alone could stir struggling record companies to action, but who also possessed inordinate theatrical flair and finesse. Director Marthe Keller (of movie fame) clearly had a major hand in shaping Netrebko’s Lucia – the fragile emotions leading to madness in Donizetti’s florid, gently tragic melodrama could be traced from her first appearance on stage.

This lyric soprano unleashed a mad scene in which she laughed corrosively and danced and twirled and swooned while pouring out bell tones and tossing off exquisitely chiseled coloratura within a whole dynamic and rhythmic range. When intimate moments loomed, she wasn’t afraid to sing super softly, and she found all manner of interpretive shadings within a single musical phrase.

Joshua Kosman reviews the LA Lucia for the San Francisco Chronicle:

... to sing Lucia is to stake a claim to full-fledged diva status, and Netrebko gave every indication that it's a role she's well equipped to fill.

Just from a technical standpoint, the mad scene was a magnificent display. Netrebko's coloratura was note-perfect, each melodic phrase and glittering roulade precise and full-bodied. Her dynamic range was remarkable, from a piercing fortissimo to the merest whisper, and she exploited it all for dramatic effect. At one unforgettable juncture, she opened her mouth wide but let only the smallest sound escape -- a virtuoso gesture of deep-rooted horror....

For full text, click here.

Anna's opening night LA performance in Lucia on November 22, 2003, was jaw-dropping. I cannot improve on Ms. Perlmutter's or Kosman's words above. 

My wife and I went back stage afterward, and waited (with her new manager) for her to come out of her dressing room. After a visit from a make-up man with a thousand brushes, she emerged in the most extraordinary outfit: about the shortest skirt I've seen and a strapless corset top held together in the back with lacing that left a nice wedge of flesh visible. You'll have to take my word for it. I'd used up the last juice in my camera battery taking long distance photos during the performance, none of which turned out very well. 

She was friendly but eager to get to the post-opening night party. She flew off with a wave and a cry, "Now to get drunk!" Placido and Marthe Keller were also backstage. We talked briefly with the gracious Marthe, who fully credited Anna for an inspired interpretation of her (Marthe's) choreography and direction. I missed the biggest photo-op of my life, failing to get Anna, Placido and Marthe in one frame.

Let's be categorical:  You have not seen or heard a mad scene matching this one.




Mark Burstein's unbridled appreciation of Anna as Lucia



Opera diva turns in a recital with flair
Anna Netrebko was out of her element, but still stunning

- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle Music Critic
Wednesday, May 26, 2004

After keeping San Francisco audiences waiting for so long, Anna Netrebko delivered the goods on Monday night, with interest. The extravagantly gifted Russian soprano finally returned to the Bay Area to give her twice- postponed recital in Herbst Theatre, and the result was worth every minute of anticipation.

Accompanied at the piano by Donald Runnicles, Netrebko offered a cannily chosen program of music by Mozart, Strauss and Rachmaninoff. She sang it with every ounce of vocal brilliance and emotional fervor at her disposal.

This was music calculated to flatter her musical endowments -- her darkly piercing vocal tone, impeccable precision and interpretive urgency -- and the dazzling glamour that attends her very presence. Not since her unforgettable Schwabacher Debut Recital in 1998 has Netrebko's musical sorcery been available with such intimate directness.

At the same time, it was clear throughout the evening that the song recital is not a form with which Netrebko feels fully at home. She seemed intermittently ill at ease -- conferring midstream with Runnicles about the order of the program and even some musical details, and relying on stock gestures and expressions when a dramatic point seemed unclear to her.

No, Netrebko is a creature of the operatic stage -- that's her native turf, where all the bloom and intensity of her artistry come forth. And the more operatic Monday's program became -- the more she could immerse herself into a dramatic character -- the more confident and magnificent her singing sounded.

The contrast was evident in the very first pair of Mozart numbers. The early concert aria "Per pietà, bell'idol mio," K. 78, led off the program in a rendition marked by precisely turned phrases but a degree of emotional stiffness that went beyond the conventional sentiments of the aria.

But then, in a last-minute switch, Netrebko launched into "Padre, germani, " Ilia's opening aria from "Idomeneo" (that opera, in 1999, marked her first collaboration with Runnicles). The difference was striking and instantaneous. Before our eyes and ears, Netrebko became the anxious, tormented princess, giving voice to a surfeit of emotion in exquisitely shaped melodic lines.

The San Francisco Performances recital was put off twice -- once a year ago because of a health emergency and again in November when Netrebko underestimated the demands of her Los Angeles Opera debut in the title role of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor."

Now, back in town to sing Musetta in the San Francisco Opera's June production of Puccini's "La Bohème," she took the opportunity to finally make good. Clad in two contrasting outfits -- a silken floral number followed after intermission by a flounced black sheath dress -- she looked and sounded every inch a diva.

The Strauss set began with another substitution, this one unannounced ("Zueignung" in place of "Befreit") and continued with a series of exuberantly shimmering performances. Netrebko lent feathery grace to "Ständchen" ("Serenade"), caught the still-voiced lyricism of "Morgen" ("Tomorrow") and concluded with a soaring account of "Cäcilie."

But her most gripping performances came after intermission, with a group of nine Rachmaninoff songs done with almost irresistible fervency and depth. From the melancholy of "I fell in love for my sorrow," with its touching finale vocalise, to the gut-wrenching anguish of "Oh, do not sing to me," Netrebko embodied each song's expressive world with extraordinary vividness.

"Discord," a sprawling, quivering explosion of raw emotion, made a final tour de force. There were encores by Delibes (the vivacious "Les filles de Cadix") and Puccini (a soulful "O mio babbino caro" from "Gianni Schicchi").

Monday's recital was a splendid event, but I don't expect we'll hear much more of Netrebko as a recitalist. Her true home, over at the War Memorial Opera House, is calling.

Netrebko in top form

Special to the Mercury News

The third time was definitely the charm for Anna Netrebko, who finally made it to her San Francisco Performances recital Monday evening at Herbst Theatre. Postponed twice due to illness in 2003, the event turned out to be worth the wait.

In the last few years, the Russian soprano has come into her own, and Monday's scintillating recital -- accompanied by San Francisco Opera music director Donald Runnicles -- offered impressive evidence of her musical gifts. Singing a program of songs and arias by Rachmaninoff, Mozart and Richard Strauss, with encores by Delibes and Puccini, Netrebko's ravishing vocalism, dramatic flair and charismatic stage presence added up to an enchanting evening. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Netrebko is one of the music world's most glamorous women, a dark-haired beauty who looked ready to pose for the cover of Vogue.

Yet what was most remarkable about this appearance was the singer's assurance and ability to communicate the essence of the repertoire. The dramatic intelligence that has fueled Netrebko's Bay Area opera performances -- she made an unforgettable S.F. Opera debut in 1995 as Lyudmila in Glinka's ``Ruslan and Lyudmila'' and has returned to the company numerous times since then -- was applied with keen focus in this recital. She projected a sense of command, and the tonal vagaries that have plagued some of her previous outings here seem to have vanished for good

She started with Mozart's concert aria, ``Per pieta, bell'idol mio,'' singing with soft, silvery tone and elegant musical line. The next selection, Ilia's ``Padre, germani, addio'' from Mozart's ``Idomeneo,'' was thrilling, with Netrebko eloquently expressing the depth of the character's anguish. The selection of Strauss songs was well-chosen and dynamically performed.

After intermission, Netrebko sang two sets of songs by Rachmaninoff. She made a particularly persuasive case for this repertoire, sounding utterly at home in the language and idiomatic phrasing of the texts. ``Lilacs'' was a vibrant example of her ability to conjure an entire world in the course of a few minutes; ``Never Sing to Me Again'' came across as a potent musical drama.

Bay Area audiences can catch Netrebko when she returns in June, appearing as Musetta in the S.F. Opera's ``La Boheme,'' running June 5 through July 2. For tickets and information, see


A sexual dynamo powers S.F. Opera's 'La Boheme'

Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic

Monday, June 7, 2004

There is one bright spot amid the drab, workaday revival of Puccini's "La Bohème" that opened at the War Memorial Opera House on Saturday night, and her name is Anna Netrebko.

Could anyone be surprised at that?

For as long as she's been appearing at the San Francisco Opera -- ever since her revelatory 1995 U.S. debut in Glinka's "Ruslan and Lyudmila" -- this magnificently gifted singer has favored local audiences with performances of unforgettable beauty and insight.

Her artistry has crowned great evenings (especially in little-known repertoire by Prokofiev and Rimsky-Korsakov) and done its part to salvage weak ones. Saturday's was in the latter category.

Not that Netrebko had a particularly ample opportunity to shine. As Musetta, the sexual dynamo with a heart of gold, she had just one big moment in the spotlight, the Café Momus scene in Act 2 with her showstopping waltz "Quando m'en vo'."

But in those few moments, the performance took on a whole new degree of theatrical and musical vividness. Netrebko's powerful, pure soprano -- still silvery in its basic coloring but growing darker and more luxuriant with each passing year -- soared above the orchestra in cascading, precisely shaped phrases.

And her depiction of Musetta's emotional plight was sketched in unnervingly specific detail. Temporarily on the outs with her boyfriend, the painter Marcello, Musetta shows up on the arm of a decrepit old sugar daddy and proceeds to goad Marcello into confessing that he still loves her.

Her bountiful erotic charms are the main weapon, of course. But in Netrebko's version there was also a petulant reproach over the entire spectacle, as if to say, "Look what you've driven me to" -- an irrational charge that any lover could recognize.

All the time she was tempting Marcello, her own anxiety and unhappiness came closer and closer to the surface, finally exploding in a sprint across the stage and a leap into her lover's arms.

Nothing else in the performance -- largely undercast and conducted with unwonted sluggishness by Music Director Donald Runnicles -- came close to that level of vocal or dramatic majesty.

Mark Lamos' production, so full of vivacity and luster when it premiered at the Orpheum Theater in 1996, becomes blurrier and more pallid with each successive revival. The current outing, staged by Sandra Bernhard, seems content to shuffle the players around the stage; even in the scenes of the Bohemian high jinks, wit and energy are in short supply.

Nor did the vocal performances make up for the lack. Soprano Elena Prokina, a touchingly intimate Tatiana in her 1997 debut in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin," seems to have gained vocal heft at the expense of delicacy since then.

As the doomed seamstress Mimì, her singing sounded blunt and labored, although she used those qualities to produce a potent torrent of emotion in Act 3. Her tendency to sing flat throughout didn't help matters.

Tenor Frank Lopardo was her beloved Rodolfo, in a charmless performance marked by a weirdly aggressive edge -- this was a poet modeled more on Charles Bukowski than on Keats or Shelley. And although Lopardo mustered a fluent legato when he needed to, his strained, bottled-up vocal tone robbed much of the role of its brightness.

American baritone Scott Hendricks made a solid but not very memorable company debut as Marcello, with a robust but rather colorless sound and a way of melting into the background in ensembles. His best singing came in the Act 4 duet, "Ah, Mimì, tu più non torni," even in the face of Lopardo's demonic chewing of the scenery.

Bass Freidemann Röhlig gave a wonderfully resonant and thoughtful performance as the philosopher Colline, former Adler Fellow Brad Alexander was an underpowered Schaunard, and Peter Strummer reprised his trademark turns as Benoît and Alcindoro. The Opera Chorus struggled a little in the big crowd scene of Act 2.

In the end, this was Netrebko's night, just as so many before it have been. Next time around they need to find something more for her to do.

S.F. Chronicle review of Boheme

Anna is in the recent Disney movie, Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, which opened in theaters August 2004. She plays herself and sings a bit of the aria Sempre libera at the engagement party. Except for Anna, the movie is god-awful, and her appearance is very brief.



excerpts from Michael Sinclair's review of the Salzburg Traviata on the, August 10, 2005:

They'll be talking about the red dress for years.... They'll be talking about Netrebko for years too. She plays Violetta as if there is no tomorrow....

The premiere had been a media scrum attended by a who's who of the rich and famous. It was Salzburg's glitziest premiere for years. The performance was also relayed live to nearly one million people around Austria, audience numbers unheard of for an opera broadcast....

Photo: Klaus LefebrveDirector Willy Decker makes [Violetta] the centre of attention at all times. His first coup is to make the chorus an all male group of admirers, by turning the women into men. It works so brilliantly that you would be forgiven for thinking that there is no female chorus. Alfredo is just another one of the men, but he is soon singled out for special attention by Violetta....

Anna Netrebko does everything asked of her by Decker. And she is asked to do a lot. With only one interval after Act 1, Netrebko is onstage for most of the evening. During this time she never loses focus, acting passionately and with great intelligence. Not many singers would be able to sing coloratura while zipping up a dress.... What particularly impresses is her ability to act with her voice, turning her great Violetta into something quite extraordinary.Photo: Klaus Lefebrve

While Netrebko dominates we must not forget Rolando Villazon as Alfredo. They have become the dream team of opera and you can see why. Their relationship on stage is electric, working beautifully together to make us believe totally in their relationship. He too does not have the largest of voices, but he certainly has all the notes and like Netrebko acts well with his voice. Together they offer such realism on stage, that it is simply impossible not be carried along with them....

© 2005 Michael Sinclair

NYTimes 3/20/05:

Recently the young, gorgeous and immensely gifted Russian soprano Anna Netrebko sang one short Puccini aria on the "Tonight" show. At the time, she was starring in Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" at the Los Angeles Opera, electrifying audiences and getting rave reviews. The production featured a love scene with a scantily clad Ms. Netrebko and the handsome Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón that got lots of publicity.

Besides being an exciting new singer, Ms. Netrebko has a story to tell. As a struggling student in St. Petersburg, she scrubbed floors at the Maryinsky Theater, the home of the Kirov Opera. Just a few years later she was a star in the company. American news organizations have paid attention: Ms. Netrebko has been profiled on "60 Minutes" and, recently, on "World News Tonight" on ABC.

Yet on the "Tonight" show, she sang an aria at the end and got a congratulatory handshake from Mr. Leno, and that was that.

[Beverly] Sills says that entertainment television has simply closed the door to opera.


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