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These albums are designed to milk a star-fixated market rather than make a serious contribution to the Verdi bicentenary. Kaufmann disappoints. He opens with a leaden “La donna è mobile” (Rigoletto) that reveals more heroic strain than Italianate style. Arias from Aida, Un ballo in maschera and I masnadieri prove little more seductive and no less studio-bound. Why the relentless need to force?

Things start to pick up with “Ah! sì, ben mio … Di quella pira” from Il trovatore, while extended extracts from Don Carlo (with the excellent baritone Franco Vassallo) and La forza del destino showcase the dark, dramatic quality in Kaufmann’s tenor. Finally, fleetingly, “Quando le sere al placido” from Luisa Miller brings some soft singing. The orchestral accompaniments under Pier Giorgio Morandi rarely exceed the perfunctory.

Netrebko’s album is better planned – substantial extracts from five operas – and superbly conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. More importantly, the Russian diva sounds properly engaged.

Her timbre may not be as instantly recognisable as Kaufmann’s, and Elena’s “Mercé, dilette amiche” (I vespri siciliani) exposes less-than-pristine coloratura, but the voice has an exciting edge – above all as Leonora (Il trovatore), Elisabetta (Don Carlo) and Lady Macbeth, whetting the appetite for her stage debut in this role at Munich next summer. A bonus DVD showcases nine stage roles, including a sexually charged Traviata Brindisi with Rolando Villazón from 2005.

Jonas Kaufmann

The Verdi Album

(Sony Classical)

Anna Netrebko


(Deutsche Grammophon)

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