Anna Netrebko is our diva du jour. All over town advertisements beam her pretty face over a lofty logo: “Just be forewarned – Netrebko can be habit- forming.” Met puffery heralds her as “the charismatic Russian soprano who has created a sensation”.
She is indeed a pleasant presence, and she commands lovely, silvery tone. For many that may be enough. She reaped huge ovations at the revival of I Puritani on Wednesday. For those who remember Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills or Edita Gruberova, however, Netrebko’s performance did not justify the delirium.
Ultimately the hype may be to her disadvantage. Without great expectations, one could admire her lithe body, her often sweet vocalism, even her self- conscious acting (a stage- edge collapse during the mad scene allowed her to sing a few phrases on her back, with her head dangling into the orchestra pit). But great interpreters of Elvira have made more of the stratospheric flights, the opportunities for accurate yet expressive filigree, the fusion of virtuosity and pathos.
The Met showcased its dulcet darling in an ancient production, anno 1976, featuring kitsch-postcard sets by Ming Cho Lee and stock costumes by Peter J. Hall. Sandro Sequi’s static staging-scheme has been handed down to Sharon Thomas, who did her best to sustain orderly traffic amid neat tableaux. Patrick Summers conducted solidly, accompanied sympathetically. Within this milieu, no one suggested that opera can be valid theatre. Gregory Kunde, the veteran who replaced the indisposed Eric Cutler as Arturo, at least projected a semblance of dignity and stylised urgency. He also sang rather elegantly, tightness not withstanding, and even flashed a top F in “Credeasi misera”. A brave tenor.
Franco Vassallo roared roughly as Riccardo. John Relyea, reputedly singing despite bronchitis, growled darkly as Giorgio. Valerian Ruminski grumbled politely as Gualtiero. If the low voices cared about dynamic variety, they kept it a secret. One wanted bel-canto, got bawl-canto. Poor Bellini.
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