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When they’re not singing you get the feeling they’re like friendly cousins. But for the music’s sake the Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón and the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko put on a convincing act as opera’s love-couple.
They and their managers have rightly surmised that when two voices make love as rapturously as theirs, one plus one makes more than two. And so it proved in this latest in a series of collaborations on both sides of the Atlantic.
The partnership works better than Roberto Alagna’s with Angela Gheorghiu ever did because the romance is purely in the music. There’s nothing vulgar about Villazón and Netrebko; they neither milk the emotions nor sell them short.
The notes are always perfectly pitched and they give their money’s worth: this programme comprised eight arias and seven duets, leaving the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, with just four short interludes.
On paper the first half, dominated by Massenet’s Manon and arias by Tchaikovsky, looked like Netrebko’s; the second, with zarzuela arias and Mascagni’s “Mamma” (Cavalleria rusticana), was surely Villazón’s. But no – the honours worked evenly. Netrebko, the Posh Spice of opera, knows how to camp it up, as her Delibes “Chanson espagnole” proved.
Lacking the innocence for Gounod’s Juliette (“Je veux vivre”), she was better suited to Rakhmaninov’s Pushkin song “Lovely girl, do not sing to me” and Catalani’s “Ebben? . . . Ne andrò lontano” (La Wally). The voice doesn’t melt the heart but soars magnificently.
With Netrebko the emotions are applied whereas Villazón exposes himself. He sounds vulnerable precisely because he sings everything from the heart, as Lensky’s aria (Onegin) and the brindisi from La traviata showed.
The voice is smaller and darker than Netrebko’s but it was perfect for Massenet, including an aria from Le Mage that made me wonder why no one else sings it.
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