No, she didn’t arrive on the back of a Lipizzaner. Anna Netrebko’s recital at the Spanish Riding School was devoid of horseplay, apart from a brief donning of masks for the Hoffmann Barcarolle. But, as expected for a Metropolitan Opera fundraiser, there was glamour aplenty. There was alarming altitude too, Netrebko performing atop an arched platform that launched her and pianist Pavel Nebolsin to balcony level, showing off the Hofburg Palace’s Baroque ceiling. A flimsy cordon rope apparently satisfied health and safety regulations, but you wouldn’t have got me up there for all the Sachertorte in Vienna.

Pavel Nebolsin and Anna Netrebko © Jürgen Hausmann | Met Opera
Pavel Nebolsin and Anna Netrebko
© Jürgen Hausmann | Met Opera

The Met Stars Live in Concert series was plagued (sorry) by a run of postponements in the autumn, both Covid and non-Covid related. Netrebko herself caught the virus in September and was hospitalised in Moscow, but she’s bounced back as ebullient as ever, performing at the Bolshoi, Mariinsky and Wiener Staatsoper. Next week, she’s back in St Petersburg, singing Tatyana, Tosca and, later in the month, Turandot. 

For all the bling of her Instagram persona, Netrebko is a serious artist. Rather than cobble together a programme of operatic crowd-pleasers, she presented a serious song recital on the theme of Day and Night. Admittedly, it wasn’t new – she devised it a couple of years ago with Malcolm Martineau for a tour – and she even sang it again last week at the Liceu, Barcelona.

Pavel Nebolsin and Anna Netrebko © Jürgen Hausmann | Met Opera
Pavel Nebolsin and Anna Netrebko
© Jürgen Hausmann | Met Opera

The Russian diva isn’t a regular recitalist and is not one to be tied to a music stand. She used her limited performing space as a stage, sometimes wandering behind Nebolsin, who kept his cool with immaculate playing. Each song was treated as its own miniature drama, although Netrebko often reined in her dark, voluptuous soprano admirably. There was a good deal of taste in her singing. Nebolsin proved a most sensitive player, the introduction to Tchaikovsky’s Tell me, in the shade of the branches particularly tender. 

Russian repertoire, unsurprisingly, is Netrebko’s strength and she could have played safe with an entire evening of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov romances, sensuously delivered. For all her rich, voluptuous soprano, she can still float the high notes in How fair this spot gorgeously, and she sank into Rachmaninov’s long phrases in A Dream – the highlight of the nocturnal second half – as if cocooning herself in velvet. 

Anna Netrebko © Jürgen Hausmann | Met Opera
Anna Netrebko
© Jürgen Hausmann | Met Opera

But this was a recital that spanned five languages – it would have been six but the intriguing prospect of hearing Netrebko sing Frank Bridge’s Go not, happy day was dashed due to time restrictions curtailing the original programme. Netrebko clearly enjoys singing Strauss, even if her German is work in progress. There was shaky tuning in “Depuis le jour” from Charpentier’s Louise but Dvořák’s Songs my mother taught me was sung expansively. Offenbach’s Barcarolle did not beguile – not helped by Maximova’s stolid mezzo – but they turned Lisa and Polina’s little duet from The Queen of Spades into a pretty salon piece. It’s good to learn that Netrebko will finally debut the role of Lisa within the next few seasons. 

The presentation was hosted from New York, Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager, cooing over a showreel of Netrebko’s Met in HD performances. “The voice must be heard” is the series tagline, but clearly not the voice of The Met’s musicians. Of the ten streams thus far, it’s scandalous that only one was filmed in the US – Renée Fleming’s recital at Dumbarton Oaks – and none has used any artists from The Met Orchestra. Not a good look.


This performance was reviewed from the Met Stars Live video stream

***11