The artist who raised my spirits the most during lockdown was undoubtedly Anna Netrebko. Whether posting Instagram photos of her cooking (vowing to open a restaurant!), painting intricate birch bark designs or redecorating her terrace overlooking Vienna’s Stephansdom, she certainly kept busy. She also shared her intense frustration at not performing. It’s a frustration still shared by many, but now Netrebko is truly back on the road. After a role debut (Elisabetta) in Dresden and concerts in Rome, Naples and Verona, she and her husband Yusif Eyvazov headed to the glitz of the Salzburg Festival for an all-Tchaikovsky evening.

Anna Netrebko © Salzburg Festival | Marco Borelli
Anna Netrebko
© Salzburg Festival | Marco Borelli

The programme was well constructed, framed by the big duets from Pique Dame and Iolanta. When I interviewed the couple two years ago, Netrebko hinted that although Lisa is on the spinto side (as if that were any impediment!), she would consider the role if the right production of Pique Dame came along. Let’s pray it does, for in the Act 1 finale, starting with her arioso “Otkuda eti sliosy”, she seemed completely inside the music, reflecting on her unhappy engagement, stirred by the stranger (Herman) she has seen in the park. Netrebko’s luscious soprano, as opulent as the Gemy Maalouf gown and Chopard jewellery she wore, soared with ease, scything through Tchaikovsky’s score. Truly a diamond of a voice at its peak. 

Eyvazov has sung the unhinged Herman before and, although not in the same vocal league, he gave a committed performance. His tenor has a pinched quality at times, but he’s always musical and attacked the notes cleanly. Played through to the end of Act 1 – with a nice cameo by Szilvia Vörös as the severe Countess – passions grew, ending in a full on snog as Lisa falls into Herman’s arms. Thank heavens they share the same social bubble!

Yusif Eyvazov and Anna Netrebko © Salzburg Festival | Marco Borelli
Yusif Eyvazov and Anna Netrebko
© Salzburg Festival | Marco Borelli

The duet from Iolanta is an emotional ride of a different sort, as Iolanta and Vaudémont fall in love, the knight realising that the princess is unaware of her blindness. Netrebko’s sensitive acting was moving here, reaching her hand to feel his face at a time where touch, for many, is a distant memory. Eyvazov betrayed the odd moment of uncertainty but the chemistry between them was, understandably, very believable. Earlier, the tenor had sung a very respectable Lensky, with an authentic, reedy tone, never pushing too hard and ending with a pleasing final phrase, echoed with a superb horn sign-off that earned a nod from the leader of the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra. 

Netrebko’s solo number was the Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin. Without any props, she delivered the gamut of emotions Tatyana experiences – fevered, urgent, apprehensive – as she pens her declaration of love to the world-weary Onegin. Netrebko reined in her huge voice effectively in Tatyana’s great moment of doubt, the phrase “Are you my guardian angel and protector, or are you a vile deceiver?” but opened out her soprano full throttle in the finale.

Yusif Eyvazov, Anna Netrebko, Mikhail Tatarnikov and the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra © Salzburg Festival | Marco Borelli
Yusif Eyvazov, Anna Netrebko, Mikhail Tatarnikov and the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra
© Salzburg Festival | Marco Borelli

Mikhail Tatarnikov ensured that the orchestral lollipops between the vocal numbers didn’t feel like padding. The Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty, introduced by a sparkling harp cadenza, was sumptuous and the Onegin Polonaise was played in the grand St Petersburg style, earning fist bumps between conductor and leader. Considering the time-restricted programme, this had a real gala feel to it, in true festival fashion. 

This performance was reviewed from the video stream.

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****1