NETREBKO VILLAZÓN Duets

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NETREBKO · VILLAZÓN
Duets

Werke von / Works by
Bizet · Donizetti · Gounod · Massenet
Moreno Torroba · Puccini · Tchaikovsky · Verdi
Staatskapelle Dresden · Nicola Luisotti
Int. Release 05 Mar. 2007
1 CD / Download
Lyrics: Orig. Language, English, French:
CD DDD 0289 477 6457 1 GH
Lyrics: Orig. Language, German, French:
CD DDD GH
The heat is on! Opera’s “golden couple" Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón pair up for their first duets recording


Liste de titres

Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)
La Bohème

Act 1

Gaetano Donizetti (1797 - 1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor

Act 1

Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Staatskapelle Dresden, Nicola Luisotti

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 - 1901)
Rigoletto

Act 1

Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Nadine Weissmann, Staatskapelle Dresden, Nicola Luisotti

Charles Gounod (1818 - 1893)
Roméo et Juliette

Act 4

Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875)
Les pêcheurs de perles

Act 2

Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912)
Manon

Act 3

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Iolanta Op.69

Federico Moreno Torroba (1891 - 1982)
Luisa Fernanda

Act 3

Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Staatskapelle Dresden, Nicola Luisotti

Durée totale de lecture 1:11:08

The highly anticipated showpiece of Universal Classics' vocal lineup is soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon's "Duets" album (Deutsche Grammophon, September 11), which shows off the operatic superstars in well-loved roles along with some rarities . . .

Together they have the sort of chemistry that's hard to fake . . . Netrebko's and Villazón's rendition feels totally fresh -- hearing it is like falling in love for the first time.

They¿re at it again on this album of operatic love duets, posing seductively together in photos . . . It¿s all fairly light-hearted and wonderful, particularly the selection from the "Pearl Fishers".

. . . they're both just fine artists, utterly in their prime, with healthy, attractive voices, and they sing well together . . . this CD gives great pleasure . . . Both singers are in rapturous voice, their phrasing sensitive and sincere . . . it's a magical performance . . . Very exciting indeed. The Duke and Gilda are roles made for them. She sounds sweet and vulnerable and he sounds as though he believes what he's singing at the moment . . . it's a true pleasure to hear singing and communicating of this calibre.

These likable young singers generate an abundance of passion in the studio . . . With high-octane accompaniments from Luisotti, this is red-hot operatic sparring from two of the finest young singers around today.

Handsome offering from opera¿s own Bacall and Bogart . . . At the heart of opera are the tearful or romantic duets between soprano and tenor, and the erotic chemistry of this album cuts to the core. Villazon¿s voice has real power, and just because he and Netrebko look like convincing star-crossed lovers doesn¿t mean they aren¿t superb singers, too, the pair emitting as much passion as you could possibly hope for.

Here the two glorious voices match each other well in style and phrasing . . . Netrebko is wonderfully alluring as the penitent-seductive Manon, and matches Villazón in passion and tenderness in the Pearl Fishers duet. Best of all, perhaps, is the duet from Iolanta, ecstatically sung and bringing out the distinctive dusky colouring within Netrebko's strong, bright soprano.

Starry duets find both singers in fine voice and . . . in stylish form . . . the voices match well in terms of volume, and Netrebko's brightness seems reduced in wattage sufficiently to distribute the lightning more evenly . . . There is . . . lovely singing by Villazón, who in the "Lucia" duet phrases his verse of "Verrano a te" with a breadth matched by the grace of his beautifully lightened tone. The French excerpts got well, the "Manon" being particularly well characterised . . . Netrebko is her best self in the Tchaikovsky duet . . . and a most attractive self, too.

Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko may not be a couple in romantic terms . . .but as a musical pair they¿re as well-matched as could be. Dramatically, they spark off each other with passion and energy, and the different qualities of their respective voices give point and focus to each other¿s sound. Thus, in `O soave fanciulla¿, the big love duet . . . we get a Latinate passionate Rudolfo and a more delicately responsive Mimì, who blossoms under the warmth of the other¿s yearning into a full declaration of love at the end. In the Act Three duet from ¿Manon¿, the roles are reversed: Netrebko puts a touch of Villazon¿s yearning into her voice, and he takes on her cooler, more diamantine qualities while trying to resist Manon¿s fatal charms . . . this is a splendid new disc containing many and varied pleasures.

. . . there's something undeniably special here. Netrebko and Villazón deliver . . . sheer charisma . . . they are highly listenable . . .

. . . opera¿s hottest couple of the moment happily prove their worth . . . All eight tracks, including a terrific zarzuela at the end, polish their crown as opera¿s dynamic duo.

Stunning artistry, Villazón especially. Unrestrained engineering: voice close ups, off-stage ambience, etc.

They are the "it" couple of the opera world, two glamorous, compatible stars . . . In the "Bohème" duet, Mr. Villazón is both rich and streamlined, as he so often is. His voice is light -- or lightish -- but far from insubstantial . . . Anna Netrebko, certainly, does a lot with hers [voice]. In the Donizetti, Mr. Villazón conveys tremendous, commendable urgency . . . he is successful . . . he is rather more Latin than Italianate. In this, he resembles his mentor, Plácido Domingo . . . And speaking of Verdi . . . Our two stars sing this music appreciatively, accurately, and excitingly. Who could ask for anything more? . . . In "Nuit d'hyménée," Mr. Villazón is again reminiscent of Mr. Domingo (who was an excellent singer of this music . . . ). Both Mr. Villazón and Ms. Netrebko achieve the quality of tingling anticipation, so important to this duet . . . they both fare well . . . Ms. Netrebko and Mr. Villazón sing it [Duet from "Pearl Fishers"] stylishly, artfully, and it may be the best cut on the album.
After that, the Act III duet from Massenet's "Manon," which positively explodes with emotion. Throughout this duet, the singers are totally operatic, conveying the ardor we want, without undue craziness . . . Ms. Netrebko could not sound more natural here [duet from Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta"] -- she and the music fit each other like gloves. Mr. Villazón sings along gamely, and glowingly . . . The performance [of duet from "Luisa Fernanda" by Federico Moreno Torroba] is both touching and distinguished. You could say the same about this disc as a whole, really . . . They are admirable singers, and they have a chemistry, no doubt.

. . . music that allows their ample and expressive voices to soar. Villazón has been compared to Domingo for the quality of his tone, his vocal discipline, and the expressiveness of his interpretations, and these elements are all in evidence here. In "È il sol dell'anima," from "Rigoletto," the intensity of his characterization is especially penetrating. The purity of Netrebko's tone and the youthful innocence she expresses so persuasively are hugely touching; in her final lines of the first scene of "La bohème," before Mimì and Rodolfo leave the stage, she sounds so blissfully and simply happy that the awareness of the couple's fate makes the moment unbearably poignant. One intriguing element of the album is having each singer join in a duet from the repertoire that's the other singer's specialty, so there is a selection from Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta" in Russian, and from Torroba's 1932 zarzuela "Luisa Fernanda" in Spanish. Netrebko and Villazón are well matched in their vocal weight and in the depth of their investment in their roles, and the equality of their partnership makes the album especially satisfying. The collection should be of strong interest to Netrebko's and Villazón's fans, and to opera lovers who enjoy old-fashioned, larger-than-life moments of high passion. Nicola Luisotti (who also sings the brief lines of Ceprano and Borsa in the "Rigoletto" excerpt) leads the orchestra of Staatskapelle Dresden in lively and polished performances. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is clean, with fine balance between the singers and orchestra.

The heart of any good opera is the intertwining of two high-flying voices. What we anticipate are those tearful, heart-wrenching duets between soprano and tenor. Enter Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón. The on-stage relationship between these two opera darlings is already legendary. The Los Angeles Times said it best: "They're not only beautiful young lovers, but believable -- something rare." . . . That passion is easy to feel while listening to Netrebko and Villazón on this new recording. In Puccini's "La Boheme," it's love at first sight for Mimi and Rodolfo. At the end of the first act they're immersed in the euphoria of new love as they sing "O soave fanciulla." . . . Their performance on this CD is equally riveting. The Duke and Gilda from Verdi's "Rigoletto," are roles that seem to be made for Netrebko and Villazon. Netrebko sings with tender vulnerability as she finds herself falling for the womanizing Duke. Villazon's voice is powerful, yet alluring. It's hard to resist his dashing advances. You'll be charmed by him, too. The final high D flat is stunning . . .
their passionate interpretation gives the music a universal appeal . . . These two instinctively know how to complement one another with their effortless phrasing, and their impeccable use of a broad dynamic range . . . Add this top-notch ensemble into the mix with the stellar performances of Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko, and you have a recipe for many hours of enjoyable listening.

There are beautiful moments in their first album of duets, recorded in August 2006 with the Staatskapelle Dresden and conductor Nicola Luisotti, just out from Deutsche Grammophon. It's fun to hear the Mexican tenor singing in what sounds like good Russian in Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta," while Netrebko sings in what sounds like good Spanish . . . in Torroba's "Luisa Fernanda" . . .

. . . beautiful Anna and lithe young Rolando really sizzled . . . they get together onstage and in the studio, they create something special . . . the singing is first-rate throughout. Villazón, with his vibrant tenor voice, gives his usual 200 percent effort, and Netrebko has a large, well-focused tone . . . DG's engineers are getting better and better at capturing the soprano's big, rich, Slavic voice. It is nice to hear Villazón's mastery of Russian in their smooth recording of the duet from Tchaikovsky's "Iolanta". I seriously doubt there is a Russian tenor today who can match him for his tone and artistry. The packaging is deluxe . . . that will doubtless become a classic in duet collections . . .

Das Album "Duets" der Sopranistin Anna Netrebko und des Tenors Rolando Villazón hat es in der ersten Woche auf Platz drei der deutschen Charts geschafft. Dies ist der erfolgreichste Start einer Klassik-CD in den Popcharts, die beiden Sänger liegen damit vor den drei Tenören Carreras, Domingo und Pavarotti, die bisher den Rekord hielten.

Villazón hat den Beweis längst erbracht . . . Der Mann singt wieder um sein Leben. Bei ihm kommt alles zusammen: Stilbewusstsein, Schönheit des Timbres, Emotion und eine gestalterische Klugheit, mit der er seiner Partnerin im "Lucia di Lammermoor"-Duett vorführt, wie das berühmte Thema zu phrasieren ist. Die Netrebko liefert mit diesen Opernausschnitten ihre bislang beste CD ab. Gern lässt sie sich von Villazón, auch vom Hochdruck-Dirigat Nicola Luisottis anstacheln. Jeder Spitzenton wird beherzt und schonungslos angepeilt. Am besten ist die Netrebko ­als Juliette oder Manon, wenn ihre Mittellage gefragt ist, wenn sie die Stimme öffnen kann . . . Gerade das französische Fach . . . steht der Netrebko gut.

. . . "Duets" [wird] mutmaßlich eine der erfolgreichsten Klassik-Platten 2007 sein . . . Netrebko und Villazón interpretieren . . . erstaunlich und die Staatskapelle Dresden unter Nicola Luisotti begleitet souverän . . . Beide haben den Gipfel des Ruhms erklommen, ihnen dabei zuzusehen war spannend, aufregend, herrlich.

Netrebko und Villazón interpretieren . . . erstaunlich und die Staatskapelle Dresden unter Nicola Luisotti begleitet souverän . . . Beide haben den Gipfel des Ruhms erklommen, ihnen dabei zuzusehen war spannend, aufregend, herrlich.

Man höre einfach nur zu . . . Zwei Seelen und zwei Stimmen, zwei Timbres und zwei Temperamente scheinen hier gemeinsam zu atmen. Rolando Villazóns offene, ungedeckte Höhe, Anna Netrebkos verschattete Aufschwünge . . . das atmet Vertrautheit . . . ihre erste gemeinsame Duo-Platte [ist] ein Volltreffer. Die Gemeinde wird begeistert sein von diesem vollsaftigen Klanggebinde allerschönster Belcanto-Bonbons.

Gerade erst hat sie mit ihrem "Russischen Album" ihre Fans begeistert und die Charts gestürmt, und schon bezirzt die russische Sopranistin Anna Netrebko erneut die Opernfreunde -- dieses Mal gemeinsam mit dem mexikanischen Tenor Rolando Villazón als Partner. Das Traumpaar, als das die beiden seit ihrer Salzburger "La Traviata" gelten, wartet mit unvergleichlichen Liebesduetten auf. Herrliche Musik und herrliche Stimmen, die man in vollen Zügen genießen kann. Denn die Platte enthält Glücksmomente pur: Sie kostet jene Augenblicke aus, in denen Zärtlichkeit, Begehren und Lust zu dem zusammenfließen, was man Liebe nennt. Und die Sänger verwandeln jede Note in Wohlklang und Sinnlichkeit -- mit harmonischer Zweisamkeit und strahlendem Ausdruck . . .

Ihre Stimmen zählen zum Besten, das derzeit zu erleben ist . . . Villazóns bombensicherer, klarer Tenor verfügt . . . über die Belcanto-Träne . . . [Netrebko]: traumschöne, runde Stimme, sicher in allen Registern . . . ihre CD mit Duetten . . . ist eine inspirierte, souveräne Einspielung, empfehlenswert . . .

. . . Rolando Villazóns Tenor stellt eine wirkliche Ausnahmeerscheinung dar . . . Sein traumwandlerisches Gespür für die entsprechende Stilistik ist beneidenswert und macht seine Darstellung auf der Bühne oftmals zu einem vollendeten Erlebnis. Auch im vorliegenden Album kann er . . . Pluspunkte für sich verbuchen, zum Beispiel als Roméo in Gounods "Roméo et Juliette" oder als Des Grieux in Massenets "Manon" . . . Netrebkos Sopran strahlt . . . eine glutvolle Wärme aus und ist in der Lage, herrliche Farbschattierungen zu produzieren. Das beweist sie im Duett Herzog-Gilda aus Verdis "Rigoletto", das deshalb als ein Höhepunkt der CD gewertet werden sollte, zumal Villazón einen überzeugenden Herzog abgibt . . . jeder schneidet für sich auch hervorragend ab. Netrebko fühlt sich hörbar wohl mit Tschaikowskis "Iolanta" und Villazón geht vollkommen in Morreno Torrobas "Luisa Fernanda" auf. . . . Die klangvoll aufspielende Staatskapelle Dresden unter der Leitung von Nicola Luisotti -- der im Übrigen auch die kleinen Einwürfe des Ceprano und Borsa im "Rigoletto" singt -- erweist sich als äußerst wandlungsfähiges Opernorchester.


Auf der Bühne ergänzen sie sich prächtig, wie die »Traviata« aus Salzburg gezeigt hat . . . Netrebko und Villazón können eine Menge, und hier können sie vor allem ihre Prachtstimmen akustisch zur Schau stellen . . . [in Tschaikowskys "Iolanta"] ist sie dramatisch stark gefordert -- und brilliert . . . Sie singen mit Schmackes -- und das macht Spaß.

. . . diese Duett-CD . . . [macht ] Spaß. Ein Album, das man am besten auf der Autobahn hört, in voller Lautstärke. Dann geht Liebe durch den Wagen.

Anna und Rolando sind das Traumpaar der Klassik!

Nicht nur darstellerisch sind sie bestens aufeinander eingespielt; auch beide Stimmen passen hervorragend zueinander . . . Das Timbre von Anna Netrebko verbindet sich demjenigen von Rolando Villazón auf sinnlich-harmonische Weise. Beide Stimmen sind dunkel gefärbt, ruhen auf einem satten Fundament und bilden von der Tiefe zur Höhe grundsätzlich ein Klangkontinuum . . . Gleich gestimmt sind Netrebko und Villazón auch interpretatorisch . . . Das ist ein Flirt zwischen zwei jungen Menschen, denen es nicht an Selbstbewusstsein mangelt . . . Netrebkos Stimme schmiegt sich den Linien gleichsam verführerisch an, glänzt und glitzert . . . Villazón antwortet darauf mit hingerissen-hinreißend wirkender Emphase . . . Hinsichtlich der "Einrahmung" des Paars hat die Deutsche Grammophon nicht gegeizt. Als Orchester wurde die Staatskapelle Dresden unter dem aufstrebenden Nicola Luisotti engagiert. Sie bietet üppigen Klang . . .

. . . die Mischung stimmt . . . welche dramatischen Funken schlagen die beiden aus diesem Kontrast, vor allem bei Gounod, Bizet und Massenet! . . . mit der Dresdner "Zauberharfe" unter Nicola Luisotti eine wahre Luxusbegleitung . . .

. . . . man [kann] hier eine wunderbare Stimme erleben. Er ist ein wunderbarer Sänger, dieser Rolando Villazón, hinreißend in seinem Charme, überzeugend durch seine Spontaneität, mitreißend in seinem Temperament, unwiderstehlich dank seiner dunkel timbrierten, weichen, vollen, dynamisch flexiblen Stimme. Was ihn neben diesen sängerischen Qualitäten von den meisten Kollegen abhebt, sind Musikalität und dramatischer Instinkt . . . Dass die beiden Sänger gut miteinander vertraut sind -- sie haben in "Rigoletto", "Roméo et Juliette" und "Manon" gemeinsam auf der Bühne gestanden --, ist gut zu erkennen; und es sind gerade die Kontraste der Timbres, die, etwa im Duett zwischen Lucia und Edgardo -- "Verranno a te" --, für einen besonderen Reiz sorgen, gerade dann, wenn die von ihr kristallin-klar gesungene Sehnsuchtsphrase von ihm mit dem Klang einer Viola d'amore beantwortet wird . . . Eindringlich gelungen ist das Duett aus Tschaikowskys "Iolanta".

Sie sind "das" Liebespaar der Opernszene. Sopranistin Anna Netrebko und Tenor Rolando Villazón kombinieren famose Stimmkultur mit Einsatzfreude und Charisma. So zauberhaft und packend durchlitten hat man Puccinis Evergreen "O soave fanciulla" wohl selten gehört. Netter Gag der DG-Tonregie: Im Arienfinale singt das Paar wie aus einer anderen Welt. Auch als Roméo und Juliette (Gounod) träumen die beiden so klangschön der Versöhnung entgegen, dass einem das Herz aufgeht.

. . . die Kombination macht's eben: So bleibt Donna Anna weiter oben.

. . . das ideale Liebespaar auf der Opernbühne, jung und unverbraucht . . . Netrebko [reiht] Töne aneinander wie Perlen an einer Kette, und sie glitzern allesamt . . . die Staatskapelle Dresden . . . unter Nicola Luisotti [steuert] einige ausgesprochen innige instrumentale Details bei, die gleichsam ans Herz gehen.

Ces deux voix en pleine santé s'allient parfaitement dans ce répertoire bien choisi. La jeunesse, la facilité, la diction, tout concourt dans ces pages célèbres à susciter l'enthousiasme et l'émotion. Depuis "La Traviata" de Salzbourg à l'été 2005, Anna Netrebko et Rolando Villazón forment un tandem qui remporte un succès sans précédent dans les annales lyriques récentes . . . Ce dernier duo fait irrésistiblement revenir en mémoire le couple Pilar Lorengar/Plácido Domingo, c'est à dire le plaisir qu'on a à l'écouter. Dernier atout, et non le moindre, l'orchestre la Staatskapelle de Dresde sous la direction de Nicola Luisotti est somptueux.

Le "couple de rêve" l'est . . . vocalement et musicalement . . . La Staatskapelle de Dresde sous la direction de Nicola Luisotti est chaleureuse . . . Le niveau vocal est de haute volée: Rolando Villazón est un monstre de santé et de naturel, la voix est ensoleillée, généreuse, née pour son répertoire. On est frappé, plus que d'habitude, par la ressemblance avec la voix de son maître Plácido Domingo: même inflexions, mêmes couleurs, et même geste technique -- certaines phrases nous y tromperaient. Mais c'est un compliment . . . Anna Netrebko est souveraine . . .

Multitud de admiradores tendrán clavados con seguridad sus ojos en la pantalla de televisión para disfrutar del fenómeno más reciente del mundo musical.

Este pasaje del primer acto de la obra [«O soave fanciulla»] ... es abordada ... dejando que la pasión entre ambos sólo se perciba de fondo, en pro de un delicado intimismo, una interpretación muy plausible, teniendo en cuenta que ambos acaban de conocerse hace diez minutos. En la interpretación abundan los matices, y una recreación gozosa en el fraseo ... Más candente resulta el dúo de Lucia di Lammermoor ..., en el que el carácter belcantista de la obra impone un deslumbrante lucimiento del colorido de ambas voces, algo de lo que andan tan sobrados ambos, que el dúo surge sin esfuerzo aparente, en una cascada de melodismo arrebatado. ... si bien ella sabe transmutarse con convicción en la cándida Gilda ... La selección de tres óperas francesas ... constituye un tríptico de la más fina sensibilidad, desarrollado con paño de seda ... En Yolanda Netrebko se muestra como pez en el agua ...

Netrebko y Villazón son dos jóvenes intérpretes sobrados de medios (y de soporte mediático) que gracias a su gran musicalidad, su impecable vocalidad y ese magnetismo tan especial que irradian se han convertido, en muy poco tiempo en los reyes indiscutibles del "mambo lírico internacional". . . . Se trata de un disco . . . lleno de sensibilidad, que no descuida en ningún momento, una media de calidad altísima tanto de los protagonistas vocales como de la orquesta y el maestro que los acompañan.

... la vocalidad fresca y expansiva de estos jóvenes astros resplandece en la variada selección de dúos escogidos para la ocasión ... una emisión y estilo que ... son irreprochables [Villazón] ... Netrebko ... está fantástica en todo el álbum.




    Opera's “Stardust Twins" in Great Love Duets

Where would opera be without its duets between soprano and tenor? Whether the duet is confrontational or tearful, joyously ecstatic or nakedly sexual, it is the intertwining of two high-flying voices that gives opera its emotional heart. As Rolando Villazón puts it: “When the opera shows you two young lovers on stage who are ready to die for each other, the audience has to feel their passion."

It helps if vocal allure is matched by physical glamour, and in that respect the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and the Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón are ideal. In The New York Times Anthony Tommasini described Netrebko as “gorgeous" and Villazón as “dashing", while Alex Ross of The New Yorker suggested that they are “two singers with a certain movie-star quality". In Opera Martin Bernheimer simply labelled them opera's “stardust twins".
Netrebko and Villazón established themselves as the new operatic dream team when they sang in the Salzburg Festival production of Verdi's La Traviata in 2005 (their interpretations are preserved on Deutsche Grammophon CD and DVD). Since then, they have conquered the world's stages: in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette in Los Angeles, Verdi's Rigoletto at New York's Metropolitan Opera (conducted by Plácido Domingo, who knows a thing or two about vocal finesse), and in Massenet's Manon in Los Angeles last autumn (Domingo once again conducting). In Manon, according to the Berliner Morgenpost, “Netrebko's chemistry with Villazón generated cosmic sparks".

Sacred v. profane love

It is clear to anyone who has seen their concerts together that they do not need all the trappings of sets and production to make those sparks fly. On a bare concert platform, with no costumes or props and with the orchestra in full view, Netrebko and Villazón still convince us that they are the characters, caught up in the turmoil that the music evokes. This anthology of high-octane duets captures their formidable skills as vocal dramatists, nowhere more so than in a pivotal scene from Massenet's Manon. At the opera's centre is the doomed love between Manon and Chevalier des Grieux (the role in which Villazón made his European debut, in Genoa in 1999). At different points in the opera, both characters prepare to devote their lives to God, but merely human love takes precedence. We join them as they meet outside the seminary chapel where des Grieux, intent on taking holy orders, has just delivered a sermon. Initially he tries to push Manon away but, as the orchestra echoes their emotional torment, soon the two melt into each other's arms. Their happiness will prove short-lived: arrested for cheating at the gambling tables, they are imprisoned. Only as the opera ends are they reunited, but Manon, by now a sick woman, dies in des Grieux's arms.

The opera for young lovers

Opera rarely gives sopranos and tenors an easy ride. In Puccini's La Bohème, death haunts the doomed couple as they snatch brief moments of joy; after a troubled romance, Rodolfo and Mimì seem about to find happiness, but the consumption which has dogged Mimì throughout the opera finally claims her. We join the couple at the end of Act I, in the garret where they lead an impoverished existence. The two have barely met when Puccini gives each a show-stopping aria; then in “O soave fanciulla" (“O lovely girl"), the ecstasy of new love engulfs them. As the duet closes, the two leave to join their friends in the bustle of the Café Momus. For the moment, all is right with the world. As Netrebko suggests, “La Bohème is for young people who really feel the story. And we fit right in there." Villazón agrees: “Anna puts a special energy and imagination into the character of Mimì. We sang the opera together in St. Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theatre. It was the first time I'd sung in the city, the first time I'd worked with Maestro [Valery] Gergiev. We had just one rehearsal, and then the performance. I have to say it was a great success: people are still talking about it." Netrebko knows the Mariinsky Theatre well. She made her debut at the theatre in 1994 and has sung there regularly ever since, but even she was surprised at the response to her and Villazón in La Bohème: “St. Petersburg audiences love music, but usually they do not go wild: rather, they are polite. After this duet, though, there was endless applause, like I'd never seen before. It was fantastic."

Mad about the boy

In Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, the heroine's death is more painful still. Although Lucia loves Edgardo, he is a sworn enemy of her family, and her brother forces her to marry a man she does not love. Distraught, she murders her husband, and, after wandering the stage in her celebrated Mad Scene, she disappears to die alone. The duet we hear finds Lucia and Edgardo, early in the opera, exchanging rings and swearing undying love. Scraps of melody from this scene will return to haunt Lucia during her Mad Scene; here, though, it seems as if she and Edgardo might yet achieve happiness.

Fanning the flames of exotic passion

While Lucia is set in Scotland, Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de perles (“The Pearl Fishers") whisks us further afield, to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), but the setting takes second place to the composer's melodic gifts. Unusually, the most famous number in the opera is a duet for tenor and baritone, but Bizet did not neglect his duty to his tenor (the pearl fisher Nadir) and soprano (the virgin priestess Leïla). Nadir loved Leïla long before the opera opens but has sworn to renounce his love for the sake of friendship with Zurga (his partner in the tenor-baritone duet). In opera such renunciation is only ever temporary, and sure enough when Nadir sees Leïla again, his love reawakens. We hear them as they fan the flames of passion; at first his voice reaches us from the distance, but as he approaches, Leïla becomes more and more excited. She tries to resist but cannot, and the duet ends in joyful celebration of the “sweet moment" they are enjoying. Unusually, tenor hero and soprano heroine are united at the end of the opera, although not without many difficulties en route: as the opera draws to a close, a funeral pyre is made ready. Nadir and Leïla prepare to die in each other's arms, but they are rescued by Zurga's unexpected last-minute intervention. That's what friends are for.

A sure-fire recipe for success

No such luck for Romeo and Juliet, of course. Gounod's Roméo et Juliette is probably the most celebrated opera to be based on Shakespeare's play. Anna Netrebko had already made her mark in Los Angeles with her performance as Lucia when she and Villazón sang in a new production at Los Angeles Opera in 2005. James C. Taylor, reviewing the performances in Opera, wrote that the opening night was “a night for singing, for enjoying seeing two young star-crossed lovers played by two young, lovely-to-look-at stars". The Los Angeles Times may have identified the secret of their success in Roméo et Juliette: “. . . they were not only beautiful young lovers, but believable - something rare in a world where disbelief is often suspended in favour of magnificent voices." But let's give Anna the last word: “Our energy comes from real music, real performance, real passion." There you have the recipe for the pair's success.

Gilda's big mistake

Verdi's Rigoletto is the only opera represented here in which the principal tenor role goes to the villain of the piece: the Duke is a serial womanizer, whose attentions bring only misery in their wake. But who could resist a man capable of delivering the show's hit tune, “La donna è mobile"? Certainly not Gilda, and when the Duke takes a fancy to her (unknown to the Duke, she is the daughter of his court jester, Rigoletto), it is bad news for the young woman. Immediately before their Act I duet, Gilda tells her duenna Giovanna about a young man who caught her eye in church. Suddenly the young man himself rushes in, and showers her with protestations of love. “I am Gualtier Maldè, a poor student," he tells her, lying through his teeth. Gilda is swept off her feet, and the two sing ecstatically of love and fidelity. The Duke will soon lose interest, but Gilda remains faithful to the last, a mistake for which she pays with her life.

Seeing the light

To complete their anthology, Netrebko and Villazón in effect challenge each other to a linguistic duel: each will sing in the other's native language. Netrebko's choice of Russian opera is Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, his last opera, originally performed in a double-bill with his ballet The Nutcracker. The opera, set in 15th-century Provence, tells of the love of Vaudémont, a Burgundian knight, and Iolanta, daughter of the King of Provence, who does not understand that her blindness sets her apart from other people. She can only regain her sight if she longs for light, and for that to happen, she must realize that she is blind. In their duet, Vaudémont and Iolanta piously debate the holy virtues of light, and she begins to understand what she is missing. After sundry trials and tribulations, Vaudémont and Iolanta, now able to see, are allowed to marry.

Desire under the Spanish sun

Although it is often said that only Russian singers can sing Russian properly, Anna Netrebko maintains: “Even for a Russian speaker, this duet is difficult, but Rolando was so fantastic. I'm very proud of you, Rolando, of your Russian, your style, and your singing." Villazón returns the compliment by asking Netrebko to join him in a duet from Luisa Fernanda by the Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba. The work, which dates from 1932, is a zarzuela, a Spanish form of musical theatre which mixes song, dance and speech. Outside Spain and Mexico, zarzuela is rarely heard, but Villazón, who won the Zarzuela Prize at Plácido Domingo's Operalia Competition in 1999, clearly understands the style required. As for Luisa Fernanda, the duet involves the title character and her fiancé Javier, who has been wounded in battle. In his absence, she has pledged to marry a local landowner, but now realizes that Javier is the only man she can love. Villazón recalls, “I heard Maestro Domingo sing the piece in Madrid, and when this duet came along, I immediately thought, 'This is it.' When I next spoke to Anna, I said, 'We have to record that duet.' She said, 'Fine, but you'll have to help me with my Spanish', although I don't think I needed to." “Maybe I was Spanish in a former life", says Netrebko with a smile. “Well, maybe I was Russian", responds Villazón.

A lovely linguistic cocktail

Netrebko and Villazón obviously enjoy the chance to test out their linguistic skills. As Villazón says, “We wanted to include a piece in the language that each of us speaks. For me, that is Spanish, for Anna it is Russian. But we have also included duets in French and Italian. So we have tequila, vodka, grappa and . . . the French would be Bordeaux. Voilà!" As Netrebko says, “What a wonderful cocktail!"

Nick Kimberley
1/2007