ROMANCE AND ROMANTICISM

Anna Netrebko dazzles in both Romanza, an album of love songs by her fellow countryman Igor Krutoy, and Wagner’s “Romantic opera” Lohengrin



Romantic roles have long been part of Anna Netrebko’s professional life, but the idea of romance must have acquired a new resonance for her since she met Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov. In her two latest Deutsche Grammophon releases, she shines as she joins forces with her husband to perform a collection of contemporary love songs written especially for them by the renowned Russian songwriter Igor Krutoy, and is equally radiant as Elsa of Brabant in Wagner’s most Romantic opera Lohengrin. Romance and Romanticism – two glittering facets of the soprano’s life and career.  

Fanfare trumpets, rousing choruses and a plot steeped in Grail legend helped propel Lohengrin to the status of Wagner’s most popular opera. For all its enduring appeal, the work is among the composer’s least understood. Christian Thielemann and a dream cast, headed by Piotr Beczała as Lohengrin and Anna Netrebko as Elsa, both new to the roles and to Wagner, gathered at Dresden’s Semperoper in May 2016 to probe the opera’s psychological depths and bring fresh light to its dark tragedy. Lohengrin emerged here as a work of revolutionary freshness. It did so by paying full attention to the score’s rich details, exchanging the usual Wagnerian default setting of loud and louder still for a bel canto interpretation shot through with spine-tingling dynamic contrasts and expressive subtlety.

This was a Lohengrin of our time and for all times, hailed by critics as a landmark event. Opera News concluded that it was a ridiculously good performance”, a view supported by a stream of five-star reviews and rapturous news headlines. UNITEL, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, was there to document Wagner history in the making. The company’s film catalogue includes Patrice Chéreau’s ground-breaking “Jahrhundertring” (“Centenary Ring”) from the 1976 Bayreuth Festival and the recent Ring cycle staged by La Fura dels Baus in Valencia. The DVD of Thielemann’s Lohengrin, set for international release by Deutsche Grammophon on 7 July 2017, marks the yellow label’s first adventure in Ultra HD video. Its high-definition images and sound capture the intense drama and emotional power generated by one of those rare Wagner ensembles in which all the participants – from Beczała and Netrebko to the Sächsischer Staatsopernchor and Staatskapelle Dresden – combined to produce the perfect instrument. The central characters were richly supported by the implacable, unstoppable Ortrud of Evelyn Herlitzius, Tomasz Konieczny’s resounding Telramund and the utterly majestic King Heinrich of Georg Zeppenfeld.

Conductor Christian Thielemann’s choice of lead singers ideally suited a work that owes much to the influence of bel canto opera. Wagner, he explains, knew the music of Bellini and Donizetti and heard the great Italian singers in Paris in the early 1840s. “Wagner’s orchestration in Lohengrin supports the voice,” he adds. “The orchestra is not there to compete with the singers – or at least it shouldn’t be.”

“Wagner is one of my favourite composers,” observes Anna Netrebko. “But I never thought I’d ever sing anything by him. Elsa is the one and only Wagner role for me. Maestro Thielemann helped me learn the style and I also gained so many insights from my wonderful colleagues involved in this production. I must admit that it was very hard for me to learn the text. I can memorise any English text; I can learn anything in French or Italian, but German is really difficult for me. Elsa’s ‘Einsam in trüben Tagen’ was okay, until … silenzio … I couldn’t remember how it ends! Christian Thielemann helped me connect with the words. He said he wanted to hear ‘Tttexssssttt! Vowels! Consonants!’ That was the key for me. It opened the door to Elsa’s all-too-human psychology.”

Like Netrebko, Piotr Beczała is in high demand at the world’s most prestigious opera companies and as soloist with the finest international orchestras. The Polish tenor, described by Opera magazine as “one of the most truly exciting male voices of the present day”, made his name with eloquent interpretations of roles such as the Duke in Rigoletto, Rodolfo in La bohčme and Des Grieux in Manon, parts that call for sustained lyricism and the vocal weight required to project dramatic climaxes. Christian Thielemann convinced him that he was ready for the Wagner challenge. “Lohengrin is no more dramatic than my other roles,” says Beczała. “But it does involve aspects of the voice that I would not normally use in the French, Italian or Slavic repertoire.”

Thielemann delivers unconditional praise for Lohengrin’s stars. “The quality of Anna Netrebko’s artistry, the light and shade of her voice, its endless range of colours, are ideal for this role,” he says. He was equally delighted by Beczała’s Lohengrin. “His performance combines brightness with warmth, heroism with tenderness, compelling musicianship with searing emotional honesty. With such a fine cast working so hard and with such eloquence, I feel this was a special Lohengrin. I am delighted that, thanks to Deutsche Grammophon, audiences worldwide can now share that experience.”

© Vladimir Shirkov

Romanza, meanwhile, is not only Anna Netrebko’s first album of duets with husband Yusif Eyvazov, but also her debut crossover release. Perhaps the most famous and vocally prodigious couple in the opera world, Netrebko and Eyvazov met in early 2014 during rehearsals for Manon Lescaut at the Rome Opera, became engaged shortly afterwards, and married in Vienna in December 2015 amid a whirl of publicity. Now Romanza will appear on Deutsche Grammophon’s crossover label PANORAMA, celebrating their intense emotional connection and the radiant power of love.

With their lush instrumentation, rich palette of harmonic colour and unforgettable melodies, Igor Krutoy’s songs celebrate the many aspects of a love affair between two people. They take in every emotional nuance, from tender devotion to pulsating passion and tormented yearning, all brought vividly and thrillingly to life by the heartfelt performances of Netrebko and Eyvazov.