OPERA GALA Live from Baden-Baden/Netrebko, Garanca 4777177

. . . her voice blends so beautifully with that of Garanca that I wonder if this isn't another dream duo.

. . . Anna Netrebko . . . has the longest item, `Casta divaż, to which she brings lovely tone, an ability to sing smoothly and good phrasing. Her downward chromatic runs are nicely done and she is at ease in the divisions in the cabaletta . . . Garancażs warm tones are matched by her responsiveness in Dalilażs aria: vocal velvet . . . Garanca. . . slips into the rhythm, is clear with the words and teases charmingly with the little figurations near the end. It also gives the orchestra a chance to show off . . . Tézierżs performance convinces. The quartet from żRigolettoż is well balanced, and the fine recording enables one to hear all four parts.

. . . their voices blending beautifully . . . all done with spirited fervor and admirable vocalism. Tenor Ramón Vargas is a positive presence, giving us the bel canto gem "Una furtive lagrima" from Donizetti's "L'elisir d'amore" in a flawlessly idiomatic interpretation that includes stunning diminuendos and a melting mezza-voce. Ludovic Tézier's rich baritone scores with a subtle rendition of Riccardo's death scene from Verdi's "Don Carlo" and, in yet another highlight in an evening full of them, joins Vargas in the great duet "Dio, che nell'alma infondere" from that opera . . . her [Garanca's] showpiece aria from Rossini's "La Cenerentola" sparkles, with impressive coloratura fireworks. Netrebko is among the most brilliant stars of today's operatic firmament . . . She brings the house down with the first of the concert's many encores, a performance of Lehar's "Meine Lippen" from the operetta, "Giuditta", that includes seductive singing and acting, sexual flirtations, and energetic dancing. Her enthusiasm is infectious, sparking her colleagues as well as the audience. All four singers join in the quartet from "Rigoletto" that ends the formal portion of the concert, and in the final encore, they trade verses in an arrangement of the "Drinking Song" from "La Traviata". Conductor Marco Armiliato, whose supportive accompaniments help make the concert a rousing success, directs the capable orchestra. So this two-hour singfest provides joys for vocal buffs . . .

. . . [the] essential intimacy [of an opening 'Flower Duet' from "Lakmé"] is conveyed in a nicely blended performance from Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca. Netrebko's solo item, 'Casta diva' from "Norma" . . . is technically impressive, and done with feeling . . . The men are of a similar standard . . . both are commendably without vulgarity. Giving the best overall impression is Ramón Vargas with his melting 'Una furtiva lagrima' . . . Excellent accompaniments from the Baden-Baden players.

This recording . . . captures what must have been a very exciting event. (The DVD is also available.) The combined star power of soprano Anna Netrebko and mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca alone should be enough to have discs flying off shelves, but one should not discount the superb contribution of tenor Ramón Vargas. Vargas offers a treasurably thoughtful and un-showy "Una furtiva lagrima", as well as an energetic "Quando le sere al placido" from "Luisa Miller". He also proves the galvanizer in a particularly divine performance of the quartet from "Rigoletto", the disc's most satisfying guilty-pleasure treat. That said, the Netrebko-Garanca combination in the flower duet from "Lakmé" is intoxicating. Although each possesses a unique vocal personality, they enrich and enhance each other beautifully . . . Netrebko's sound is at its most limpidly lovely in this excerpt . . . she communicates a touching mix of conviction and fragility paired with Vargas in "O soave fanciulla". Garanca's supple, honeyed "Mon coeur s'ouvre ŕ ta voix" unfolds with the confidence of an experienced seductress. She also executes one of the longest, most suspenseful trills I've ever heard in the zarzuela aria "Al pensar en el dueno" . . . baritone Ludovic Tézier . . . is nicely in his element . . .

Die Opernausschnitte sind klug gewählt . . . Neben der feurigen Zarzuela-Kostprobe betört die Sängerin [Garanca] mit ihrer samtenen Tiefe die Zuhörer in Saint-Saens 'Mon coeur s'ouvre ŕ ta voix' aus der Oper 'Samson et Dalila'. Ihre Pianotöne fluten selbst noch den Lautsprecher im trauten Heim und hinterlassen eine fast schon magische Atmosphäre . . . [Netrebko]: Dieses 'Casta Diva' . . . enthält wunderschöne Töne . . . Ludovic Tézier gestaltet mit einem farbenreichen Bariton Posas Tod aus Verdis 'Don Carlo' und setzt dem Abend mit einem effektvollen Torero-Lied aus 'Carmen' die Krone auf. Da lässt es auch Armiliato krachen und lustvoll scheppern.