16 February 2007

Netrebko "phenomenon"

ACD, no fan of bel canto, says of last night's PBS Great Performances broadcast of the Anna Netrebko I Puritani at the Met:

Does Netrebko have a beautiful voice? Indeed she does: velvety plush, quite beautiful, and up to handling the vocal requirements of the role. Is she vocally on a par technically with a Sutherland or a Sills in this rep? She most decidedly is not. But, then, few are.

My point is that Netrebko was riveting in a role which is anything but riveting, and that, boys and girls, requires a native genius impossible to acquire. Anna Netrebko. Not just a drop-dead gorgeous babe with a voice, but an opera phenomenon.
I would nominally agree with this view if I saw this I Puritani only on TV. Moreover, I would have gone way overboard, go insane, fly immediately to Krasnodar and worship the hospital bed in which she was born, if I saw it only at the movies during the live simulcast last month. Which I did. In Florida, in an exurb, at a mall. (Via a Saab convertible, through newly minted highways, in the generous embrace of the southern sun!) On the big screen, her face embodied Hollywood: embarrassingly gorgeous, wondrously expressive, thoroughly involved. Regarding the beautiful voice: the high-tech surroundsound flattered all the voices including Netrebko's, immersing you in multidimensional music. It appeared the "echo" dial was turned to max, for every phrase seemed like it was descended from the heavens. In the dark theater, I said to myself, this is probably how it feels like to be IN her throat. I was surrounded by Anna. It was such an enjoyable afternoon. We had Johnny Rockets afterwards, and I was beside myself in acknowledging the genius of Peter Gelb and his sleek machine for doing all this, as I downed the burger and fries and milkshake.

Problem is, I also attend things in the actual opera house. Often, more than once each. And there, Anna's problems take a more prominent role. Without technological assistance, parts of her voice don't shine through the distance, and when jagged lines appear in her music, the sound is muddled and gray. Her technique isn't up to par with other singers of the same stature, and therefore some lines sag like wet towel, especially in this repertory. The only "authentic" reproduction is the full bloom of her voice during long, monotonic lines, especially in crescendo, which takes my breath away. From afar, one can still discern her uncommon physical beauty, but much less so than when aided with a camera. (Or if sitting in the first few rows of the orchestra, which is where drooling print critics are usually stationed.) Her stage histrionics can either be called brilliant or contrived, depending on taste.

In short, she is probably an average to above-average vocal artist. But because she has a gorgeous, magnetic face and packageable personality and story (scrubbing the Mariinsky floors, oh how 60 Minutes is that), she is where she is, debuting while learning roles at the grand stage of the Met. Imagine that kind of voice and that kind of technique on another body: no amount of glossy PR can achieve the same kind of "phenomenon."