Notes and Editorial Reviews
It will be interesting to hear the reaction to this performance, taped live at the Met on January 6, 2007. Anna Netrebko is so close to being deified that having this document, which can be examined in a way that "live", one-time-only performances cannot be, might prove disturbing to her hagiographers. This is not to say that it isn't a wonderful, touching reading of the role of Elvira, possessor of some of opera's most ravishing music, but Netrebko's flaws as well as her glories are on display here. I have felt from the start that her true fach was not the bel canto: just because you can hit very high notes doesn't necessarily mean that you should make a living out of it--and similarly, proficiency at coloratura is different from
Where Netrebko shines is in the sheer beauty of her voice, her physical loveliness, her innate sense of where a phrase should go, absolute comfort on stage, and ability to express pathos. Each act has a Mad Scene, but it is the one in the second act--"Qui la voce" and "Vien diletto"--that contains what probably is Bellini's most beautiful music for crazy soprano (not to be confused with sleeping soprano or enraged soprano), and it is here that she is at her best. Her shading of the opening phrases is masterly, with portamento used expertly; later her mood swings seem spontaneous. Throughout the opera she has an inner glow and sweetness that helps to define this frequently confused character, and it is nowhere clearer than it is in this long scene.
Oddly, she's at her most comfortable here--part of which she sings on her back, with her head hanging into the orchestra pit--with a splendid, right-on high E-flat near the scene's end (not where it's normally placed, but a few bars before--a smart move for altering audience expectations and reducing pressure). Elsewhere--in her first scene with Giorgio, "Son vergin vezzosa"--she tends to smudge her coloratura, misses the high Ds by a hair, and her enunciation is poor. Her final act, with most of the duet taken down a half-tone and some cuts taken, finds her thoroughly on top form. Please don't get me wrong: her take on Elvira is lovely and enchanting and more than worthy, but though comparisons are odious, she is in a slightly different class from Sills, Sutherland, and Callas.
When the production was new in 1976, Arturo was sung by Luciano Pavarotti; this production offers Eric Cutler in the role. Cutler has a light, elegant sound; what he lacks in power he makes up for in ease of production. He doesn't thrill the way tenor Barry Banks did at Caramoor two seasons ago, but he gives a creditable, potent reading nonetheless. His legato is smooth, he looks good, and his exposed high D-flats are all successfully delivered and are well integrated into the vocal line rather than yelped. With the downward transposition in the final act (making both singers quite happy, it seems), the duet is rapturous.
Bass John Relyea sings the role of Giorgio, Elvira's uncle, with lush tone, drama, and warmth. The performance of baritone Franco Vasallo as Riccardo (in love with Elvira) is a puzzle. His burnished sound, excellent technique, and apparent vocal comfort are presented with such blankness that he actually looks and sounds bored; there is no alteration of tone whatsoever throughout his entire performance.
The 30-year-old sets by Ming Cho Lee are looking more generic than ever and Sandro Sequi's production is pretty much hand-to-heart, hand-to-forehead, walk on, walk off. Netrebko, a born actress, moves exquisitely and with purpose; as for the rest of the evening, there are few movements from anyone other than Elvira that seem dramatically real. Patrick Summers leads a pulsating reading with great feeling for Bellini's long melodies and the orchestra and chorus are in fine form. The only DVD competition stars Edita Gruberova, slightly off top form but still mighty impressive, in an ugly production. Of course, fans of Netrebko will need this DVD and they will not be disappointed; she is a great singer and performer. Whether she is the ideal bel cantist is another question. Picture and sound are excellent; during intermissions Renée Fleming interviews Netrebko.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
I puritani by Vincenzo Bellini
Maria Zifchak (Mezzo soprano),
Franco Vassallo (Baritone),
Eduardo Valdés (Bass),
Valerian Ruminski (Bass),
John Relyea (Bass),
Anna Netrebko (Soprano),
Eric Cutler (Tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1835; Italy
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