An undisputed Prima Donna of our time

By Georgina Benison — Anna Netrebko is undoubtedly today’s reigning prima donna of the opera world, and on Friday night the Royal Opera House, Muscat, was the lucky host of her latest concert tour, “Verismo”. Together with her Azerbaijani tenor husband, the 39-year-old Yusif Eyvazov, Anna Netrebko engaged the sold-out audience with her arresting stage presence and charisma, and won the hearts of admirers, new and old. The 46-year-old Russian diva has a voice that can range from big, powerful dramatic arias, such as her signature-role as Adriana in Francesco Cilea’s “Adrian Lecouvrer”, to the sweetest, sad and poignantly plaintive heroine in Puccini’s tragic opera, “Madama Butterfly” – which Anna has made her own since her 2011 performance in Berlin.
The performance in Muscat was purely in Italian – which concerned those who would have liked a taste of her Russian repertoire – and followed a somewhat confused programme order, perhaps as a result of a last minute shuffle, but no mention of this was provided and it took some sleuth work to establish the correct order and encores.
IMG_8500The concert opened with the now comfortingly familiar Prague Philharmonia – PKF – in a rousing performance of the deliciously boisterous “La Tragenda” – the “Witches Dance Intermezzo” from Puccini’s first opera, “Le Villi”. The guest conductor for the night was Canadian opera specialist, Keri-Lynn Wilson who displays fine musicality and sensitivity. She is now a familiar figure in Muscat since her conducting of the Palermo production of Donizetti’s, “La Fille du Regiment” last season.
This hailed the entrance of the celebrated couple, she in a flowing peuce gown and he handsomely in tails, in the famous duet, “Gia nella notte densa” from Verdi’s tragic Shakespearean adaptation, “Otello”. It was dramatic, big and serious, leaving little doubt that this was no light-weight compromise for the faint hearted. Solos followed with Anna as Adriana in Cilea’s expressive aria, “Ecco: respiro appenna..lo son l’umile ancella” and Yusif convincingly as Radames in Verdi’s “Celeste Aida”. One could see the energy and focus expended in this tenor aria, and yet his voice is as controlled and beautiful as one could wish.
It was followed by Puccini’s, “Un bel di vedremo” in which Butterfly pours her heart out in one of the saddest moments in the repertoire. Anna left us gasping, yet almost in tears. Yusif Eyvazov matched in fervour with “Mamma quel vino e generoso” from Masacagni’s “Cavelleria Rusticana” in an explosive, passionate performance which earned rousing applause and a growing admiration for this comparatively young singer. The orchestra performed the “Intermezzo” from the same opera with a sublime pastoral quality, and the first half ended with the only concession to non-Italian opera – Franz Lehar’s rousing Viennese, “Das Land des Lachelns” – but confusingly translated into and sung in Italian!
Part two opened with the PKF in Ponchielli’s well known “Dance of the Hours” from “La Gioconda”, which may have brought a smile to many a listener from its 1964 spoof version, Allan Sherman’s, “Hello Mother, Hello Father” – among others. The PKF is making its home in Muscat as they rehearse and prepare for the ROHM production of “The Opera!” – a history of opera – in two weeks’ time, and it is encouraging that they are the chosen orchestra for this home-grown show.
IMG_8479The second half continued with an Ernesto de Curtis aria and Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci”, and then a lot of Puccini. Yusiv’s “E lucevan le stelle” from “Tosca” was passionate and convincing, and then a sort of built-in encore section; Anna performed “Oh, mio babbino caro” from “Gianni Schicchi” with one of the longest sustained fermatas on ‘pieta’ that I have ever heard – and we have heard this sung frequently at ROHM concerts. This could only be balanced by Yusiv’s “Nessun Dorma” from “Turandot” – another ROHM favourite – and this time the sustained applause reached a superlative volume.
The Finale duet, Giordano’s “Vicino a te” from Andrea Chenier was just a taster for one of the most interesting sets of encores heard for a long time: Yusiv Eyvazov, now working in Italy, enchanted the audience with one of Placido Domingo’s favourite Zarzuelas, A. Lara’s distinctly Spanish “Granada”, well executed and rousing. Anna followed with Emmerich Kalman’s “Heia, heia in den Bergen” from “The Csardasz Princess”, sung in German, to the delight of frequent attendees, and finally – no one could have known this or even guessed –  Krutoy’s “Cantami” duet, which is this happy couple’s signature-duet. Krutoy gave Anna the necklace she wore at her wedding in 2015 as a wedding gift, so the immediacy of this final number can be understood, just as their gift to us was a spendid, memorable evening which will linger on in popular memory for a long time.