Contributed by Charles T. Downey on Wednesday, February 14, 2007
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What Netrebko lacks in real ultra-high power singing and agile fioriture makes roles like her Violetta and Elvira less satisfying musically. However, the repertoire she sings on her new album of Russian songs and arias is much better suited to her strengths, dramatic and slow lines, hushed singing, and swells on held notes. That she is singing in her native language only makes things better for her, and in the liner notes Netrebko makes a lot out of coming home to St. Petersburg to make this recording in the Mariinsky Theater with Valery Gergiev. (It has not gone unnoticed, however, that in the middle of the recording sessions for the Russian Album, in March 2006, Netrebko applied for and received Austrian citizenship.)
Speaking of La Fleming, it is the accepted Ionarts wisdom that she is better on stage, in character (as in the marvelous Capriccio I saw her in in Paris), than in her persona of “America’s favorite soprano.” In her latest CD, Homage, she pays tribute to divas past with selections from repertory they sang notably, mostly drawn from the years 1870 to 1920, not coincidentally the type of music for which Fleming’s voice is best suited. Her selection of pieces, guided by the best possible sources, is outstanding, and yet on a number of tracks, her idiosyncrasies are intolerable, at least for this listener.
While we are discussing the recovery of obscure national repertory, it is a good time to mention that Deutsche Grammophon will re-release (on March 13) the marvelous Grieg recital disc made by mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter in 1993 (“a must for any collector,” according to Gramophone). Recorded with her frequent collaborator Bengt Forsberg, who like von Otter is Swedish, this CD is a superb survey of the Norwegian master’s songs. Grieg lived in a time shortly after Norway had finally gained independence from Denmark, and academics were arguing about how to achieve linguistic independence by rescuing what they could of the mostly vanished Norwegian language, which had been officially replaced by Danish.
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