NEW YORK—The Metropolitan Opera presented the great Russian soprano Anna Netrebko in concert. The program was of Russian music, and the star, accompanied by the excellent pianist Malcolm Martineau, was in her element.
Netrebko appeared in the first half of the concert wearing a white gown with a jewel-studded headband. Unlike most concert singers, she was not rooted to one spot. Instead, she traversed the stage and her hands expressively conveyed the emotions in each piece.
The stage contained two artificial cherry blossom trees, which fit in with the first song, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Before my window,” in which a cherry tree blossoms before the singer’s window. When Netrebko sang of lilacs, she turned her back to the audience and reached for the leaves.
Throughout the concert, her voice was gorgeous and her interpretations conveyed the meaning of each song. One of the Rachmaninoff pieces expressed nostalgia for a lost homeland and deceased family members and friends.
“They answered” presented a series of questions and answers, the last of which dealt with love. The texts were Russian translations of poems by Heinrich Heine and Victor Hugo, respectively. “Sing not to me, beautiful maiden” had words by Russia’s national poet, Alexander Pushkin.
The audience did not wait for the end of each group of songs but burst into applause after each piece.
The second set of songs was by Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908). The pieces dealt with love (“What it is, in the still of the night” and “It was not the wind, blowing from the heights”) and frequently reflected Russian melancholy (“Forgive me! Remember not the downcast days” and “The lark’s song rings more clearly”). Pushkin was represented by “On Georgia’s hills” in which the gloomy night is brightened by thoughts of the singer’s lover.
The flower theme returned in “Zuleika’s Song” and “Captivated by the rose, the nightingale.” The single aria in the program, Marfa’s aria from “The Tsar’s Bride,” “Ivan Sergeich, do you want to go” was so well done that it made me wish the Met would put on the entire opera with Netrebko.
In the following work by Rimsky-Korsakov, “Summer Night’s Dream,” a woman sings of her dream lover. This piece also sounded fairly operatic.
After the intermission, Netrebko returned in a teal gown and performed eight songs by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893). “Why?” is a translation of a poem by Heine in which all of nature reflects the sadness of a lover’s abandonment of the singer.
Three of the songs were settings of poems by Tchaikovsky’s lifelong friend Aleksey Apukhtin. “So soon forgotten” and “Reckless nights” continue the theme of abandonment. “Amidst the day” is a declaration of a love that transcends restless nights and troubled days.
In the setting of Surikov’s “Was I not a little blade of grass?” the singer bemoans her arranged marriage to a harsh old man. “Serenade” is a lullaby, but Russian melancholy was again evidenced by “Amidst gloomy days.”
In response to the thunderous applause, Netrebko performed two encores, “Als die alte Mutter” from Dvorak’s Gypsy Melodies and Strauss’s “Cäcille.”
Anna Netrebko, with Malcolm Martineau as an ideal accompanist, proved that she is as mesmerizing on the concert stage as in an opera.
Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.