NEW YORK (AP) — When Anna Netrebko asked her fiance what he thought of her performance as the murderous Lady Macbeth in Verdi's operatic version of Shakespeare, she says, "He got very quiet."
"I asked him what was the matter, and he (tenor Yusif Eyvazov) said, 'I just saw a completely different woman,'" the Russian soprano recalled. "'And I hope there is nothing in you from that. Because there on the stage you were a horrible person.'"
Laughing, she said she assured him, "'No, I'm so sweet' ... but still, you know, he doesn't want to see it anymore."
Horrible or not, Netrebko has created a sensation at the Metropolitan Opera with her dramatically searing, opulently sung portrayal of Verdi's anti-heroine.
"One of the greatest triumphs in recent Met history," raved Bloomberg critic Manuela Hoelterhoff. Wrote Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times: "She is a soprano with star power in the best sense, a charismatic expressivity that pervades every element of her performance."
Audiences can see and hear for themselves this Saturday when the matinee performance at the Met is broadcast live in HD to movie theaters around the world.
And one of the surprising things they'll see is a very blond Anna Netrebko, a long, silky wig covering her naturally brunette hair.
"I wanted to be different," she said in an interview earlier this week at the opera house. "I always have dark hair, and Lady Macbeth always is brunette and kind of witchy looking, and I say, maybe, let's break it, let's make it different."
Director Adrian Noble and Met General Manager Peter Gelb weren't convinced at first. "They said, 'We like you better as a brunette,'" she said. "But everybody else around said, 'Go for blond, go for blond.' And I saw the pictures. It looks very cool."
The role of Lady Macbeth is notoriously demanding, calling for a dramatic soprano who has three big arias to sing, including the Sleepwalking Scene that ends in a high D flat. But Netrebko said the hardest moments for her are the ensembles that climax Acts 1 and 2, when she has to sing repeated high notes over the full chorus.
"They're so loud, so high, it's very hard to sustain," she said. In fact, when she first tried out the role last summer in Munich, Germany, she confided, "I had crack after crack after crack, because it was too much, too big. When I went back to study with my teacher, I said, 'Oh my God, what am I going to do? It's too much!'"
Whatever she did, Netrebko has solved the problem, and in her Met performances she soars thrillingly over the massed ensembles onstage. Her voice has grown significantly over the years to the point that now, at 43, she is ready to take on heavier roles like Bellini's "Norma" and Verdi's "Aida," both of which she will sing at the Met in coming seasons.
In the past, Netrebko has ruled out certain roles because she said she couldn't identify with the characters. So what does she think of Norma, who in one scene contemplates killing her two children?
"No, she doesn't really appeal to me at all," said Netrebko, who has a 6-year-old son, Tiago. "I would never even with one thought think about killing a child. But I think I will manage the role. I will concentrate on the music."