Anna Netrebko: Verismo (Deutsche Grammophon)
One of the most anticipated opera albums of the year, "Verismo" justifies the excitement. The Russian soprano take on nearly a dozen roles she has never sung on stage, displaying a thrilling affinity for a style that in recent years has lacked ideal interpreters.
Verismo, or "realism," is the term used to describe Italian opera around the turn of the 20th century. The roles require a big voice and a big temperament: These ladies are divas in distress, whether it's Maddalena in Giordano's "Andrea Chenier" describing her mother's death at the hands of French revolutionaries, or the title character of Ponchielli's "La Gioconda" contemplating suicide.
Netrebko brings them all to life with her creamy, flexible sound. Listen to the end of "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's "Adriana Lecouvreur." She sings: "Un soffio e la mia voce, che al novo di morra" ("My voice is but a breath that at dawn will die"), and Netrebko draws out the last syllable seemingly forever, moving from full voice to a mere wisp of sound.
In the "I can do anything" category, she takes on both soprano roles in Puccini's last opera, "Turandot." First comes the fragile slave girl Liu's "Signore, ascolta!" capped by a lovely soft high B-flat. Then the steely title character's "In questa reggia," with its climactic high C. She is joined here by tenor Yusif Eyvazov, and the excitement they generate makes one long to hear the Three Questions scene that follows.
Eyvazov, who is Netrebko's husband, also partners her in the entire final act of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut," the one role she has performed on stage. Here she is in her glory, with a searing account of "Sola, perduta, abbandonato" as Manon faces death in the Louisiana desert.
Besides the pure vocal pleasure it brings, this album serves as a landmark in the remarkable growth of a singer who began more than two decades ago as a light lyric soprano, moved into bel canto, then Verdi and Puccini and recently even ventured into Wagner. She plans to add to her repertory at least three of the roles represented here: Maddalena, Adriana, and Puccini's "Tosca."