A Grand Night for Singing
Gioacchino Rossini : Overture to La gazza ladra
Charles Gounod : "Je veux vivre" from Roméo et Juliette
Georges Bizet : "Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre" from Carmen
Gaetano Donizetti : "Regnava nel silenzio" from Lucia di Lammermoor
Giuseppe Verdi : “Credo” from Otello
Ruggero Leoncavallo : "Nedda! Silvio, a quest'ora" from Pagliacci
Antonin Dvorak : “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka
Alexander Borodin : Igor's Aria from Prince Igor
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky : Waltz from Eugene Onegin
Sergei Rachmaninoff : "Oh, Do Not Sing to Me, Fair Maiden," Op. 4, No. 4
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky : Yeletsky's Aria from Pique Dame – Closing Duet from Eugene Onegin
Anna Netrebko (soprano), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
Orchestra of St. Luke's, Asher Fisch (conductor)
Okay, so we New York fans were very good this year, suffering through dozens of mediocre concerts and opera performances just to hear a few wonderful evenings. Well, Wednesday night was our well-deserved reward, as Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky presented us with a going away present that will last in the memory through a long, hot summer.
Ms. Netrebko had previously scheduled a song recital at Carnegie Hall, but cancelled with months to spare, stating that she simply did not feel ready to tackle the lieder repertoire at such a storied venue. You have to respect that decision, so refreshingly not based on a profit motive, and we hope in time to hear her in the more intimate material. For this evening, she and her costar, with the exception of one song of Rachmaninoff, stuck to the operatic highlight reel.
On the podium was conductor Asher Fisch, who led the superb Orchestra of St. Luke’s in a very spirited manner. Opening with Rossini’s Thieving Magpie Overture, Mr. Fisch created from the start a circus atmosphere, not perhaps the most subtle musicianship, but tremendously viscerally exciting. This was not a night for nuance or nicety, but rather for chills and thrills.
Ms. Netrebko served notice from her very first roulade in Je veux vivre that she was in complete command and that her stunning instrument can shake the very walls of Carnegie Hall. As often happens at the opera house, the talk at intermission centered around the disbelief of first time hearers of her live performance. CD’s and broadcasts just don’t cut it; there is something extra-musical in Anna Netrebko’s voice, something chemical or electrical in nature.
Mr. Hvorostovsky is much more familiar to these environs and to Gotham audiences in general. He began with a noble experiment, pushing his silken baritone down to attempt the Toreador Song. Obviously he did this because they will never let him play Escamillo at the Met, but the initial impression that he made was of a substandard night to come. Fortuitously, this portent was incorrect. For the remainder of the concert, he was his mighty self, dazzling with extraordinary breath control and long lyrical lines.
Other high points were Hvorostovsky’s somewhat subdued rendition of Iago’s Credo, reminding of Verdi’s stated instructions that the villain should appear to be normal not evil, Netrebko’s poignant Song to the Moon - although she is still no Renee Fleming in this number – and the two duets, one from I Pagliacci and one from Onegin. Mr. Fisch was also centered for the Tchaikovsky session, his Act Two Waltz from Onegin very sharply accented, demonstrating clearly where Prokofieff received his inspiration for those diabolical waltzes in Cinderella.
All this was great fun but just a prelude to a wonderful encore program. Having her chance to vamp, Ms. Netrebko blew the lid off of any remaining Carnegie Hall reserve with a sassy Meine Lippen sie kuessen so heiss of Franz Lehar in which she not only seduced the audience – and, it seemed, some individual members – but even conducted the orchestra for a while. Mr. Hvorostovsky countered with his signature realization of Ochi chornyje, a surefire hit with the predominantly Eastern European crowd. The pair ended with La ci darem la mano, a welcome sendoff for the soprano who will be performing in Don Giovanni at Covent Garden soon (although not as Zerlina).
What can I say? Some nights you just want your guilty pleasures.
Frederick L. Kirshnit