Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov delivered mightily on their promise of An Evening of Opera Highlights, giving their all as they performed sterling repertoire in an unforgettable concert.
Setting aside the simple crowd pleasers and, worse, traditional songs that mar many an opera concert, the program here was rigorous, extensive and lovingly curated. Rather than simple arias, immersive operatic scenes were performed, allowing the singers to be seen at their very best and keeping audience engagement at maximal levels.
The eager crowd were not kept waiting for the first Australian appearance of the opera world’s diva assoluta. The house lights dimmed, and Netrebko swept out onto the stage, a blaze of colour on the otherwise blandly unadorned performance space. On this hot Melbourne night, Netrebko wore a sleeveless red dress with elaborate silver choker. Looking far blonder than usual, Netrebko beamed with her utterly infectious smile, reveling in the adoration of her audience.
Establishing a clear tone, and an extremely high standard, for the evening, Netrebko began in top gear, delivering a spine tingling performance of “Ritorna Vicintor!”. From the moment her first notes poured forth, it was clear that Netrebko was completely in the spell of the music and completely in the zone of a full stage performance. Judging just by her sound, it was as if Netrebko was in full costume in a fully staged production of Verdi’s Aida.
Eyvazov made an equally strong beginning with Manrico’s stirring pair of act three arias from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, “Ah! Sì ben mio…Di quella pira.” While not quite as expressive a singer as Netrebko, Eyvazov has rock solid technique and unwavering high notes.
Eyvazov increasingly impressed as the evening progressed, singing a sensitive yet commanding rendition of Tosca’s “Le lucevan le stelle” (Puccini) and unleashing his full power in “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci (Leoncavallo).
Netrebko brought wonderfully romantic colour to “Ecco, respire appena…Io son l’umile ancella” from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Lightly accompanied passages allowed Netrebko to demonstrate the full beauty and musicality of her luscious soprano.
The first half concluded with romantic duet “Già nella note densa,” which closes act one of Verdi’s Otello. Netrebko and Eyvazov, married for two years, sang with intimate closeness, moving smoothly between kisses and vocals, and romantically leaning their foreheads against each other as they channeled Otello and his doomed wife Desdemona.
The pair was joined by international baritone Elchin Azizov, whose presence expanded the choice of duets exponentially. Azizov and Eyvazov thrilled with a scene from Verdi’s Don Carlos, climaxing with the stirring ode to brotherhood, “Dio che nell’alma infondere.” Azizov later impressed with Iago’s Creed from Otello, going on to brighten the mood with The Toreador’s Song from Bizet’s Carmen in the second half.
Azizov maintained very good spirits despite requiring a cane due to suffering a fall on step outside Hamer Hall before the concert. Netrebko and Azizov made light of his injury as they delicately waltzed during their charming duet “Lippen schweigen” from Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
The singers were blessed with splendid accompaniment from the Opera Australia Orchestra, which also played some excellent instrumental selections. The orchestra was under the baton of visiting maestro Mikhail Tatarnikov, who was not only a fine orchestral conductor but also proved to be a highly supportive of the singers.
In the first half of the program, the orchestra played the intermezzo from act two of Madama Butterfly (Puccini), a performance that grew more beautiful with every note. The overture from Verdi’s Nabucco illustrated Tatarnikov’s flair for exciting dynamics.
The orchestra provided another two lovely moments in the second half, with the Intermezzo from both Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.
Changing to a bold black, teal green and white floral print after interval, Netrebko went to display some of her renowned vocal fireworks in the second half of the evening. In her only Slavic aria of the evening, Netrebko moved deftly from restrained tenderness to soaring power with “Měsíčku na nebi hlubokém” from Rusalka (Dvořák).
Another soaring finale came in “Ebben? Ne andrò lontano” from La Wally (Catalani). Netrebko continued to infuse her performance with joy in “Stridono lassù” from Pagliacci.
In a final demonstration of their utter devotion to the work, Netrebko and Eyvazov gave an unrestrained performance of the moving duet “Vicino a te” from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. In a theatrical touch, Azizov provided the ominous interspersed dialogue high overhead at the very rear of the stage.
In the end, no personal message from Netrebko from the stage, but a very generous performance that fully illustrated her talent, craft and passion. A cheeky encore of “O Sole Mio” brought the evening to a very pleasant close.
Opera lovers, particularly opera purists, are strongly encouraged to embrace the opportunity to see Netrebko and Eyvazov on tour with this superb concert.
Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov: An Evening of Opera Highlights plays in Auckland 21 October 2017 and Sydney 24 October 2017.