Fast Talk: Anna Netrebko
Published: June 2009
By Mario R. Mercado
Russian soprano Anna Netrebko may be the opera world's current It Girl, but with her remarkably expressive voice, musical imagination, dramatic presence, and not to mention, alluring beauty, audiences can only hope that she will be singing for a long, long time. Ever since she made her debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1995, her career has been on the ascendant and she has sung with the world's great opera companies, including La Scala in Milan, the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in London, and the Vienna Staatsoper. Netrebko's sensational 2002 debut in the role of Natasha Rostova at the Metropolitan Opera in Prokofiev's War and Peace prompted one critic to describe her as "exquisite in voice, in looks, in poise and expressive impetuosity," and another to state simply: "Audrey Hepburn with a voice." Similar to her mentor, the conductor Valery Gergiev, she is a champion of Russian opera and has performed with the Kirov Opera in St. Petersburg and on tour performing the works of Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, as well as Prokofiev. Her wide range of repertoire also extends from Handel to Berlioz, Mozart to Mahler, and Netrebko appears as a soloist in concert with orchestra and in recital. She took time from a busy summer of performances (festivals in Cortona, Italy, and Salzburg, Austria) and the launch of her second recording Sempre Libera to talk with Travel + Leisure about life on the road for a young opera singer, where she goes to take a break, and what it's like to sing while on a pool float.
1. How often are you on the road?
I've been traveling almost constantly for the past three years—I haven't been home in five months. Right now I'm singing Musetta in La Bohème with the San Francisco Opera. Though I still consider St. Petersburg home, San Francisco has a special place in my heart. I launched my American career here.
2. Where do you go when you're not working?
When I do have a break, I try to go to the Mediterranean, usually Greece or Spain.
3. Any travel secrets?
I always fly business class. Not because I think of myself as a big diva, but because I travel so much. Usually it's in my contract, but I'll pay for it myself if necessary. It's impossible to really deliver if you're exhausted after a long trip. Like most singers, I hate air-conditioning. Of course, if you become overly sensitive about your surroundings, you're sure to get sick.
4. What's next after San Francisco?
I'm singing in operas by Bellini and Prokofiev at the Salzburg Festival through the end of August. In the fall, I'll be in Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Philadelphia, and then I'm off to the Metropolitan Opera for another round of La Bohème . I also have a small role in The Princess Diaries 2 , which opens this month. I play myself and sing at a garden tea party for the queen, played by Julie Andrews; Julie was very kind and helpful. Garry Marshall, the director, liked my performance so much that he gave me a line: "Thank you very much, your majesty." I hope my scene wasn't cut.
5. What do you consider a necessity when traveling?
In my bag or in my luggage? I have photographs of my parents and friends, some in frames that I place around the hotel room or apartmentwith these photos, the room feels a little bit more like home. Otherwise, I always bring lots of clothes and lots of shoes. I must confess that I like clothes and I feel that it is important to present oneself well.
6. Your career takes you to many of the world's great cities. Any favorites?
I love New York, London, and Tokyo. I really love Japan. It's so very different—obvious to say, I know. Still, I love the food and am very fond of the people and their sensibility. I feel very comfortable there. I return next year on a tour with the Metropolitan Opera and to give a recital. I think it will feeland I know it seems strange to saya bit like a homecoming.
7. In your career so far, what has been one of your greatest artistic challenges?
One of them was my debut in the role of Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Salzburg Festival in the summer of 2002. The production staged by Martin Kusej involved many important and established artists, such as conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the baritone Thomas Hampson who sang Giovanni. Salzburg is one of the most important festivals, and a Mozart opera in the city of the composer's birth means a lot of pressure. Fortunately, it was a triumph and it brought me a big success.
8. Traveling is as much a part of your career as learning new roles in operas. How does the one influence the other?
Whether you are performing a role for the first time or performing one that already part of your repertoire, there is always the challenge to win over the audience. I feel this way every time I do something new or perform in a new city. Though I may have to work hard before people respond, if I am successful, they start to love me. Audiences are different in different countries and cities, but audiences are still audiences.
9. Your debut album was unusual. It included a DVD with videos of five arias from the album, but the settings are unconventional. "Song to the Moon," from Dvorak's Rusalka was shot in a swimming pool while you sang on a pool float. Where were these videos produced?
They were shot in Salzburg and Los Angeles. In addition to the Dvorak aria, which was shot in Los Angeles, there is music by Mozart, Gounod, Bellini, and Puccini. The director was Vincent Paterson who did the choreography for the Lars von Trier film Dancer in the Dark with Björk, and who has also shot music videos for Michael Jackson and Madonna. It was like shooting a movie: there were many, many takes, shots from different angles. It was all very interesting, yet I still prefer the stage.
10. Speaking of recordings, what is next?
I will do my third recording next spring. It will be all Mozart, whose music I love. My second CD is Sempre Libera and features the music of Verdi, including selections from Otello and La Traviata . It will be released this month on Deutsche Grammophon.