Appreciation of Nature

MARIA NOCKIN reviews a 'Met Stars' online concert from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, featuring Anna Netrebko, Elena Maximova and Pavel Nebolsin


On 6 February 2021, The Metropolitan Opera presented an online Met Stars concert featuring soprano Anna Netrebko, mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova and pianist Pavel Nebolsin from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Netrebko and Nebolsin opened with three songs by Rachmaninoff: 'Lilacs', 'Before my Window', and 'How fair this spot'. 'Lilacs' and 'Before my window' speak of fragrant blossoms and the joy of breathing their aromas as singer and pianist render the melodic equivalent of spring. The third song, 'How fair this spot', describes the colorful drama of reflected sunrise, solitude and dreams in a rural setting.

Wearing black velvet and white satin, Netrebko reigned in majesty at the side of the piano. Her vocal range was smooth and secure from her high B flat to well below Middle C. She gave the impression that, like many people from the north, she looks forward to the moment when tiny green leaves and purple flowers will poke their heads through the last of this winter's snow. Rimsky-Korsakov's joyful 'The lark's song rings more clearly' provided a bit of lyrical color to this pastoral group.

Here, Netrebko and Nebolsin switched gears and sang Richard Strauss' 'Morgen' emphasizing the words with a slow tempo and pairing it with Debussy's exquisite song of mourning, written to Paul Verlaine's poem, 'Il pleure dans mon coeur' (It's raining in my heart).

Netrebko sang her Russian texts with the crystal-clear enunciation of a native, and her French, German and Italian words were easily understandable. Her voice graced the ear with a velvety texture in the chest register, while her high notes were bright with sparkling presence. It was the perfect voice for one of the true gems of this concert, 'Depuis le jour' (Since the day) from Gustave Charpentier's charming opera Louise. I hope she will do that role some day.

Netrebko and Nebolsin followed the aria with delightful presentations of two of Tchaikovsky's pastoral songs, 'It was in early spring', a setting of a Tolstoy poem; and 'Tell me in the shade of the branches' by the lesser known Count, Sollogub. The artists completed the group with Leoncavallo's well known 'Mattinata'. While it also praises nature, I did not fully understand the position of one Italian song here.

The performing artists took a bit of rest here while Met General Manager Peter Gelb talked with dramatic soprano Christine Goerke about Netrebko's career. They played snippets of arias she sang during the fifteen Met HD broadcasts she has made so far. Played in order were her arias from: Bellini's I Puritani, Gounod's Romeo and Juliet, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann, Massenet's Manon, Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, Verdi's Macbeth, Tchaikovsky's Iolanthe, Verdi's Il Trovatore, Onegin again, and Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.

The live program continued with Netrebko, mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova and pianist Nebolsin performing a nostalgic version of Lisa and Pauline's duet 'Uzh vecher ... Oblakov pomerknuli kraya' (It's evening ... The edges have faded from the clouds) from Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades. Netrebko's silvery high notes and Maximova's resonant lows made this piece a special delight. As the mezzo left, Netrebko continued with a smooth, dreamy rendition of Tchaikovsky's 'Nights of Delirium'.

Anna Netrebko. Photo © 2019 Julian Hargreaves
Anna Netrebko. Photo © 2019 Julian Hargreaves

Netrebko and Nebolsin's penultimate group included Richard Strauss' evocative 'Die Nacht' (Night) and his beloved 'Ständchen' (Serenade), followed by Dvořák's folk-like 'Songs my mother taught me' and Rachmaninoff's magical 'The Dream'.

Mezzo-soprano Maximova returned for a sweet-as-sugar version of 'Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour' (Beautiful night, O night of love), the barcarolle from Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann.

Elena Maximova
Elena Maximova

Netrebko and Nebolsin concluded the recital with a Tchaikovsky song directed at thanking the audience the soprano has attracted over the years: 'Amidst the day', which the pianist finished with an exhilarating finale.

Pavel Nebolsin
Pavel Nebolsin

This concert by virtuoso artists from Russia brought forth thoughts of nature and spring which is not too far off at my home in Arizona. Perhaps it's time to reassess our lifestyles and their relationship to nature. Often, artists from the north have much to teach others about the appreciation of nature, because they are not quite as overwhelmed with it as those of us who live in the semi-tropics are.

Copyright © 9 February 2021 Maria Nockin,
Arizona USA





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