In this recital – Anna Netrebko’s Carnegie Hall solo debut – the soprano offered a generous assortment of songs and arias from the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries in six languages. The twenty-three selections were grouped into two broad themes to reflect the “Day and Night” title. The wide-ranging program, carefully crafted to display the singer’s extraordinary vocalism and her equally affecting dramatic gifts, moved outside the usual frame of concert conventions.
The first half was inspired by daytime and flowers, the second by nighttime and dreams. Netrebko handled all of them with ease, delicacy and power. She started things off with a tender and highly theatrical rendition of Rachmaninov’s ‘Lilacs’, the lyrics reflecting the thoughts of a young woman savoring the happiness that “dwells in the lilacs”. Dressed in a sumptuous silk, pastel-colored floral gown and carrying a large bouquet of flowers, Netrebko caressed the blossoms for the first three songs and then placed them on the front of the stage. While she stayed close to the piano early on, she soon began to use the huge platform very much to her own purposes, delivering many of the settings as mini-operas, sometimes using her billowy gown as a prop as she flounced it, and employed an extensive array of carefully choreographed hand gestures and poses.
Of the guests, MET Orchestra concertmaster David Chan delivered a gorgeous rendition of the elegant obbligato in Richard Strauss’s ‘Morgen!’. And in the second, Jennifer Johnson Cano used her lustrous voice to provide harmony in two superbly rendered operatic duets: ‘It is evening’ from Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades and the ‘Barcarolle’ from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann.
Netrebko was at her best in the Russian-language selections – bold and melancholy pieces demanding intensely passionate singing, delivered in abundance, with strong and fiery top notes and a simmering low range. She was particularly effective in expressing the mood-changes in Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘The clouds begin to scatter’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Frenzied Nights’. Textual clarity was less generous in the other language offerings, especially in the group of Strauss songs, but she brought beautiful singing to all of them. In the two French selections, her voice displayed an unusually soft and creamy tone that perfectly suited the mood of the texts. Her rendition of Dvořák’s ‘Songs my mother taught me’ was remarkably charming and unaffected.
Malcolm Martineau accompanied Netrebko with delight and a wholehearted spirit of collaboration, and she made the most of their moments of playful interaction. The two encores further showcased the diva’s splendid high register: Arditi’s ‘Il bacio’ and, from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, ‘O mio babbino caro’.