March 2005

Anna Netrebko - Sempre Libera
Anna Netrebko, soprano; Coro Sinfonico di Milano Giuseppe Verdi; Mahler Chamber Orchestra; Claudio Abbado, conductor
Deutsche Gramophon 00289 8812
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2004

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Juan Diego Flórez - Great Tenor Arias
Juan Diego Flórez, tenor; Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi; Carlo Rizzi, conductor
Decca 475 6187
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2004

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

by Rad Bennett

With so many of the singers of my generation passing on or choosing to retire, it is good news to discover two such promising young opera stars as Juan Diego Flórez and Anna Netrebko. Their considerable talents are revealed on these well-planned and -recorded recital discs. Each shows its singer off in repertory well chosen for its featured voice. Both singers have in common lovely, lyrical voices that can be punched up for dramatic effect.

In fact, one is tempted to dub Flórez a stentorian lyric tenor. He can lovingly and gently spin an intricate musical phrase with the best of them, but he can also call up some ringing, heroic top notes when needed. His top C in the aria from Donizetti’s La Figlia del Regimento is spine-tingling. He receives outstanding support from Carlo Rizzi and a fine orchestra.

Netrebko’s voice is not beautiful in a conventional sense. At times, she reminds one of Callas. She brings special dramatic flair to the "Mad Scene" from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Accompanied by the eerie glass harmonica, instead of the usual dulcet flute, hers is a chilling virtuoso performance. Her Lucia is a woman who can sing the spots off the notes, but is also undeniably crazy. Claudio Abbado is not as incisive a conductor as Rizzi, but obtains clean playing from his musicians, giving Netrebko good support.

The clear, well-balanced recordings are both excellent. Though it is the Netrebko that places the singer more into the center channel, the Floréz has a smidgen more presence on his disc. Triggered in part by the titles in common on these discs, I would love to see complete opera recordings made starring these two exciting artists. La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Gianni Schicchi would seem good departure points.