Anna Netrebko & Rolando Villazon –Duets
Nicola Luisotti, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2007
Duets is the album that celebrates the happy partnership between Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon. They appeared together in several productions that won them international acclaim. Some performances have been recorded, as the famous Elisir d’amore they sang in Vienna and La Traviata in Salzburg (2005). The purpose to repeat – and, maybe, to surpass – their success with this album is revealed by the tracklist that includes some of the most famous duets in the history of opera (from La Bohème, Lucia di Lammormoor, Rigoletto, Roméo et Juliette, Les pêcheurs de perles and Manon), next to a couple of rarities (Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Torroba’s Luisa Fernanda).
Duets: the Performance
Great programme, great names indeed, but not always what seems great on a playbill is equally delightful to ears. Netrebko’s and Villazon’s voices harmonize to perfection, but neither him nor her are flawless superstars and, next to beautiful passages, Duets has also many weak points.
Rolando Villazon was still in good vocal shape when he recorded Duets and his imperfections are rather limited. Some vowels are too open, his diction is not impeccable and his phrasing is not smooth, mainly in the Italian repertoire. The problem is more serious with Anna Netrebko. She does not characterize her heroines deeply and gives them a generalized psychology that suits all of them. This, however, does very little to distinguish shy Mimì and frail Lucia from the enchantress Manon. The precious timbre of Netrebko’s voice remedies to this lack, especially when she sings Juliette (Roméo et Juliette) or Leyla (Les pêcheurs de perles), but elsewhere it is not enough.
Villazon is usually more insightful than the soprano. Even in Netrebko’s native Russian, it is Villazon the one that really gives meaning to what he sings. It is enough to remember the second part of Tvoyo molchan’ye neponyatno, where Villazon’s singing is glorious, and to compare it with Netrebko’s modest echo. Even though it is clear that Netrebko is aware of Iolanta’s delicacy and sweetness, she does not give prominence to these features in an effective way.
Lucia di Lammermoor
Villazon’s superior means are evident in the Lucia-Edgardo duet from Lucia di Lammermoor. Here, Villazon is able to give precise features to his character, starting from anger, culminating in the sly and threatening “ma potrei compirlo ancor”, and ending with his many rapturous declarations of love (“sospiri ardenti”, “udrai nel mar che mormora” and so on).
To this fine portrait, Netrebko answers with just few remarkable expressions, as the joyous “e tua son io!” with which she answers to Edgardo’s “son tuo sposo!”
The same happens in Les pêcheurs de perles. It is again Villazon the one who embodies his role in a way that makes him verisimilar, with his concerned rendition at the beginning and then with his sadness. Netrebko is better as Leyla than as Lucia. At least here it is possible to hear her attempt to answer to Nadir with some feeling.
Despite the usual good level of Villazon’s performance, he too has some moments where he does not seem very much at ease. One of these is the duet from Rigoletto. As the Duke of Mantua, Villazon sings some extremely effective phrases as “ah insperabile d’amore il dio”, “è amor che agl’angeli più ne avvicina”, but overall he is far more relaxed, as if not all the character’s traits are totally clear for him. Only in the finale, he and Netrebko sing with liveliness and élan.
In the duet from Roméo et Juliette, the sound seems a little unbalanced. Netrebko’s voice almost covers Villazon’s, although not in a way that spoils completely the listening. Here, the blend of the two singers’ voices is perfect, as it happens again in Luisa Fernanda. This would also happen in the duet from Manon, but, as I wrote before, Netrebko does not give a satisfactory portrait of the enchantress.
Nicola Luisotti’s conduction is sometimes effective and “present”, sometimes distant and cold. The conductor is painstaking especially in the finali, of Lucia di Lammermoor and Rigoletto in particular. Usually, however, he is better as an accompanist than as an interpreter.
Duets is a fine recording, though a little overrated. It is an honest, not pyrotechnical album recorded by Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon when they were valuable singers and when their partnership was one of the main reasons of interest for opera.