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CD REVIEW | Netrebko Sings Tchaikovsky

By Paul E. Robinson on February 12, 2015

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Tchaikovsky: Iolanta, with Anna Netrebko,  Sergey Skorokhodov,  Alexey Markov, Vitalij Kowaljow,  Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra and Chamber Choir/Emmanuel Villaume. DG 479 3969 2 CDs (Total Time: 93:07) (Itunes / Amazon.com

Tchaikovsky wrote ten operas, but only two of them, Eugen Onegin and Pique Dame, are performed with any regularity in opera houses outside Russia. His last opera, Iolanta, composed just before the Pathétique symphony, has recently received a good deal of attention, thanks to Anna Netrebko’s interest in it. In addition to being the subject of this new recording starring Netrebko, the opera is currently in production at the Met and will be screened Feb. 14 (encore/Feb. 18) as part of the Met’s Live in HD movie theatre series. Finally, tenor Sergey Skorokhodov will appear in a Dallas Opera production of Iolanta conducted by Emmanuel Villaume (April 10-18).

Iolanta is a one-act fairy tale opera about a blind girl who regains her sight through love over the course of the opera. Never mind the premise that Iolanta has grown up not knowing that she was blind; in fairy tales, anything is possible. A slight but charming opera, it boasts some beautiful music.

Tchaikovsky wrote such memorable melodies that his inventiveness as an orchestrator may be somewhat overlooked. Although The Nutcracker is perhaps the best example of this inventiveness, Iolanta also has some original touches; the Overture to The Nutcracker dispenses entirely with lower strings (cellos and basses), while the Prelude to Iolanta has no strings at all, only winds and brass instruments.

Netrebko, as Iolanta, sings beautifully – with restraint – which is exactly what the role requires. The role of Count Vaudémont, the man who turns out to be the love of her life, is sung with equal artistry – his top notes are pure and thrilling – by Sergey Skorokhodov. The rest of the cast is excellent, and conductor Emmanuel Villaume leads with a sure understanding of this poetic score. The little-known Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, based in Ljubljana, is more than up to the task.

The recently renovated Philharmonie Essen, in which this recording was made in November, 2012 after a series of live performances, is said to have excellent acoustics; if this well-engineered recording is any indication, that certainly seems to be true.

Paul E. Robinson

Paul E. Robinson

Paul E. Robinson

Over the course of his career, Paul Evans Robinson has acquired a formidable reputation as a broadcaster, author, conductor, and teacher. He has communicated the joy of music to more than a generation of musicians and music lovers in Canada and elsewhere.
Paul E. Robinson
Paul E. Robinson

Paul E. Robinson

Over the course of his career, Paul Evans Robinson has acquired a formidable reputation as a broadcaster, author, conductor, and teacher. He has communicated the joy of music to more than a generation of musicians and music lovers in Canada and elsewhere.
Paul E. Robinson
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