Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Netrebko/Hvorostovsky @ Royal Festival Hall, London

18 January 2010

It risked being overblown. As I stared at my programme, which fared better on glossy pictures than detailed notes, and saw several people give the soloist a standing ovation before he had even opened his mouth, it seemed the chances were high.

Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

But, although the recital occasionally felt as if it might exceed itself, it ultimately lived up to the standard that one should rightly expect from such figures as star baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and peerless soprano, Anna Netrebko.

Both had their fair share of high points over an evening that presented excerpts from a range of operas. Netrebko seemed particularly adept at moon-gazing in the Song to the Moon from Dvork’s Rusalka, her sweet tender voice possessing enough angst-ridden edge to drive the song home. We also saw another (equally strong) side to her character as she tackled Strauss’s Ccilie, her voice and body movements being just as successful at performing this most sublime of love songs.

Hvorostovsky was at his strongest in Rigoletto’s ‘Cortigiani vil razza’ and Yeletsky’s Aria from Tchaikovsky’s La Pique Dame, the depth in his voice being perfectly counterbalanced by his lightness of touch. Unfortunately, however, he took time to warm up, meaning that Wolfram’s ‘Abendstern’ from Tannhuser was not as pleasing as it could have been.

More problematic were his acting skills. Whilst Netrebko was spot on in their duets from I Pagliacci and Eugene Onegin, Hvorostovsky was stiff, and his gestures wooden. His solos suffered less because, without the need for interaction with a partner, he could assume a more intensely introverted persona, but the same arm movements seemed to feature in everything he sang. He generally seemed stronger at adopting a correct expression for the moment in hand than at presenting a consistent character throughout each piece.

The programme’s several orchestral pieces, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Lawrence Foster, also met with varying degrees of success. Rossini’s William Tell Overture, which featured a cello opening to die for, quivering and shimmering upper strings, and brass bursting forth with magnificent flourish, was strongly executed, as was the exhilarating Rkczy March from La damnation de Faust. Conversely, the ‘Jean de Florette theme tune’ in the Overture to La forza del destino lacked lyricism, and was so restrained as to verge on the severe. Arguably, this was still a legitimate interpretation of the work, but I then felt that the Polonaise from Eugene Onegin rather missed the point of the piece.

Nevertheless, the evening’s highs far outweighed its lows, and upon hearing Hvorostovsky’s climax to the closing duet from Eugene Onegin, and Netrebko’s ‘Meine Lippen, Sie Kussen So Heiss’, a highlight of her appearance at The Last Night of the Proms in 2007, all criticisms that could have been levied against this recital somewhat paled in comparison to its strengths.

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