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The Sunday Telegraph (London), 19 February 2006


Cinderella Soprano


Anna Netrebko left home at 16 and cleaned floors to pay for singing lessons in St
Petersburg. Melissa Whitworth meets the world's most down-to-earth diva

Anna Netrebko is not your average diva. On stage, her presence is huge - it's hard to
tear one's eyes away from her and harder to imagine where, in her tiny body, that huge
voice comes from.

Yet off stage she's girly, funny, delicate and very beautiful. It is easy to see why she's
turned the stuffy world of opera on its head.

When we are introduced in her agent's
office in New York she laughs and
gesticulates wildly. She crosses her eyes
and blows a raspberry at the suggestion
that she's the new Maria Callas -
something which many opera critics have
dared to hope.

'You know why I think they said that? It's
because they found nobody else,' she
laughs. 'I don't see why people should
compare us.

'First, I have absolutely nothing in
common with Maria Callas. I adore her,
she is the goddess,' she raises a hand
towards the ceiling, 'but we have a           'I can bite, you know. I don't like it, I'm really a
different voice and a different               nice person.'

personality.'                                 Photo © Clive Arrowsmith/DG




                                     www.annanetrebko.com
Netrebko, who speaks with a soft Russian accent, enjoys all the praise lavished upon
her, though. 'Audrey Hepburn with a voice,' said one American paper after her 2002
debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

After a performance of La Traviata in Vienna one love-struck critic wrote, 'It isn't a stretch
to use the word "miracle." Here one singing actress brought together everything that
opera fans could until now only dream of.'

Netrebko, who is only 34 - practically a child in soprano terms - takes this adoration
gracefully: 'All of this is a very big compliment for me, of course, it is a wonderful and
nice thing. I am very, very happy with it.'

It is the audience's reaction - not critical approval - she craves most, she says. 'When I
am on stage I have so much energy there. Sometimes I feel this power, I can capture
the audience. It happens almost every time. That is what I am singing for, I am singing
for those people.'

Although she sings conventional operas and shuns the idea of 'crossover', Netrebko
refuses to be bound by the snobbery of the purists.

'The opera world will have to change like everything else,' she says. 'It has to develop -
sometimes opera can be so still and so boring - it has to move. The staging and
production needs to be more challenging, more passionate, more contemporary.'

In 2004 Netrebko made an MTV-style DVD of arias called Anna Netrebko: The Woman,
The Voice. It was choreographed by Vincent Patterson who has worked on music videos
for Madonna and Britney Spears.

For one scene Netrebko was filmed in a white bathing suit floating in a swimming pool.
'The serious opera people, they hate it,' she says, sticking out her tongue.

Netrebko grew up in Krasnodar, southern Russia. She left home at 16 for St Petersburg,
where she trained at the Conservatory and worked as a cleaner at the famous Mariinsky
Theatre to make ends meet.

Her rise to stardom has something of Cinderella about it, although it is a myth created by
journalists that she was discovered by the head of the theatre singing while scrubbing
floors.

For years she was told she'd be lucky to get a part in the chorus. Others would say her
voice was too small. 'It comes in one ear, it went out the other,' she says. Even when
she would give a 'bad concert' she would take it in her stride.

'I would think: "OK, I will work. I will work." I always knew I had to perform, I had to have
an audience. That was my big passion. I knew it would happen.'

She won the prestigious Glinka vocal competition in Moscow in 1993, then auditioned for
The Marriage of Figaro's Barbarina at the Mariinsky and got the better part of Susanna.
Her voice and her career grew.

Netrebko now has a five-album recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon and is
booked for the next three years. 'It is a lot of pressure,' she admits, 'especially when I am
reading something that says, "Oh she's the best, she's the star, blah blah blah." These
kinds of things I am trying not to read because it makes you feel very scared, you know?'
She has performed more than 30 roles since her audition at the Mariinsky.

When asked which role she dreams of, Netrebko doesn't miss a beat. 'Leonora in Verdi's
Il Trovatore. People might say, "No she will never do it," so I say, "Yes I will!''

She pounds the table with her fists. 'Maybe in five or six years. My voice is not strong
enough yet, it has to grow.'

After a performance, Netrebko does not go home to sip boiled water and switch on the
humidifier. She has to blow off steam, she says, and isn't neurotic about protecting her
voice.

'We go to eat and party, of course! Two days ago after Rigoletto we go to Placido
Domingo's house and we ate some wonderful paella there and we finish at almost five in
the morning.'

She admits to a love of fashion and shopping. She likes Escada, Russian furs, Louis
Vuitton handbags and, especially, Marc Jacobs. 'His stuff is young and cute.'

And pop music? 'Yeah. I love Green Day, I like hip-hop and I like the Black Eyed Peas.
And Robbie Williams.'

Her boyfriend of six years is the Italian bass-baritone Simone Alberghini. 'He is
wonderful,' she says. 'We might not see each other for a long time but it is OK, we are on
the phone all the time.'

This season she will perform in Mexico City, New York, Vienna, Japan and Salzburg,
which leaves little time for her love life.
She just pulled out of her debut recital at New York's Carnegie Hall - she does not have
the time to prepare properly, she says. She comes to London for Don Giovanni next
season and La Traviata in 2008.

Netrebko makes choking noises when she talks about the demands on her (especially in
Germany, where two biographies of her have already been written), about the parties
she is forced to go to, and the small talk she has to make.

She makes a low growling noise: 'When I am stressed I do not talk, I can bite you know,
and I don't like it because I am actually a nice person. I just want to be alone, close my
doors, say, "Don't touch me."'

And when it all gets too much, what does she do? 'I just need a week of rest and that's
it.'


Copyright 2006 Telegraph Group Limited 

				
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