Anna Netrebko is the best soprano in the world, the reigning prima donna of the 21st Century.
She has been thrilling opera fans for over two decades not only with her exceptional voice but also her electrifying stage presence.
Until now fans in the southern hemisphere have had to rely on DVDs and YouTube, or travel a very long way to see and hear her.
That changed with this season’s concert tour.
Anna and her husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, began the tour in Berlin in August and travelled to Dubai, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Guest artist Elchin Azizov, a baritone, and conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov travelled with them.
The Opera House concert hall
The Australasian part of the tour included concerts in Melbourne, Auckland and Sydney.
We booked as soon as we heard about it in an email from the Sydney Opera House.
This sort of opportunity isn’t going to happen again in the near future so we splurged on a VIP package. That included a VIP tag, great seats, a programme, CD, signed photograph and a meet-and-greet session after the concert. But more on that later.
The concert started at 8.30pm but we got there in time for a couple of glasses of champagne before finding our seats. Dress code is smart casual but more or less whatever you like within those confines. We decided to glam up. Well, how often do we get the chance to do that? (Not very, believe me.) In fact I think Phil and I were the best dressed couple there.
While we’d been walking around Sydney most of the Aussies we saw were young, slim and walked with a swagger. That changed on opera night. The concertgoers included quite a few doddery old folk, several on the portly side and not many young people.
Our seats were six rows from the stage and quite close to the centre.
Surprisingly five places in the row in front of us were empty when the concert started – and this was for a sold out concert! However, the Opera House policy is that if you’re not in your seat when the performance starts then you’ll probably have to wait outside until the intermission.
The seats were filled for the second half.
Anna Netrebko in the first half
The orchestra appeared and started tuning up at about twenty past eight, soon followed by the conductor, Mikhail Tatarnikov and then, just a few minutes after 8.30, Anna made her appearance. And what an appearance it was.
She’s still blonde but rather than her usual free-flowing locks she sported an elaborate hairstyle crowned with a glittering headpiece. She wore an unusual sweeping blue and yellow robe with a thigh-length split down one side, and silver stiletto shoes.
The audience cheered madly and the show got underway with Ritorna vincitor from Verdi’s Aida.
Yusif, wearing full formal evening attire, continued Verdi with a song from Il Trovatore.
The first act included orchestral pieces as well as solo and duet performances from Anna, Yusif and Elchin with music by Puccini, Cilea (new to me) and more Verdi.
It was all very slick and everybody on stage seemed to be enjoying it. The audience certainly were.
Yusif seems to have grown professionally on this tour. He looked rather wooden when we saw a YouTube video of the Berlin concert recently but here he was more relaxed, hammed it up a bit and had some very good performances.
He got tremendous response from the audience and is obviously a world class tenor but when the two sang together it was clear why Anna is the world’s best; her voice is so powerful as well as being pure.
The first half ended with a romantic duet from Verdi’s Otello. Anna and Yusif, married for two years, performed this as though it was part of a full opera with kisses as well as vocals.
The audience responded with more rapturous applause.
Anna Netrebko in the second half
Anna and Elchin opened the second half with a waltz, singing Lippen schweigen from Lehar’s Merry Widow.
I remember seeing a YouTube video of Anna’s vivacious performance of this at the Last Night of the Proms. This time it was just as light hearted but not so athletic as Elchin needed a cane after falling on steps outside Hamer Hall before the Melbourne concert.
She was now wearing a pale strawberry, long full skirted dress with a red bodice and three-quarter length sleeves.
Yusif also changed costume, now appearing in a dashing deep blue, long, collarless jacket with a black shirt and tie.
The music in this session was better known and one highlight – among many – was Yusif singing Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot.
Once again there were arias, duets and orchestral pieces and the evening ended with an encore of O Sole Mio which Yusif sang only to be interrupted at every chorus by Anna and Elchin moving along the sides and back of the stage. A lot of fun.
Meeting and greeting Anna Netrebko
So, the show was over, it all went so quickly. But now it was time for the meet-and-greet session.
About forty of us gathered at the somewhat inconspicuous stage door and were taken, in small groups, along corridors, through the Green Room and past many doorways to a very plain room where tables had been set up, one with drinks, a second with finger food and a third with our goody bags.
Now these contained, among other things, a programme and VIP tag both of which would have far more useful at the start of the concert.
A short while later Anna, Yusif and Elchin arrived, now wearing casual clothes but still looking elegant as you can see from the photograph.
A photographer from the Australian organisers, Frontier Touring, got ready to snap and an assistant organised people into a ragged line.
Phil doesn’t like queuing so he made sure we were near the front and it’s a good job he did. A few photos after ours he heard Anna say, “I’ve had enough!” and then they were gone. Definitely diva behaviour.
The photographer and presumably all the people still lined up hoped they would come back but I don’t think they did, judging by the small number of photos available online for downloading.
We hobbled away back to the hotel (we were staying at the Intercon) about then. Well, I hobbled – I’m not used to wearing high heels. Phil walked normally.
The concert was fabulous, well worth attending.
And we were lucky to get our photograph with the stars as a really special souvenir.
Read reviews of the Australian concerts here: