Anna Netrebko: ‘I bought several Aida recordings because I am learning the role’

Anna Netrebko: ‘I bought several Aida recordings because I am learning the role’


norman lebrecht

June 04, 2015

All that is wrong with modern stardom in one short answer.

Once upon a time singers created an interpretation by examining the score for insights and direction, studying with a teacher and consulting senior colleagues.

Now they buy an armful of records and imitate the effects they like best.

Netrebko, as it happens, works hard at her art and attends many performances. She is not, by nature, a copycat. Her glibness in this stand-up interview has let her down.

But the impression she leaves is by no means false. Too many singers and instrumental soloists copy and paste their stage performances from recorded archives. Listening to records is what they should do only after creating a role.

anna netrebko bed


  • Peter says:

    Doing the one thing doesn’t negate doing the other as well.
    Almost all artists today also listen to recordings, and it is naive to believe Caruso or Tebaldi or Flagstadt wouldn’t have done the same if they could have.
    It is indeed a problem, if musicians imitate recordings rather than studying the score and listen to their inner voice first, but that’s hardly Netrebko’s problem only.

  • Guus Mostart says:

    …..Angela Gheorghiu is a good example.

  • PJ says:

    What on earth is wrong with this? Many legendary performers who were still close to tradition are dead today. If she wants to know how Callas dealt with a certain passage, please let her listen to Callas; it will still be Netrebko’s voice having to do the job. Carlos Kleiber used to listen to ANY recording he could get hold of, and wouldn’t hesitate to mention certain things he had heard and liked to his musicians or singers; did that make him less than the immense conductor we hold him to have been today?

    It’s not about listening to recordings or not; it’s how to do so intelligently. It won’t get you around learning and mastering the score anyway.

  • Has been says:

    Why shouldn’t artists make use of all research available to them when learning a role. Surely the way artists approached the role and it’s problems in the past are part of the learning process. The problems, breathing, phrasing etc. don’t change and how others approach/solved the problems are a valuable resource when creating an interpretation.

    • erich says:

      Has been is quite correct – as long as the artist then forms his or her own creative opinions and does not just copy parrot-fashion (where we could name some lamentable examples).

  • Nurhan Arman says:

    She was answering the question about what was her latest piece of music purchase. Just because she purchased several recordings of Aida, it is outrageous to assume that she doesn’t study the score and merely copies others’ interpretations? There is nothing wrong in examining the wealth of great performances available to us, in addition to learning the score and developing a unique interpretation.

  • Novagerio says:

    Funny that she was busier buying several recordings rather than several editions of the vocal score. Maybe she hasn’t heard of Spotify yet…..

  • Julian Rowlands says:

    It is impractical to suggest that artists shouldn’t listen to another interpretation before creating their own, as is obvious if you take it to its logical conclusion. Often listening to two or more contrasting interpretations is the key to unlocking a work.

  • Milka says:

    What she should have done was find someone who could teach her the art of singing .
    Her recent work of yowling like an alley cat cannot be rectified by listening to records .

  • says:

    there was only one Aida and that was Leontyne Price

  • Adrian Bryttan says:

    o well, the old joke:

    How do you put a sparkle in a soprano’s eye?
    Shine a flashlight in her ear.

  • Joe Moldovan says:

    How would Pavarotti have “examined the score for insights”? I just can’t believe that he couldn’t read music, but even he admitted to having difficulties with complex parts. On that basis I doubt that he could do the deep analysis required for the insight and direction Norman Lebrecht mentions. Yet he managed to rise to be one of the top tenors of his generation and I doubt that many opera lovers would seriously question his musical abilities and his unique and personal interpretations of the many difficult parts he sang. After gratefully (and sometimes tearfully) absorbing some 50 years of opera I say that musicality and artistry can trump craft and technicality any time, if you are great enough!

    • Milka says:

      If he had an interpretation it would have come as a surprise. That at the beginning he had a
      lovely voice is a given but for this listener he squandered great talent …I remember seeing
      him obese with all stage direction geared to suit whatever actions he could barely manage and ruining whatever plausible story line the opera had to convey .

      .The voice was just passable but he was “Pavarotti ” and to the great unwashed that’s
      all that mattered .If he had any sort of artistry it certainly was a secret to this listener .

      • Joe Moldovan says:

        Each to his own. I don’t need to defend Pavarotti. Though I loved much of his work I was well aware of his limitations and believe that he stayed way too long. But he illustrates my point about the relative merits of technicality and artistry well enough.

        I reply only to gently point out what you must surely know. Opera was created above all for the “great unwashed” – a term I despise. Its present slow, torturous and inevitable decline is the result of the same proletariat abandoning it in droves. The cognoscenti may love the art but it’s the occupants of the loggioni who paid the piper (and the drummer, and violinists and the oboists and the singers… ).

    • Novagerio says:

      Pavarotti could not read music. He was the son of a baker and never attended a music school but he sang with his dad in the church. And: he had Leone Magiera, his life long personal coach (and Mirella Freni’s first husband) who taught him every role note by note.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        Untrue. He was not a sight-reader, but of course he could read music. Easy for you to slur the defenceless dead from behind a mask of anonymity.

      • Jane Susanna Ennis says:

        First of all you criticize Netrebko for having worked as a cleaning lady, then you criticize Pavarotti for being the son of a baker. WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?

  • Brian says:

    When Scotto was studying Refice’s Cecilia for a concert performance, the late, great Andrew Porter asked if she had listened to Claudia Muzio’s important creator recordings from the role. Scotto said no, she wanted to form her own interpretation. Porter wrote an entire piece about this and a performer’s wilful ignorance. I’m with Porter on this one.

  • vonessek says:

    The idea that there is the “right” sequence of steps while earning the role is absurd. Artists are exactly the ones for whom rules do not apply, whether in music or in other art forms, because they are able to synthesize and create something new. Painters use projectors in order to avoid drawing – so? Novelists have read (and studied) their great predecessors before they wrote their first novel. So? This is a non-issue. Unless we can detect imitation in singer’s performance on stage. But then it would be a different argument. This one is just a cheap stab at Anna Netrebko.

  • Wiebke Göetjes says:

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with singers who want to listen and learn of the interpretation of the great singers and conductors. Nothing wrong with knowing the
    ‘aufführungspraxis’ before creating your own Aida.
    I don’t think she buys them to copy, it’s great getting inspired by the great singers before…

  • Wiebke Göetjes says:

    I actually find it quite arrogant to think one can create their ‘own’ Aida (or any other role) without knowing and listening how the great people who did it before you did…..

  • Eli says:

    So what if she listens to recordings? Would you isolate her so that she could not go to any opera?

    As usual, this is a tempest in a teapot created by ???

    Go to the opera and like and/or dislike anything and everything that you want.

  • Charles says:

    When one is listening to a recording (for the purposes of learning), one must be able to distinguish between what is the piece (that is what the composer wrote) and how the artist is interpreting it (or perhaps he/she is even ignoring what is written, for example).

    This can only be achieved by learning the role/opera in its entirety BEFORE picking up a recording–for singers and certainly for conductors.

    Because of spotify and youtube, it becomes even more important and healthy for artists to perform modern music, in good balance with older repertoire. No recordings are yet available for the charlatans to use, so a certain proficiency in learning and interpreting is required of the performers.

  • Novagerio says:

    How did the past stars with individual personalities and individual voices do then?…

  • Marg says:

    Netrebko is known for throw away one liners in interviews …. who knows if what she said was true or just baiting. Of course she’ll make the role her own anyhow, however she studies it. She is the consummate artist – the fact that some people dislike her voice has no bearing on her preparation.

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    In a 2006 article, Yundi Li acknowledged:
    Granted, Li has been playing Mozart since he was a 10-year-old prodigy back in Chongqing, China. Adding new pieces to his repertoire demands a more scholarly approach. “I usually check with at least seven different editions, because I want to make sure my edition is correct,” he explains. “The tempo, the order…a lot of the information, you can find in the score. And, secondly, I will also try to hear a lot of different performances, to see what other artists do. I especially love to hear a lot of the performers from the last century, even 19th-century performers-the old pianists, like [Sergei] Rachmaninoff. And, also, I speak with many musicians. Of course, I need to perform a piece on-stage to find out what is the best way I can do it.”

  • David Boxwell says:

    They can’t win:
    Arrogant if they refuse to listen to prior performers, lazy if they listen to prior perfomers.

  • Alasdair Munro says:

    Solti listened to Elgar’s recordings before making his own.

  • Alice Coote says:

    Thank GOODNESS for all the intelligent and perceptive comments above. And for challenging the “cheap shot ” mentality that pervades much in recent times including this attack on Netrebko.
    God knows who Novagerio and/ or Milka are but they need to get some therapy, and also please I beg some higher intelligence and humanity and and cut down on the hate, negativity and inaccuracies of their attitudes.
    The world becomes an ugly place where your resentment dwells.

    • Una says:

      Here, here, Alice, well said … and about time people wrote under their own names, stand up and be counted, and not hide behind names throwing out resentment instead of humanity. We singers are human beings, not commodities.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Alice, this is not an attack on Anna Netrebko, far from it. I made it clear that she is one of the hardest working singers of recent times. It is an attack, rather, on an attitude among many singers and instrumentalists that interpretation can be formed from a fretwork of purchased recordings instead of worked through note by note in an intensive study of the score.

      • Peter says:

        Yeah, but to make your – apodictic – point, you dragged her interview out of context and gave it a personally insulting spin.
        She was asked which recordings she purchased recently. She answered trivially: some Aida recordings, because she studies the part. End of story… unless someone really tries very hard to find trivia he could spin against this woman, something you are by now infamous for.
        She never said that recordings have replaced her score(s). That’s entirely your invention.

  • Ken Caldeira says:

    Surely, learning from others should be encouraged. Each artist is welcome to their own approach, but surely one artist learning from another is how art progresses.

  • Nancy van Dijke says:

    Listening is not the same as copying. Learning your role with a CD is only a way of memorizing the notes, it’s not memorizing the way a famous singer performs. The writer of this article obviously never studied opera roles himself. A superfluous opinion.

  • Novagerio says:

    Norm, my intention is not to degrade a “defenceless” dead idol. I just want to point out that older italian singers who couldn’t read music was not an uncommon thing. That’s not the same as questioning their musicality and/or vocal beauty, or then ask Maestro Magiera himself.
    The title of your argument is misleading and provocative and obviously it provokes pros and cons, and one should not be considered a “psycho” just because one doesn’t have a high opinion of Netrebko.