Anna Netrebko: I won’t sing at Bayreuth

It had been widely reported that she had been cast as Elsa in Lohengrin in 2018.

Forget it, she tells Eleanore Büning in a wide-ranging FAZ interview.

Why not?

‘I’ll tell you a secret,’ says Anna. ‘My brain refuses to memorise German.’

She sang Elsa in Dresden this year (pictured) and didn’t feel comfortable.

Jetzt verrate ich Ihnen ein Geheimnis: Ich kann keinen deutschen Text memorieren. Mein Gehirn ist vielleicht doch zu Russisch organisiert, es ist dazu einfach nicht in der Lage. Französisch, italienisch, das kann ich alles singen, aber deutsche Texte sind zu schwer für mich. „Einsam in trüben Tagen“, okay, bis dahin. Silenzio, Schluss, wie es weitergeht, kann ich mir nicht merken. Ich bekam einen Teleprompter für die Elsa in Dresden. Christian Thielemann hatte es mir eingebleut, dass es auf die Worte ankommt. Er sagte, er wolle keine musikalischen Linien von mir hören, er wolle Tttexssssttt hören! Vokale! Konsonanten! Elsa war wirklich hart.

Continues here.


So that’s that.


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    • Well, there’s speaking competent German, and then there’s memorizing Wargner’s texts … but I’m glad to hear that conductors seem to care about the words again. This is something I admire about recordings from the mono days: You could understand every syllable without resorting to the text book. But maybe the orchestras were also less loud in those days, gut strings, narrow bore, lower pitch and all.

    • Her quote and the rest of her responses in good German are the result of the FAZ translating into said good German what Mrs. Netrebko said in English.

      • Couldn’t agree more! I’ll eat my hat if Ms Netrebko uttered these idiomatically perfect words in the full interview.

  • I find this surprising, because Russian is a lot more difficult than German. Just two examples: Russian has six cases rather than German’s four, with the nouns being declined as well as the adjectives; and there are two Russian verbs to be learnt for each German one, depending on whether the action is completed or ongoing. I would therefore have expected that German would be easy for a Russian native. The only real challenge may be the definite and indefinite articles, because these are absent in Russian ( in common with other Slavic languages).

      • Haha! How true. Does Optimism think Bryn Terfel and even Placido Domingo give a fig when singing Wagner about definite and indefinite articles? They just knuckle down and learn it all by heart. And as for Janáček……

  • This, I contend, is the most damning part of the interview:

    “Die Marschallin kann ich nicht leiden. Die Ansichten dieser Frau, ihr Charakter, das alles interessiert mich nicht. Sie fragt sich laufend: Bin ich noch schön? Bin ich zu alt? Was sagt mein junger Liebhaber? Ich verstehe diese Attitüde nicht. Eigentlich ist ja die Marschallin, laut Hugo von Hofmannsthal, noch jung, erst Anfang oder Mitte dreißig. Aber sie redet schon so wahnsinnig langweilig daher! Stellen Sie sich vor, wie unendlich öde sie erst sein wird, wenn sie eines Tages wirklich fünfundvierzig ist und auf die fünfzig zugeht.”

  • One of the world’s greatest Wagnerians said to me (his German was recognized at the highest levels for its quality) that the memorization of single Wagner leads took two years, primarily because of the original use and creation of new words and conjugations. He cited Lohengrin ans Stolzing. He held Rene Kollo in the highest of esteem because he felt Kollo’s mastery of the memorization of all the leads was nearly miraculous. Netrebkos remarks are just an honest admission of what every Wagnerian knows to be true….

  • Can’t help thinking that in order to become Austrian -which she is since 2006- one has to pass a German test… Obviously, exceptions are always possible…

  • In the 1950s multi-lingual productions – and not just of Wagner – were relatively common, though admittedly not at Bayreuth. Even as late as the 70s there. I remember a friend of mine – a professional musician who had good German – reporting having listened to a very famous Bayreuth “Tristan’ broadcast live under the impression that most of the singers were actually singing in French. (No names, no pack-drill) Perhaps she should have gone ahead with it in Russian? It’s hard to tell these days exactly what language more than a few English singers are using to sing English libretti in.

    • “It’s hard to tell these days exactly what language” some singers are using, period. One example (in my personal opinion) would be Magdalena Kožená; it would require great effort to discern the language she sang in, if one didn’t know the composer/work.

  • I hope Anna Netrebko will sing more Italian operas, adding many, many more roles to her repertoire. Italian operas are better. There’s no doubt about it. Much, much better. Wagner’s operas are big, really big, but not better for this, no, being bigger don’t make them better. Just bigger.

    Jokes apart, go on Anna, we all love you!

  • Anna Netrebko was a splendid Elsa in Dresden last May as she was an unsurpassable Manon Lescaut yesterday in Salzburg. I was lucky enough to be there on both occasions.

  • Good for her. A singer who knows her limits, both vocally and otherwise, should have a long career. To understand every word in Wagner (or Strauss) is quite difficult even for a native speaker (like myself), but to hear the words slurred and mispronounced and with an Italian musical line is hard to take. As much as I admire Domingo, his singing Wagner was not really a good idea. So, more power to Netrebko.

  • I saw a New Year’s concert from Moscow with Netrebko recently on pay TV. It was recorded 2 years ago and I didn’t think much of her singing, to be honest. She sang with Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

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