The 51st edition of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, the first after several years of muted and mostly virtual performances, featured Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov among the headline artists.
There is little argument that Russian-born Anna Netrebko is the leading soprano of our time. Since her 2002 international breakthrough in Salzburg, there is no opera singer who quite reaches her level in terms of sheer vocal beauty, technical brilliance, and artistic excellence. She has been a darling of all the global opera stages, widely lauded for her singing, acting, and audience appeal. She has also been somewhat of a poster child for top-tier Russian cultural exports, which put her in a difficult position after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After a short hiatus following the political and public relations fallout, Netrebko is now back to most of the world stages. Hong Kong was lucky to have her.
The singers offered one evening of recital accompanied by piano (not reviewed) and one accompanied by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. The recital with the Philharmonic was not sold out, most likely due to the high ticket prices. But for the attendees, Netrebko demonstrated why she was unmissable.
The program was varied and went beyond the usual “best of” that one might expect from star-studded recitals. Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov, opened the evening with the first act duet from Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. The bel canto classic was perhaps not the best choice given the heft of both singers’ voices.
Moving into Giuseppe Verdi’s territory and mostly with the selections from Aida, the couple proved why they command the opera stages. Eyvazov, who wasn’t as comfortable in lighter territory and likely not in top form, delivered a stunning Celeste Aida. He showed off his sumptuous middle register and catapulted a fearless B-flat finale in full chest voice, something many contemporary tenors don’t dare attempt. Netrebko followed with a sensational Ritorna Vincitor and they re-joined in a spellbinding final entombment scene (joined by local mezzosoprano Carol Lin as Amneris). The vocal beauty and harmony of the couple was operatic perfection at its very finest.
In the second half of the program Netrebko and Eyvazov, assisted by Lin, delivered a scene from the first act of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, a repertory that is less well known in Hong Kong. The couple’s vocal pyrotechnics, their unrivalled command of the Russian repertory, and their onstage chemistry made this a particular delicacy of the evening.
Guest conductor Michelangelo Mazza led the highly motivated Hong Kong Philharmonic in several orchestral pieces and overtures, with the Bacchanale from Samson et Delila standing out.
Netrebko then seized full control of the concert hall with a riveting Vissi d’Arte from Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, skilfully working the stage to reach out to many of the less favourable seats and deftly whipping the audience into a frenzy. Sporting flowing glamour gowns and sparkling jewellery, Chopard no doubt, the diva was emotive, transfixing, and vocally generous, her crescendos and diminuendos nothing short of breath-taking. She was quite simply flawless.
As an encore, the grateful audience was regaled with the classic Neapolitan song Non ti scordar di me (Do not forget me), arranged for two voices. There was no risk of anyone forgetting this evening.
Performance attended: March 11, 2023
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