Soprano Anna Netrebko is living proof that the regrettable axiom about young people being uninterested in opera is not true. She is a young star of St Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre, who has won acclaim for her performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Washington Opera and Salzburg festival.
A video with Anna Netrebko shot by Hollywood director Vincent Peterson will be released on DVD in April and every European channel, including MTV, has already bought it. "Now young people will see that opera is cool," the star says. After her overwhelming success as Donna Anna in Mozart's "Don Juan" in Salzburg and as Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata" in Vienna, Anna Netrebko has become one of the most popular voices around the world. The dark-haired beauty from Krasnodar (southern Russia) covers posters, glossy magazines and CDs (she has a contract with Deutsche Grammophon). After her triumph at the Munich Opera Festival last year, the German magazine Opernwelt called her "the singer of 2003". Anna Netrebko has even been compared to the great Maria Callas.
Tickets to her concerts sell out in no time. Sometimes Anna has to give five interviews a day, in addition to her radio performances and photo sessions.
The Russian singer has decided to use her popularity in Europe and America to promote opera. "I agreed to participate in the Peterson project to draw youth's attention to opera," she says. "It pains me to hear that young people in Russia and abroad believe that opera is boring. Our videos are very beautiful, with fantastic haute couture clothes, luxurious jewellery, amazing sets, colours, lighting, make-up, wigs and dancers. Everything is modern and a little crazy, aesthetic and erotic but is kept within bounds. What is more, there are no musical simplifications!"
The foreign press calls her "a diva in blue jeans", while the critics have said that the new opera star has changed opera laws, thereby consigning fat ladies in Viking armour to the past. Anna admits she hates "old-fashioned and dusty performances". "Young people have different views about everything today," she says.
Indeed, Anna believes that "opera is a sexual art". She tries to give erotic and romantic moods to her heroines. Susanna and Pamina in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" and "The Magic Flute", Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata", Rosina in Rossini's "The Barber of Seville", Lucia in Donizetti's "Lucia de Lammermoor", Juliet in Bellini's "The Capulets and the Montagues", Ksenia in Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" and Ms. Netrebko's other characters beam with love and vital energy. "My ancestors were gypsies. Sometimes I don't know what to do with my energy," the singer says smiling. "I've got to do as much as possible in life," she adds.
Inspired with opera dreams and armed with courage Ms. Netrebko came to the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1990. Specialists noticed her rare beauty and rich and pure voice, which meant she was perfect for the stage. Indeed, she had won a beauty contest in her native Krasnodar shortly before this, while foreign journalists have since called her "a soprano Audrey Hepburn".
In 1994, the Mariinsky Theatre invited fourth year student Anna Netrebko to play Susanna in "The Marriage of Figaro". She made a successful debut on the famous stage. After that, she toured Finland, Germany, France, Israel, Holland, Italy, Japan, the USA and Turkey with the Mariinsky company. Five years after her debut and several international awards under her belt, Ms. Netrebko was singing the parts of Musetta in Puccini's "La Boheme" and Gilda in Verdi's "Rigoletto" at the San Francisco Opera and Washington Opera. "I am sure there is nothing more difficult and nothing more interesting than opera," the singer used to say.
Between 2000 and 2002, she debuted in the world's greatest theatres. She sang Natasha Rostova in the Metropolitan Opera (the Mariinsky's production of "War and Peace"), and Juliet at the Philadelphia Opera (Bellini's "The Capulets and the Montagues"), as well as Donna Anna at the Salzburg music festival. Western media praised her as Don Juan's sweetheart and declared that she was the best performer of Mozart's operas. Last year, Anna Netrebko released her first album and it was total triumph. She was lucky to record her second album with Claudio Abbado. The singer is over-modest. "Am I a prima donna? Where do you see one?" she asks.
Anna does not see herself as a high society lady. She adores friendly parties. "I have terrific friends in New York," she says. "When I'm there we like to play bowling or go to discos. At dawn we go to McDonald's in our evening dresses and get some burgers!"
"If I grow rich one day I'll buy a house on the coast and a yacht," Anna promises her friends.