Anna Netrebko and Malcolm Martineau • Carnegie Hall • December 9 2018

She stepped onto the vast stage wearing a wide Japanese silk gown with trail and clutching a huge bouquet of carnations. My first reaction was, Oh really, you arrive with your own flowers? I watched her carefully. She did not let go of the flowers for her first two arias, both sung in Russian, but rather used them to great effect to give her character gravitas. I realized that it was indeed a brilliant trick: The first numbers being the most difficult, one never knows what to do with one’s hands. She gave them something to do, and it stabilized her. After the second number, she very deliberately and gracefully placed them down, at the edge of the stage,  bent down and even rearranged them in a leisurely, pensive way. At that, something in me clicked. This was a complete perfectionist at her peak. Confidence, complete mastery of her craft, and, most importantly, basking in the glory of it all, with pure joy.  During the concert, she used the entire stage in a way I have never seen a classical singer do before, addressing not the whole room but the entire space, at times even singing to the wall behind her, to great effect (the sound was echoing back into the room). She knows how to wear a dress and move in it. Her entrances and exits, at times merely suggested, were perfection. There was poise and grace in every single, carefully calibrated move. Total mastery and control of her art and its effect on the audience. Humility and playfulness, total commitment, a sense of ease and trust. Generous with her collaborators, a violinist (David Chan, concertmaster of the Met) and a contralto, Jennifer Johnson Cano, with whom she sang “Morgen”.  Her way of acknowledging Martineau (touching his shoulder and once blowing him a kiss while he was playing) had a marvelous effect. So many singers perform as if the musicians were not present (besides a brief nod to signal that they are ready). Here, we witnessed a real relationship onstage, which added yet another emotional layer to the experience. Something other singers should take notice of.

Netrebko literally chews her word. The diction is completely worked out as part of the interpretation. In short, an impeccable performance. This is a consummate artist but also, clearly, a woman who appears to be genuinely happy both in her life and onstage, with a voluptuous body that has found its place, refusing to be locked into diet schemes that kill the pleasure of life and great food. Good for her!  Never overacting. Reaching out, holding it in, from declamation to intimate pianissimo, sung as if to herself, then scanning the entire room and balcony. Grace, grace and artistry, charm and beauty. And that voice. A triumph and a true masterclass.