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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

End of the road for opera's lovers

By Norman Lebrecht / February 7, 2007

Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon are the golden couple of the opera stage. Ever since they swooned together in La Traviata at Salzburg 2005, signing soon after to the same record label, the pair has been marketed as an inseparable item. This year, they will sing Boheme in Munich, Manon in Berlin, Romeo and Juliet in New York, culminating in a to-die-for joint recital in Carnegie Hall.

Unlike most opera stars, they are young ˆ she is 35, he 34 ˆ fit, handsome and physically well-matched. You could not mistake them on a dark stage for Sutherland and Pavarotti. They are totally of their time, jangling with bling, dripping PR clichés. They also sing like heavenly angels, and they have not yet reached the peak of their prowess.

That, you would think, ought to be enough to get us running into the shops and snapping up their arias album. But the Deutsche Grammophon record company is so desperate to project its assets beyond a limited circle of opera lovers that it is about to publish a pink-lined publicity book of what appear to be honeymoon portraits of the young couple hand in hand on a country-house lawn, cuddled up together on a leafy balcony, giving big come-on looks in designer eveningwear.

Every impression is given that Netrebko and Villazon are lovers ˆ whereas he in fact, is happily married to childhood sweetheart Lucy, a psychologist in Mexico City with whom he has two small sons; and she, by all accounts, is far too busy shopping to make time for weddings and house-hunts.

What is being foisted on the media is a putrid piece of myth-making, a pair of outstandingly gifted artists being marketed to breakfast telly and fashion magazines as koochie-moochie fantasy lovers. It is not much different from the fake marriages that Hollywood used to manufacture for actors of diverse sexuality, or the family fronts that politicians put up when they are caught having a bit on the side.

But while those subterfuges are laughable, this one is damaging. It will narrow our view of Netrebko and Villazon the next time they embrace on stage, reducing their capacity to shock, cutting the electric current they used to project before the hype took over. When we see them, we will think: fake. And that is a huge obstacle for any performer to overcome in front of two or three thousand expectant faces.

These pictures, this honeymoon book, mark the beginning of the end of a beautiful relationship.


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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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