Russia's Own Opera Star

Last November, Musical America named Russian Opera singer Anna Netrebko its "Musician of the Year," describing her as "a genuine superstar for the 21st century." In doing so, the magazine placed the young soprano in the same league as Placido Domingo, Marilyn Horne, Karita Mattila, Beverly Sills and Leontyne Price. However, unlike these stars, Netrebko traces her roots to Southern Russia.
Named as one of Time magazine's Top 100 Artists for 2007, Anna Netrebko has taken the opera world by storm, although her rise to fame began rather modestly. Born in a Russian provincial center of Krasnodar, Anna Netrebko has risen to the heights of international stardom through a rags to riches story almost befitting a Hollywood film. When she came to study in St. Petersburg, Netrebko earned money as a cleaning lady at the Mariinsky Theatre. Legend has it that Mariinsky director Valeri Gergiev discovered her talent when she was mopping the floor. This is a myth, but her entry into the Mariinsky school was no less conventional. Netrebko was propelled to the top of the opera scene without the required credentials to study in the St. Petersburg Conservatoire: at the age of 23, she played the leading role in Glinka's "Ruslan and Lyudmila."

Gergiev's gamble of casting such a young artist paid off well. Following the U.S. tours of the Mariinsky Opera and the recordings of Philips' "blue" series, which featured all of the company's Russian operatic productions, Netrebko was touted as the Opera's fastest rising star. It was the Russian repertoire that laid the basis for Netrebko's first independent contracts at the San Francisco Opera, where she started working in 1995.

Nurtured by the enigmatic maestro Gergiev, Netrebko matured into a guest singer at some of the world's major operatic venues, including the Bavarian Opera, the Vienna Opera, the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera of New York. In 2004, she was awarded a Russian State Prize. In 2007, Time magazine included her on the Time 100 list of the world's most influential personalities.

Earlier this month, Netrebko was nominated for a Grammy award along with cellist Yury Bashmet and his chamber orchestra "The Moscow Soloists." The "Russian Album," recorded in collaboration with the Gergiev-led Mariinsky Orchestra, will be competing for "Best Classical Vocal Performance" in Los Angeles on February 10.

The San Francisco Opera House was to become the singer's second home for years to come. Though she initially found it hard to adapt to American life, she eventually grew to like the place, the food and the people. Her time in San Francisco also gave her the opportunity to diversify her repertory to include leading roles in Italian operas and Mozart pieces. Only then did she begin to receive invitations for Italian parts from European theatres.

In 2002, her hard work was rewarded with a chance to appear at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She made her debut as Natasha Rostova in Prokofiev's "War and Peace."

Netrebko bases much of her success to remaining calm, positive and happy in an industry used to much more cynical behavior. "I can honestly say that I have a strong character," she says. "I'm neither malicious nor jealous. Backstage intrigues have never really concerned me. I try to ignore the bad things and to draw something good from any situation. Maybe it's because of my Roma heritage, but I sometimes have so much energy that I just don't know what to do with it."

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