Here, the star soprano tells the Met's Matt Dobkin about singing after childbirth, about the new cadenza composed especially for her Lucia, and why she doesn't read her own press.
This month marks your return to the stage. How long has it been since you last performed?
My last appearance was at the end of June, and then I stopped completely. What was a big wonder for me was that I didn't even want to perform. I didn't open my mouth at all. I just started practicing in November. I thought my voice would be wobbling. But no, no: it was there. I immediately sang the whole role of Lucia! I was curious how my voice would be, because I know of sopranos who have lost their voices after giving birth. But it seems like it was exactly the same as it was before. I started to sing like I had never stopped. The only thing that was different was that I got tired quickly. But that's normal. Like a sportsman, you need to train the muscles.
This is your first time singing Lucia at the Met. What's your history with the role?
The first time I heard Lucia I thought, Oh, my God, how can anybody sing that? No way. But later I tried it, and immediately, from the first phrase, it felt so good.
Musicologist Philip Gossett has composed a new cadenza for the mad scene especially for you. How did this idea come about?
When I sang the role in Los Angeles, I realized that everything was very comfortable: but this cadenza scares me. But what you do in the cadenza is up to the soprano: you can sing it without any instrument, you can add notes: whatever you want. The only thing is, it has to be spectacular.
What's your approach to the character of Lucia?
Lucia can be done in many different ways. The craziness can be different. Lucia can be funny cuckoo, she can be evil cuckoo, she can be sad-and-heartbroken cuckoo. It's really up to you. And it really depends on the staging. Mary Zimmerman's production is very beautiful, and there's a lot of freedom for the singers. I will have great partners, so I think we can create something very special.
Is this your first time performing Lucia opposite Rolando Villaz‹n?
Yes, but in this opera, I don't sing very much with the tenor. It's more about the soprano and the baritone. Mariusz [Kwiecien, who plays Enrico] and I have sung together in many productions, and he's amazing.
How will you and Mariusz play the relationship of Lucia and her brother?
I've been thinking a lot about why she goes crazy so quickly. And I think in the relationship between her and her brother, there has to be something very violent. He has to be violent toward her. I'm not saying he has to be sexually violent, but the hint of it has to be there. He puts her down on her knees too many times. This is why this anger grows inside her, and that's why she kills. I don't think it comes suddenly: it has been growing. It's a breakdown, the nerves, the pain, the suffering. I don't think she's crazy from the beginning.
You're known as both a great singer and a great actress. How important is it to be able to do both?
It's not only me. This whole generation of singers is like that now. It's not possible to be old-fashioned and just sing. You have to be able to act, you have to be able to move... That said, I was once at a performance of Lucia at the Vienna Staatsoper, with a wonderful soprano, Edita Gruberova. She doesn't really act: she's a singer. And I have to tell you, that was one of the most amazing Lucias I ever saw. She was just standing and singing, and it was incredible. She blew me away with her singing.
Your fame transcends the world of opera. Do you worry that your stardom may overshadow your artistry in people's minds?
I don't worry about those kinds of things. There may have been a couple of times I got upset reading, "Oh, it's better to look at her than to listen to her!" But after a while: whatever. And I'm not on the Internet, I don't have a computer, so I don't read many articles about me.
Do you feel differently about your career now that you're a mother?
I think maybe emotionally I'll feel differently when I'm singing: that's something I'll notice during my performances. I have a lot of responsibility now: a different kind of responsibility. But I hope to sing as well as I did. Or better.
Lucia di Lammermoor returns to the Met Jan. 26 and will enjoy subsequent performances Jan. 29 (8 PM), Feb. 3 (8 PM) and Feb. 7 (1 PM). Joining Netrebko onstage are Rolando Villaz‹n as Edgardo, Mariusz Kwiecien as Enrico and Ildar Abdrazakov as Raimondo. Marco Armiliato conducts.
For tickets and information, visit The Metropolitan Opera.