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Anna Netrebko: A diva to die for

The best new music

A diva to die for, a pop debut to make Pharrell swoon and other musical notes

A diva to die for, a pop debut to make Pharrell swoon and other musical notes

December/January 2019

Adrienne Lecouvreur was an early 18th-century French actress who dazzled audiences with her talent and passionate personality, both on-stage and off. So it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Anna Netrebko (above), a Russian soprano, to channel Lecouvreur in a production of a rarely performed opera based on her life at the Metropolitan Opera in New York this winter. Netrebko is a straight-up, old-school superstar – her latest album, a crowd-pleasing very-best-of packed with arias from Puccini to Mozart, is called simply “Diva”. She is an artist whose fans reportedly send blank cheques to box offices in the hope of seeing her live, who has married her younger stage partner, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov, and who can pretty much sing whatever she wants, wherever she wants.

Adriana Lecouvreur, a fin-de-siècle opera, is a killer part for any big-voiced soprano. Previous incarnations include the legendary Renata Tebaldi and Montserrat Caballé. Director Sir David McVicar is known for the depth of his interpretations and elegance of his staging. It should prove quite the combination. If Netrebko’s magnificent recent “Aida” at the Met was anything to go by, audiences are in for something unforgettable. Queen of the Cs. ~ CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL
Adriana Lecouvreur Metropolitan Opera, New York, Dec 31st-Jan 26th

From beta to alpha male
In 2000 Steve Mason, then a young Scottish musician, had a small but notable role in “High Fidelity”, an American film. The main character, a muso who owns a small record shop, slips on a song by the Beta Band, a spacey British group in which Mason was the vocalist, and whispers to a colleague: “I will now sell five copies of ‘The Three E.P.s’ by the Beta Band.” As the sound of Mason’s blissed-out voice fills the room, various ears prick up. One customer can’t resist asking, “Who is that?”

The question was reasonable enough. The Beta Band never quite hit the mainstream. Since Mason began his solo career after the band split up in 2004, neither has he. That’s a shame. About the Light, his fourth solo album, is a glorious sunburst of melody shot through with psychedelia, but free of self-indulgence. Nothing is misplaced, from the brass fanfares of the opening song, “America Is Your Boyfriend”, to the distinctly Beta Bandish groove of “The End”. Mason’s disregard for fashion is as refreshing: “Spanish Brigade” chugs along on palm-muted guitars that were last de rigueur in the halcyon days of 1980s new wave. It’s rare for an artist to be making their best music 20 years into their career, the point at which most are simply trying to echo past glories. But Steve Mason has pulled it off. ~ MICHAEL HANN
About the Light out Jan 18th

A* is born
It was every budding musician’s dream. In March 2016 Maggie Rogers was sitting next to Pharrell Williams, one of the most reliable hit-makers of the last two decades, in a studio at New York University, where she was a student. One of her songs was playing on the speakers. She and her classmates had been asked to compose some music for that day’s class but they didn’t know that Williams would be there, critiquing their work.

As he listened to Rogers’s irresistible pop, the mask of neutral concentration slipped off. “I’ve never heard anyone like you before,” Williams said when “Alaska” ended. He didn’t have any suggestions for how to improve the song, though he did have a question: “What’s your name again?”

That moment launched Rogers’s career. The video recording of the class went viral, “Alaska” racked up millions of views and Rogers landed a record deal. She’s never looked back. Now her debut album is out. Williams would approve. What he heard on “Alaska” was a young woman who had grown up playing the banjo grafting dance music on to her folky, singer-songwriter roots.

On Heard It In a Past Life, Rogers has allowed this new breed of pop to flourish. Her quicksilver voice, sounding notes of resolve, melancholy or sheer joy, channels a range of influences, from country to R&B and funk. Even more impressive, she always manages to sound like herself. ~ CHARLIE McCANN
Heard It In a Past Life out Jan 18th

To listen to a selection of songs from these reviews, search “spotify:user:1843mag” on Spotify