The recent performance of “Iolanta” at the Met was outshined by the high-spirited protests, accompanying Russian Conductor Valery Gergiev’s and opera singer Anna Netrebko’s performances in the West. Mariinsky theater musicians callously asked protesting Ukrainian artists: “When will you all die already [expletive]?” and exclaimed “Alaska will also be ours!” (play on words for the Russia’s distasteful annexation slogan, “Crimea is ours!”) Undeterred, protesters put on quite a show, inside and outside of the Met. Dressed in colorful costumes, they reenacted Anna Netrebko’s ill-fated donation to the sanctioned separatist leader, Oleg Tsarov.
While the protesters’ musical act and a political message was a resounding success, critics lambasted Gergiev’s barely-rehearsed productions. They were also far from impressed with Netrebko’s waning vocal chops. A review of “Iolanta” bemoaned her poor performance: “Maybe it’s sentimentality that’s kept this role in Netrebko’s repertoire, because at this point in her career neither her voice nor her stage appearance really suit the role of the sheltered, blind princess. Netrebko’s now rather mature looking and what’s more, acts mature. The youthful ebullience is no longer really there … Her voice has also changed. She always had a dark, rich timbre, but in this rather lyrical role one noticed a thickness to her voice that sounded matronly. It had a slight but persistent beat on sustained notes. Her pitch sagged. What was most surprising was how often she seemed to be pushing ... Tonight in the duet with Vaudémont (Beczala) and in the final wedding chorus she was hunched over, fists balled, screaming ... I’ve heard her in almost everything she’s ever sung at the Met and she’s never sounded this bad.”