Anna Netrebko is one of the few Deutsche Grammophon artists whose CDs are guaranteed a local release in this country.

The label's Rufus Wainwright opera, along with high-powered new recordings by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and pianist Daniil Trifonov, seem fated to remain in import catalogues.

However, such is this soprano's star status, that even a box set of an obscure Tchaikovsky opera, Iolanta, with her in the title role, may well be nestling in your local CD shop, just a few shelves away from Dave Dobbyn.

Judging from the cover of Netrebko's latest release, Verismo, you might imagine she's been caught in a particularly flamboyant production of a baroque opera, with a feathers and headdress combo that would be the envy of the Priscilla set.


But can this diva assoluta manage to lay bare the sad souls of Puccini's Cio-Cio San and Liu? You can sense a challenge being undertaken in this project and, for some, this gorgeous Rolls-Royce of a voice might not quite do justice to the essential vulnerability of such heroines.

Netrebko is much more convincing when she deals out fire and passion as Floria Tosca and is at her very best in the mercurial moods and emotions of Maddalena's iconic aria from Giordano's Andrea Chenier.

The most substantial offering on the disc is the final act of Puccini's Manon Lescaut, well timed with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra choosing this score for next year's Opera in Concert.

In this massive, 20-minute duet, there's a welcome chemistry added with husband Yusif Eyvazov playing an ardent Des Grieux. Conductor Antonio Pappano and his Academy of St Cecilia Orchestra, superb throughout the CD, excel themselves here, not only in some great, surging climaxes, but also with the vibrant and vivid woodwind colours that introduce Netrebko's heartrending "Sola, perduta, abbandonata."

What: Anna Netrebko, Verismo (Deutsche Grammophon)
Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Russian soprano thrills but doesn't always touch the heart