Soprano Anna Netrebko withdraws from Royal Opera's Norma

Setback for company after Russian star pulls out of production saying her voice has ‘evolved in a different direction’

One of the world’s leading sopranos has pulled out of the Royal Opera’s autumn production of Norma because her “voice has evolved in a different direction”.

Anna Netrebko released a statement on Tuesday giving her reasons for what the company admitted was a frustrating late withdrawal.

It is the second time the Russian star has pulled out of a Royal Opera production in which she was making her debut in the role. Two years ago Netrebko withdrew from the role of Marguerite in Faust, announcing the part was not right for her.

Norma, with its famous aria Casta Diva, is one of opera’s most challenging roles for sopranos with the bar set by Maria Callas, who sang it 89 times in the 1940s and 50s. Joan Sutherland, Lilli Lehmann and Rosa Ponselle were also associated with the role

In her statement Netrebko said she first planned the project four years ago with the Royal Opera’s music director, Antonio Pappano. “As I have begun to prepare the role, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion my voice has evolved in a different direction,” she said.

“It pains me greatly to disappoint him, the Royal Opera House, and audiences in the UK. Knowing that tickets will soon go on sale and not wanting to mislead anyone, I feel I must now be honest with myself as an artist and make this very difficult decision.”

The debut of the 44-year-old prima donna in Norma was to be one of the highlights of the 2016-17 Royal Opera season.

Kasper Holten, the company’s director of opera, said: “We are, of course, very frustrated that Anna has felt it necessary to cancel a major role debut with us for the second time. We have done everything we can to avoid this situation.

“While we regret that her withdrawal has come at such a late stage, we do respect her decision and understand how difficult this is for her as well. We are sorry for the disappointment this may cause some of our audience.”

Pappano said a new Norma would be announced shortly. “I am of course saddened not to be doing this iconic opera with Anna. We had planned this project around her ambition to take it on some time ago but we all have to accept that things sometimes change. After all, it is a hugely challenging role.”

Despite the frustration and disappointment, Pappano said he and Netrebko did have other plans for her return to Covent Garden, “in particular one of the major roles in which she has recently triumphed”.

Tickets were yet to go on sale for the production and other cast members Joseph Calleja, Sonia Ganassi and Brindley Sherratt would, said Holten, be in the rehearsal room this summer.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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