Sempre Libera - the second solo disc in a seven-year contract with the Deutsche Grammophon label - finds Anna Netrebko digging impressively into a substantial portion of the Italian repertoire, with particular emphasis on the bel canto genre she has claimed as her own.
In the mad scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, this exceptional Russian soprano negotiates coloratura with confidence and a firm understanding of its emotional import. The result conveys the heat of a night in the theater, not to mention the particular qualities of tone, taste and temperament that have marked Netrebko for stardom.
(As a welcome bonus, she is accompanied by the glass harmonica Donizetti originally wanted for this scene. Its Twilight Zone sound, very rarely encountered on disc, adds greatly to the atmosphere.)
There is strongly communicative singing in scenes from Bellini's La Sonnambula and I Puritani. In a few places, Netrebko sounds a little pushed, a little unsteady, but she phrases with unerringly elegant instincts.
Two Verdi excerpts have their rewards as well. The high notes and some florid moments in the Act 1 finale of La Traviata are not quite effortless or beautiful, but the soprano imparts the character's conflict effectively.
Claudio Abbado, whose authoritative conducting gives the whole disc added quality, talked Netrebko into singing Desdemona's Willow Song and Ave Maria from Verdi's Otello, an opera the essentially light soprano is not likely to sing onstage anytime soon. She rewards Abbado's faith with a stylish, touching performance.
Puccini's O mio babbino provides a pleasant, if interpretively bland, encore.
A responsive chorus and quartet of adequate singers provide support in some of the excerpts; the Mahler Chamber Orchestra plays sensitively throughout.