NEW YORK — Already one of the most famous singers in the world, Anna Netrebko claimed a new title at the Metropolitan Opera: The prima donna become “three-ma” donna.
When the Russian diva launched the Met season in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” last month, it marked her third consecutive opening night — a milestone no soprano has ever reached in leading roles.
The streak began in 2011 in Donizetti’s tragic “Anna Bolena” and continued last year with a comedy by the same composer, “L’Elisir d’Amore.” She scored in both operas, though the first stretched her vocal abilities to their limits and the second seemed like something she had outgrown.
In “Onegin,” she returns to her Russian roots, singing in her native language at the Met for the first time since her 2002 debut in Prokofiev’s “War and Peace.” Tatiana, the heroine of the Tchaikovsky opera adapted from Pushkin, is a fascinating creation who grows from an impressionable young woman rejected by the man she adores to a sophisticated married noblewoman who rebuffs the same man’s belated passion.
The role seems an ideal fit for Netrebko’s large, luscious voice, glamorous looks and luminous stage presence (as critics agreed when she premiered the role in Vienna earlier this year).
Yet she said Tatiana has proved an acting challenge because she finds the heroine behaving differently from the way a woman would in today’s world.
“I’m a girl from the 21st century, and I would do everything opposite,” Netrebko said.
During the interview, Netrebko twice made a point of apologizing for having dropped the “F-bomb” in an Opera News interview. She was rather bluntly expressing her view that a modern-day Tatiana would surely have an affair with Onegin once he finally declares his love.
“I received angry letters about it,” she said. “What I meant was that in our time it would be very hard to lose your love. Who would say no? If you have such strong feelings, there is a way to be together.”
To get in touch with Tatiana’s sensibility, Netrebko said she tries “to remember nobility, sincerity, honor, sacrifice — all those words which we are not using anymore much.”
There’s a political controversy hanging over the opera production. Some activists used the performance to protest against laws in Russia restricting the rights of homosexuals. (Both Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev were public supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s re-election last year.)
The Met issued a statement deploring “the suppression of equal rights here or abroad,” but saying it would be inappropriate to use the performance for a political statement. Netrebko responded to the controversy on her Facebook page without mentioning Russia but declaring: “I have never and will never discriminate against anyone.”
“Some people said I have to say more,” Netrebko said, “but that is the maximum I can say right now.” Then, leaning over in a conspiratorial whisper, she added: “In my next life, when I will be a politician, we talk!”