In the L.A. Opera’s recent production of “Manon,” Netrebko updated the 18th-century French courtesan to a starstruck 1950s teenager trying to impersonate the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Gina Lollobrigida, Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. Despite having grown up in communist Russia, the diva, whom the New York Times recently called “the Julia Roberts of opera,” didn’t find the acting challenge a major stretch.
“When my mother was pregnant with me, she saw ‘Roman Holiday’ and named me Anna, which is the name of the princess played by Audrey Hepburn,” says Netrebko.
Hepburn’s turn in a 1964 Oscar winner loomed even larger. “Of course, ‘My Fair Lady’ was the big one,” she recalls. “I saw it as a young girl and — this was before perestroika — the speaking lines were in Russian translation with subtitles for the songs. It’s easy to fall in love with those melodies and beautiful costumes. Russians love Hollywood musicals. They were a huge influence, but it was rare to see them. When they were on TV, the streets of Kasnodar would be empty,” she says of her hometown.
Netrebko has been awarded new opera productions throughout the world and just released a CD, “Russian Album.” On her nights away from the opera house, she takes in the occasional movie tuner.
” ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ has beautiful music, but it’s a never-ending story. I’d shorten it,” she says. More impressive is “Chicago,” which offers not one but two femme fatale roles.
“I don’t think I’m a Roxie,” says the soprano. “I think I’m more the other one, Velma.”