- Iolanta, opera, Op. 69
Tchaikovsky's final opera was the one-act lyric drama "Iolanta," which was planned as a companion piece to the "Nutcracker." However, the immensely popular ballet eclipsed it, and today the opera is rarely performed or recorded outside Russia. Yet this live concert performance on Deutsche Grammophon will certainly bring the work greater attention worldwide, thanks to the star power of Anna Netrebko, who has performed the role of the blind princess in Salzburg and Baden-Baden, making it a vehicle for her unique talents. She is joined by a strong Russian cast, which includes Sergei Skorokhodov as Count Vaudémont, Alexey Markov as Robert, and Vitalij Kowaljow as King René, and the orchestral support of Emmanuel Villaume and the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra lends the performance rich tone colors and fine details. While Netrebko's name recognition is the chief reason most western listeners will notice this recording, her singing provides the best reason to hear it. Netrebko's commitment to making this opera better known -- indeed, making it her own -- is reflected in her passionate performance, which is immediate and thrilling, and she imbues the music with intense emotion that is moving and memorable. The audio is exceptional, even by Deutsche Grammophon's high standards, so the orchestra's sonorities, dominated by woodwinds, are reproduced with vibrant sound. But above all, the audio gives Netrebko presence and warmth, so this is required listening for all of her fans and curious newcomers.