She is the most famous soprano in the world and he been described as the “New Callas.”

Anna Netrebko has left audiences spellbound from the New York Met to Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater, where she began her career mopping the stage.

Yet there is little of the distant, aloof diva about the Russian opera singer, who regularly shares pictures of herself and her family with her near half million Instagram followers.

Having had to pull out of her Bayreuth debut in Wagner’s “Lohengrin” because of exhaustion a month after cancelling a performance in Salzburg, Netrebko posted pictures of herself on holiday in Azerbaijan earlier the week, herding sheep and hugging village women.

Her 10-year-old son Tiago also regularly stars in her feed, mugging to the camera in a Steppe warrior’s helmet or helping make pizzas in a restaurant.

Netrebko is equally frank about Tiago’s autism and her pride at his progress.

Nor is her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov, with whom she is due to return to the stage at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin at the end of August, ever far as the soprano shows off her impressive wardrobe of dresses and hats.

There are sneak peeks too behind the scenes at rehearsals and she also shares her passion for food, with recipes for pork and black beans, radish risotto and her new favourite, Piti or Azerbaijani slowed-cooked lamb with yellow plums.

“I post what I see without any thoughts, any opinions,” Netrebko said in Vienna, where she lives.

“It is my life, it is what I am seeing around [me] and my life is wonderful,” said the singer, who was discovered by the conductor Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky, where Netrebko worked as a janitor to make ends meet while she was a student at the conservatory.

‘Documentary’

She insisted that her feed was “like a documentary for me, not for anyone else. I am not showing what I am thinking, my troubles, my dramas.

“I never show my actual life, what you see on Instagram is just photos,” she added.

Netrebko is now regarded as arguably the best lyric soprano on the planet, a master of both the Russian and bel canto styles as well as big dramatic roles like Puccini’s Tosca.

Yet she was born into a modest Cossack family in the North Caucasus city of Krasnodar.

“I always knew that I was going to be a performer no matter what – the voice appeared later,” she said.

Conductor Gergiev, whose roots are also in the Caucasus region of southern Russia, quickly spotted her talent and became her mentor after taking over the Mariinsky, which was known as the Kirov during the Soviet era.

Although Netrebko’s acting was rather limited, to begin with, it has deepened over time. What was never in doubt was her stellar voice, which has got even richer and more powerful over the years.

That power is a rare commodity in opera that is getting even rarer now.

“Now it’s more ‘easy-breezy’, it is a bit about pleasing the public, showing off,” the 47-year-old said.

“Television microphones do not show the size of your voice. Not all of the young and beautiful singers can sing in big theatres.”

Productions

Opera may now be “everywhere thanks to streaming”, Netrebko pointed out, “and you can do lots of interesting productions, but I think it’s missing a little bit the old-school strong singing.

“Very few remain,” she said.

“It is a hard job, not everybody can do it … You have to have talent and lots of brains and lots of strength.”

And the punishing schedule imposed on the top stars is infernal, Netrebko admitted just before she was forced to take a break herself.

“I will work until I can’t [do it] anymore,” she said as she prepared for a gala performance with Eyvazov at the Orange Festival in France last month, which was also canceled.

Like many Russian stars, Netrebko has found herself in hot water politically as the chill between Moscow and the West has become frostier.

In 2014, she controversially gave a separatist leader in Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk region a cheque for a million rubles (US$18,700) to keep the city’s opera-going after Kiev withdrew funding.

And two years ago she was caught in a blackface row over agreeing to wear dark makeup for Verdi’s “Aida” at the Salzburg Festival, a practice that is being questioned more and more in opera.

“Even if I don’t want to be political, they try to drag me into politics,” Netrebko said.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, there is no doubting her genius, according to Peter Gelb, the head of New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

“If she were living in the 1960s, she would be as big as Maria Callas, she is that kind of singer. She is a miracle of an artist,” he said.

– AFP