Anna Netrebko, dressed in a figure-hugging wedding-style gown, looks tearful at the end of her love duet. She gazes into the eyes of baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the crowd of 7,500 goes wild.
Russia’s two biggest opera stars are performing for the first time in Moscow’s Red Square close to the Mausoleum where the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Lenin, lies embalmed.
They sing Verdi, Puccini and Tchaikovsky, bringing the audience to a stunned silence with the despairing aria from “Eugene Onegin.” The two had performed it in April at the Vienna State Opera as Tatyana and Onegin. Now they are making history with a rare cultural event in the square best known for its military displays and marching boots.
“It’s my homeland,” Netrebko tells a packed news conference before the concert. “It’s a great privilege to perform in such a place.”
Front-row tickets were sold for as much as $1,100 for the show, which is also broadcast in Russia, France and Germany.
The singer, 41, who made her debut on the world stage at the Salzburg Festival in 2002 in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, is usually seen at the Metropolitan Opera, London’s Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and Milan’s Teatro alla Scala these days. She’s never performed at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.
“We are diplomats for Russia around the world,” Hvorostovsky, 50, says in the press conference. “It’s an honor and a responsibility.”
Silver-haired Hvorostovsky sports a dark-blue jacket with a silk lapel over a black shirt. An animated Netrebko changes outfits three times over the course of two hours, first appearing in a strapless blue silk gown with bare shoulders and finally a light colorful summer dress covered with prints.
With her dark long curls playfully bouncing on her back, Netrebko twirls and claps as she plays Silvia’s part from Emmerich Kalman’s opera.
In the finale, Hvorostovsky, in a black shirt without a jacket, sings “Dark Eyes,” one of the most famous Russian romances. The audience on June 19 responded with a long standing ovation.
Hvorostovsky and Netrebko end the evening holding hands during a passionate duet of “Moscow Nights.” Some of the spectators, including women dressed in jewels and elegant dresses, join in the singing.
Police block off the square with barricades for the event and guests enter through metal detectors. The concert was to have featured a special guest -- President Vladimir Putin. He’s instead in his home town of St. Petersburg to host an investment forum and hold talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
When Hvorostovsky performed in Red Square in 2004 -- the first time an opera singer had sung a concert there -- Putin brought President Hosni Mubarak with him, the now-deposed Egyptian leader, who’s in jail as he undergoes trial.
A year earlier, Putin danced in the front aisle as Paul McCartney performed “Back in the USSR” in a landmark concert in Red Square by the former Beatles singer and songwriter.
Netrebko, who has dual Austrian-Russian nationality and lives in Vienna and New York, was one of about 500 prominent Russian personalities who campaigned for Putin when he ran for election last year to extend his more than decade-long rule after facing mass protests.
Last month, after performing at a gala concert marking the opening of the Mariinsky’s new opera house in St. Petersburg attended by the Russian leader, Netrebko delivered a letter to him praising his role as a guardian of moral values.
Netrebko and Hvorostovsky, whose voices boomed across the cobblestones, devote the first half of the two-hour show entirely to Verdi, whose 200th birthday is being celebrated this year.
“It’s a magical feeling in Red Square,” Hvorostovsky tells reporters.
(Henry Meyer and Ksenia Galouchko write for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include London and New York weekend guides, Jeremy Gerard on New York theater and Lewis Lapham on history.