(Marina Poplavskaya, como Elisabeth, em Don Carlo)
Como referi, por ocasião da minha apreciação da récita, este soprano não me levou por aí além, mas - caro e fiel leitor -, no trecho Tu che le vanità, tivemos Mulher!
É muito chic desdenhar estes talentos, ditos meteóricos. Nos anos 1950 - nos inícios da década, note-se! -, em meios mais snob, havia um ar de enfado quando se falava d'A Grega... Há uns bons anitos, a Netrebko era uma "boazuda que cantava umas coisitas, e pouco mais". Eu próprio já embarquei nestas tiradas, está bem de ver!
O que importa - creio - é saber dar a mão à palmatória, reconhecendo a mestria das criaturas que se destacam.
Agora, honestamente, apontem-me dez Poplavskayas!? Eu conheço muito poucas... Esta, por enquanto, é para manter debaixo de olho... É que a última que desdenhei tornou-se - para mim e para o mundo - num monumento!
«“The world dreams of seeing a real-life Cinderella,” Ms. Poplavskaya (pronounced puh-PLAHV-sky-uh) said in a recent interview backstage at the Met. “They hope you were washing floors when Luciano Pavarotti came by, and then a miracle happened.” If her onstage persona is opaque but impulsive, her conversation seems tinged with a very Russian fatalism, disillusionment and sense of the absurd, sometimes bone dry, sometimes contemptuous, sometimes wildly amused.
Her double-header as the Met’s reigning pinch hitter began last month in “Don Carlo,” originally directed by Nicholas Hytner two years ago at Covent Garden in London. Angela Gheorghiu had been expected as Elisabeth of Valois, a pawn in the dynastic politics of France and Spain. But late in the game she withdrew, deeming the part a poor match for her voice.
The plum fell to Ms. Poplavskaya, who accompanied the show to New York. In his review of “Don Carlo” for The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini noted that hers was not a “classic Verdi voice.” Yet he praised her “luminous singing, beautiful pianissimo high notes and unforced power,” adding, “Somehow the cool Russian colorings of her voice brought out the apartness of the character, a young woman in a loveless marriage in a foreign land.”
For her encore Ms. Poplavskaya now assays the prima donna’s Mount Everest: Violetta Valéry, the consumptive Parisian courtesan redeemed by love in “La Traviata.” Conceived at the Salzburg Festival five years ago as a vehicle for Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón, whose chemistry was then at its most sizzling, the production was a triumph in the flesh and on DVD. Ms. Netrebko, in particular, riveted all eyes and ears, the epitome of star-crossed glamour in her black bob and sick-rose-red cocktail dress. For Salzburg scalpers, it was a windfall, with black-market tickets changing hands for thousands of euros.
Would the production by the German director Willy Decker work in America? There was room for doubt. Mr. Decker confines the action to a bare chalk-white arena dominated by an oversize Swiss railway clock, peppering his take on Verdi’s Paris with distasteful Teutonic touches like kewpie doll Violetta masks for a hostile chorus and a leering Popeye lookalike (yes, male) in a knockoff of Violetta’s red dress. Still, who could blame the Met for wanting to recapture the sensation? So the Salzburg “Traviata” was duly booked forNew Year’s Eve 2010. Since the production was announced, Mr. Villazón, plagued by persistent vocal malaise, has vanished from the lineup. Worse, Ms. Netrebko, 39, dropped out, leery of competing with the ghost of her younger self on DVD.
So the Met wrangled Ms. Poplavskaya, who in the meantime has scored a big hit with the Decker “Traviata” in Amsterdam, taking home the artist-of-the-year award from the Society of Friends of the Netherlands Opera.
Unlike her American counterparts, who like to insist on the power invested in the abused women they so often portray, Ms. Poplavskaya sees the world through the prism of a people who have lived through one crushing regime after another: “I’m always a victim, torn between a mad tenor and a crazy baritone,” she said. “But not only sopranos are victims. In life we all are victims.”
If this is your point of view, one answer is to expect nothing, take your lumps and keep grabbing your chances, as Ms. Poplavskaya seems to have a genius for doing. When the crown that a colleague in a recent Met “Don Carlo” had to place on her head settled at an angle, she simply straightened it. “I’m a daughter of Catherine de Medici,” Ms. Poplavskaya said merrily when reminded of the incident. “She taught me well to keep the crown on my head, not off. If someone puts it on crooked, I must crown myself. I’m ready for anything.”
It seems it was ever thus. A headstrong 9-year-old, Ms. Poplavskaya presented herself unescorted at an audition for the children’s chorus at the Bolshoi Theater and made the cut. Her grown-up career began at the New Opera Theater in Moscow, as Tatyana, the impulsive provincial of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” who grows up to become a wiser but sadder princess in St. Petersburg high society.
Returning to the Bolshoi Ms. Poplavskaya took on an eclectic repertory that included, in English, Stravinsky’s light, lyric Anne Trulove in “The Rake’s Progress” and, in German, Wagner’s gale-force Senta in “The Flying Dutchman.” Seeking broader exposure she presented herself at the Academy of Young Singers at the rival Mariinsky Theater, in St. Petersburg, but the audition she hoped for with the company’s general and artistic director, Valery Gergiev — an international star-maker — never came about.
“They always told me he was very busy,” Ms. Poplavskaya said. “I only survived at the Mariinsky a few months. The only reason I came to St. Petersburg was to sing for Gergiev. But if I had, nothing else would have turned out as it did.”
Overqualified as she was, she gained entry to the young-artists program of the Royal Opera Covent Garden. The company promptly put her on the main stage as the Third Norn in Wagner’s six-hour “Götterdämmerung,” a part that clocks in at perhaps six minutes. Then things started happening.
It was around that time that Ms. Gheorghiu reconsidered “Don Carlo” and that Ms. Poplavskaya at last got to sing for Mr. Gergiev, at the Met, while rehearsing for her house debut as Natasha Rostova in Prokofiev’s “War and Peace” in December 2007. Though originally assigned to the second cast, she was bumped up to first.
Adding octane to Ms. Poplavskaya’s ascent The New Yorker has just published a profile of her under the title “Travels With a Diva,” by Gay Talese. His account begins with a naked, feverish Ms. Poplavskaya lying motionless on the floor of her mother’s Moscow apartment, felled by heat prostration and smoke inhalation. (After the article was published she told me that she had actually suffered a heart attack.) Thousands of words later, after vignettes worthy of a latter-day Dostoevsky — Ms. Poplavskaya ferrying a luggage cart across 22 lanes of Buenos Aires traffic, Ms. Poplavskaya carefully handing a stunned maître d’ two flies captured in an empty glass — Mr. Talese signed off with the image of the five-inch, red patent-leather pumps she will wear on New Year’s Eve as Violetta.»