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Anna Netrebko: Russian opera's 'sexy babe'

From Rosie Tomkins, CNN
  • Anna Netrebko is one of the world's most recognizable opera singers
  • The soprano has performed in major opera houses across the world
  • Her glamorous looks and bubbly personality have earned her a superstar status

(CNN) -- With her sumptuous voice and glamorous looks, Russian opera star Anna Netrebko is one of the most popular ambassadors of classical music today.

Discovered by maestro Valery Gergiev when she was aged 22, cleaning the floors of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Netrebko has grown to become one of the world's greatest living sopranos.

Since the Cinderella-like beginning of her career, the Russian diva has charmed audiences at major opera houses across the world, including New York's Metropolitan Opera, Milan's Scala and London's Royal Opera House.

Along the way, Netrebko's charm has helped her build a celebrity status rivaling that of a pop star. The 39-year-old soprano has her own music videos and is a global ambassador for luxury jeweler Chopard, while Playboy magazine has placed her in its "sexiest babes of classical music" list.

Netrebko opened up to CNN's Revealed about her first steps, her bubbly personality and how motherhood could transform her career.

Anna Netrebko: The modern face of Opera
Anna Netrebko: Diva turned mother
On stage with Anna Netrebko

CNN: How did it all begin, what was your first job in an opera house?

Anna Netrebko: Don't ask me to tell you about cleaning the floors -- it wasn't really a job. We were young, we wanted to spend a lot of time in the theater. It was very easy for us to watch performances -- opera, ballet, concerts -- we didn't have to pay for any of that.

Working there as a cleaning lady was very convenient. I worked for two years when I was in my first years of studying. That was enough.

CNN: Magazines like Playboy said you were sexy -- what did that say about the stereotypes of opera and how your image challenged them?

AN: This is very hard to say -- I would say if you cannot really sing, they will not take you seriously. They might bring you up to Mount Olympus for a few days but after that, if you're nothing you'll fall down. Your good looks and craziness will not help you in this particular profession because this profession is very serious.

There were a lot of people who said I didn't have a voice and I didn't have talent -- it's just a flash around me. But you know what? I took it in one ear and threw out of another one. How can you prove what you really are? You have to work -- that's what I did. I continued doing my photo shoots but I've always been very serious -- all my colleagues will tell you that.

CNN: How does your image help make opera more popular, more accessible?

AN: I don't know if I'm helping to bring classical music to a wider audience -- maybe, I don't know. But still, the audience has to learn to love classical music, not the image but the music itself; this is what's important.

Your good looks and craziness will not help you in this particular profession because this profession is very serious.
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  • Russia

CNN: You have a bubbly personality. Do you think that opera people feel you have to have a strict personality?

AN: No! I am who I am but of course there are responsibilities. I have to be careful -- I cannot party all night and then be destroyed for a few days because I practically don't have a few days to rest. There's very little time to get yourself together.

CNN: Why do you think you get picked to play these young roles?

AN: In opera, it's everything about the voice and possibility. I have a lyric soprano [voice] so I can sing certain roles and usually they are the young girls. If I had a dramatic soprano [voice] I would sing Tosca -- all these serious dramatic heroines.

CNN: When do you think you'll make the transition to older roles and how do you feel about it?

AN: Oh, I have to, soon. It's natural. My voice is changing and I also want to try something new. I don't know what happened to me, but I think after the baby my voice suddenly became big. Sometimes I'm reading critics saying the voice is too big, she has to do more dramatic repertoire.

Maybe this is what I'm trying to do, slowly, because if you move too fast you can destroy your voice. It's happened many times with lots of singers so I have to be careful.

CNN: Does the pressure ease off when you become a star?

AN: No, the pressure of being good at a performance will never go away. Because to go on Mount Olympus is one way, and fast, but to stay there is very hard. It's just a few years really, a few golden years of your career you can really stand at a very high level.

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this report.