New Classical Tracks: Beautiful singing

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
July 14, 2009

St. Paul, Minn. — "Bel canto" means beautiful singing, and that's exactly while you'll hear on this new collection of opera arias featuring Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca.

Garanca hand-picked each piece, choosing some familiar and some not-so-familiar arias from three of the greatest Italian composers of the first half of the 19th century: Gaetano Donizetti, Gioacchino Rossini, and Vincenzo Bellini.

At age 32, Garanca says she is still a young singer by operatic standards, and she has no interest in pigeonholing her voice.

"My voice is as it is," she said, "and I'm trying to guide it the way that I feel it wants to go."

Right now, her effortless coloratura is perfectly suited for the bel canto repertoire represented on this new release.

So far in America, Elina Garanca has worked exclusively at the Metropolitan Opera where Rossini has been her specialty. On this recording, she offers three gorgeous pieces from Rossini's "Tancredi," based on Voltaire's tragic play.

The cavatina, "Di tanti palpiti," became popular in the concert hall as well as on the opera stage. The beauty of this piece is accentuated by Garanca's delicate precision, and elegant phrasing.

A dynamic trio from Rossini's opera, "Maometto II," is one of my personal favorites on this new collection. In bel canto, being a mezzo-soprano sometimes means you're cast in trouser, or male roles. Elina Garanca is a young general named Calbo, in this story of political intrigue and romance. She's joined by Ekaterina Siurina and Matthew Polenzani.

One reason this opera is rarely heard is because it's so demanding for the performers. The emotional stakes are high for these three singers, who offer a riveting performance.

Last year Anna Netrebko and Garanca appeared in Bellini's "Capulets and the Montagues" in Vienna, singing the roles of Juliet and Romeo in Vienna to critical acclaim. That performance was recorded and recently released. We hear a few highlights from that opera on this disc.

Garanca's warm, rich mezzo-soprano offers a sad confession in Romeo's first aria, "Se Romeo t'uccise un figlio." Here, Romeo is disguised as a messenger as he delivers somber news to Juliet's father -- he, that is, Romeo, has accidently killed the patriarch's son.

Donizetti's tragic opera "Maria Stuarda" is based, loosely, on the historical conflict between Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth ponders over a difficult decision as she sings, "Ah! Dal ciel discenda un raggio." In this aria, Garanca demonstrates her dramatic intensity, and incredible musical range.

For this new recording, "Bel Canto," Garanca examined dozens of autograph manuscripts, carefully thumbing through page after page to choose the music that would best fit her voice. Her painstaking selection process paid off.

This recording with Roberto Abbado and the Filarmonica del Teatro Comunale de Bologna is filled with gorgeous operatic arias, duets and ensemble pieces. In years to come, this new release will stand out as one of Elina Garanca's most accomplished recordings.


Elina Garanca -- Bel Canto (DG 12818)

Roberto Abbado -- Filarmonica del Teatro Comunale di Bologna

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