New Classical Tracks: Romantic Fare from a Mezzo

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
February 12, 2013
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Her father was a choral director, her mother sang Lieder, so you might find it surprising that Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča did not initially have her parents' support when she decided to pursue a musical career. Today, she graces opera stages around the globe. After taking time off last year for the birth of her first child with her husband, conductor Karel Mark Chichon, she's back on the stage, and in the recording studio. She recently released her sixth solo CD, Romantique, where she portrays some forgotten heroines, and one hero, of the Romantic repertoire.

"All of the stories in this CD are about love," Elīna explains. "Love and duty, hidden love, love that one wants to have but can't have, and all of the consequences that come out of that. The first thing was, I went to the Juilliard music store and I just picked up the albums of different mezzo arias and I was looking through them and I said, oh my God, what beautiful music!"

Elīna Garanča has yet to play the role of Delilah, in Samson and Delilah, the most famous opera by Camille Saint-Saens. However, she definitely wants to add it to her repertoire. She offers a preview of what she would bring to this character in the famous aria, Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix.

"Some people like it stronger, some people like it more romantic, some people think white bed sheets and red roses. Some people like black sheets and just to have one white rose. I always say — I'm not 55, and I'm not 45. I'm 36, so my way of approaching is maybe a little bit more romantic rather than sensual or very erotic, you know. It will all come. I don't like to sell too much too soon."

Nicola Vaccai was a 19th century Italian opera composer whose remembered primarily for his textbook on bel canto singing. He also composed an opera based on Shakespeare's, Romeo and Juliet. The aria featured on Romantique, is sometimes used as a replacement to the finale in Bellini's opera, The Capulets and the Montagues. Here, Elīna takes creative liberties as she sings the role of Romeo who's admiring the beauty of Juliet, even after her death.

"You know, the second time when it comes back, its variations and it's obviously up to the singers' freedom, as it very often was when people just went crazy and put whatever ornamentations and variations into that. It's obviously to show each other's capacity and the understanding of the style. It is interesting to be creative in that moment, you know, and I was trying also to be. It is very, very cute and very sweet, indeed."

Hector Berlioz's opera The Damnation of Faust, based on Goethe's dramatic poem, was composed originally as a quasi-oratorio, and is most often heard today in concert performances. In the aria, D'amour l'ardente flamme, Marguerite, who's been seduced by Faust, is longing for his return in the fourth act.

"Berlioz's music in general is very difficult and complicated because he very often writes different measures in the orchestra in comparison to the voice," Elina explains, "It's a lot of intonation difficulties, chromaticisms and jumps and free tones. The orchestration is very rich and full and colorful and it changes a lot, so it is a big challenge. This aria borders on the limit, actually, because it's so rich and quite long. It's a big scene.Emotionally, also very, very devouring. It really goes deep into your soul."

On her latest release, Romantique, Elīna Garanča can reach deep into your soul with her long lyrical lines, her rich, chocolaty voice, and her ability to artfully portray some of the forgotten heroines, and one hero of the Romantic repertoire.

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