Carnegie Hall 2018 Review: Elīna Garanča In Recital

Latvian Superstar Dazzles & Seduces With Romantically Charged Recital

By Logan Martell

Mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, who recently opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2018-19 season with her role in Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah” took to Carnegie Hall with pianist Kevin Murphy for an evening of lieder, songs, and arias close to her heart and on the pulse of her prominent artistic career.

Featuring the works of Schumann, Wagner, Ravel, and more, the program of the night bore a spirit of Romanticism which was set alight by the Latvian mezzo-soprano’s passion.

Lieder from a Leading Lady

Starting off the evening was the lied “Dedication” from Robert Schumann’s cycle “Myrthen.”

Its excited rhythm saw Garanča dive right into the imagery of absolute love painted by the text, making for a highly-passionate beginning. This tempo slowed towards the middle of the piece as Garanča sang of casting away her sorrow, reaching a climax on the word “grief” in the phrase “Ich ewig meinen Kummer gab!” This sense of bestowing that built through the work was capped off with the purring vibrato she placed on the last words, “my better self.”

Next was the lied “The Walnut Tree” where Garanča treated the observational phrases with a sense of wonder. Rather than merely observing, however, her delivery showed a sense of interaction with her surroundings, as heard from the blissful tones she carried in describing the bend of trees to whisper secrets and kiss one another in pairs.

After the idyllic tone of this piece, the next, titled “Someone,” bore much deeper concerns. Similar to “Dedication,” “Someone” was centered on the burning love of someone for their beloved, but an unspecified fear turns the lied into a plea to the powers of love to protect the object of the narrator’s affection. The attention Garanča placed on the word “someone” or “jemand” highlighted the contrast between the pieces and created a feeling of growing distance between the narrator and her beloved, going from the specific “you” in the first piece to the more impersonal “someone” of the third.

This theme of growing distance seemed to be confirmed with the fourth piece, titled “Bride’s Song I.” Here, Garanča illuminated the narrator’s struggle in convincing her mother that her love for her groom has not altered the love she bears her. This attempt at persuasion was conveyed by Garanča’s sonorous climax to end the phrase “and kiss you, as he kisses me.”

This feeling of separation intensified in the final piece, titled “Bride’s Song II,” where she had to plead merely for her mother’s permission to be with her beloved. The last phrase “Let me cling to his chest,” bore a low dejection emphasized by Garanča’s mezzo-soprano voice, and her repetitions of “Let me” ended this selection of Schumann’s works on a sorrowful, but suspenseful note.

Next on the program was a selection from Richard Wagner’s “Wesendonck Lieder,” beginning with “The Angel.” Here, in telling of an angel who would exchange places in heaven with a suffering human on earth, Garanča displayed a gorgeous and expansive high note on the word “niederschwebt,” or “floats down,” that well-suited the heavenly descent found in the text. After the vocal line ends, the extended piano conclusion conjured up the ethereal and a soul at peace.

This journey into the cosmic continued with the next piece “Be Quiet!” where the accompaniment seemed to strongly roll through its chords. This lied began with bold, evocative language, which Garanča treated with a velvet authority in her voice. This call for the cessation of all heavenly powers soon took a softer tone and revealed the belief that the joining of one soul to another through love is what allows transcendence of nature into the divine. An effective technique came when the accompaniment ceased at the word “zeugen” or “invent” thus creating the silence from worldly cares so desired.

The next lied “In the Hothouse” saw a return to the observational phrases and natural of imagery heard earlier in “The Walnut Tree,” but the elevated language gave a sense of one who returns to a place of meaning after being made wiser by past experience. Garanča illustrated not only the beauty of phrases such as “High-vaulted crowns of leaves, canopies of emerald…” etc, but the sublimity of “the desolate, empty, horrible void.” This junction between the lovely and the lurid was also expressed through the repetitions of Major seconds in the accompaniment which led into the conclusion.

Last from this selection was “Dreams” which outlined the rapturous effects brought about by dreaming. Garanča treated each instance of the word “traume” or “dream” with a changing nuance that worked its way to the sudden departure in the text: “and then sink into the grave.” This piece featured a deliberately extended conclusion where the soft chords tapered out into silence, only to sound again and create the sense sinking ever-further as this idea repeated itself several times.

A Sensuous Second Half

Following the intermission, Garanča and Murphy returned to the stage, the former now dressed in a bold gown of red, with short sleeves and an unbuttoned collar.

The second half of the evening featured lieder from Maurice Ravel’s “Sheherazade,” beginning with “Asia.” This lengthier piece contained a deluge of imagery and ideas of Oriental fascination found in the Romantic period. After a more contemplative introduction, containing phrases such as “Listening to the perverse sea sing over an old, bewitching rhythm,” the faster section which followed quickly burst into a more chromatic, and Eastern, celebration upon the word “China.” Also from “Sheherazade” were “The Enchanted Flute,” and “The Indifferent One.”

Finishing up the program was the cycle from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s “Siete canciones populares espanolas.” The first piece, “The Moorish Cloth,” was a brief account of a sullied cloth, used as a metaphor for a woman being dishonored, and set to a jaunty but passionate accompaniment.

The second piece, “Whoever has a roof of glass,” saw Garanča patter through the accusatory words of the text, “I compare you to a coin that runs from hand to hand; which finally blurs, and, believing it false, no one accepts,” giving it a fiery capstone on the final word.

The third piece, “Asturian,” was highly languid, telling of a pained lover who, seeking solace by a green pine tree, only shares her heartbreak and causes the tree to join her weeping.

The seventh song, “Polo,” was a frantic conclusion to the program, featuring pained lyrics “I keep a… Ay!” which attempted to convey heartbreak.

Quenching the Fires

The deceptive ending of Tuesday’s recital found resolution with the three encore numbers Garanča delighted with.

First, was the Latvian song “Close Your Eyes and Smile,” which Garanča delivered with a joyous, lyrical quality. After this, Garanča announced her next encore number, the Habanera from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” “The next one,” began Garanča, “is the reason I have the red dress on!” drawing applause from the audience before Kevin Murphy began the number. Completely at ease, Garanca indulged in the lyrics with a flirtatious energy, and though there was no chorus, the chords set to their line “prends garde a toi!” carried enough power to match Garanča’s charm. Her final repetition of the chorus line was sustained on the word “garde” before finishing the phrase with a triumphant flourish.

While this aria easily could have made a fitting conclusion to the recital, there was one last encore to be sung; “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix,” from Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah.” Fresh from her run at the Metropolitan Opera as the titular vixen, Garanča used this final number to display not only power, but a bewitching tenderness that could melt the hearts of even the strongest men.


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