When last we met Elina Garanca, she was opening the Metropolitan Opera season as Delilah, in the Saint-Saëns opera. (There is a Samson too, let’s not forget. And others.) I reviewed that evening here. Last night, Garanca sang a recital in Carnegie Hall. Kevin Murphy was at the piano—and there’s my problem. He’s a dear friend of mine. So I can’t review the recital, properly.
Do I review other things properly?
That tart question aside, I will confine myself to a series of notes about last night’s recital, which may be of interest.
(1) The program, the repertoire, was first-rate: five songs from Schumann’s Myrthen, Op. 25; the Wesendonck Lieder of Wagner; Ravel’s Shéhérazade; and de Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas. An evening of great music makes a difference, a positive difference (no matter the performance, although a good or great performance of course helps).
Manuel de Falla may be the least of the above composers, but (a) the competition is stiff and (b) those seven songs are probably the best thing he ever wrote (though you will get votes for El amor brujo—and for The Three-Cornered Hat, probably).
(2) At some voice recitals, there are supertitles, as in opera houses. Is that a right way to handle this issue? The issue of texts, or poems, or lyrics? Is it better than having people look at their programs? I think maybe. Better to have faces looking up than to have them buried in programs. But I go back and forth on the issue.
(Last night, there were no supertitles.)
Elina Garanca’s sound last night, as on most nights, was warm and enveloping—with a bit of fuzz in it (pleasant fuzz).
(3) As I mentioned, the recital began with five songs of Schumann. Last summer in Salzburg, there was a recital that was all-Schumann, comprised of thirty Schumann songs, lasting an hour and a half (no break). (For my review, go here.)
Can Schumann bear it? Is he good enough for an evening of song, devoted only to his songs? Yes, yes. No problem. What a genius, what a songwriter.
(4) Garanca’s sound last night, as on most nights, was warm and enveloping—with a bit of fuzz in it (pleasant fuzz). (You could also call this a “burr.”) There are Mozart mezzos. Blood-and-guts Italianate mezzos (who portray Azucena, Eboli, et al.). Nuits d’été mezzos, if you will. Elina Garanca is hard to pigeonhole, having a voice that can do sundry things. But is she especially suited to Les Nuits d’été? Oh, yes.
(5) Old question: Should you sing song like opera? Or opera like song? It depends. One thing I appreciated about Garanca last night is that she was not too consciously “song-like.” If a song required some heft and some swell—some volume, some abandon—by golly, she gave it.
In other words, music is music (mainly).
(6) After each song in all of the sets, or cycles, people applauded. This never stopped, all night long. Garanca never acknowledged this applause; neither did she do anything to stop it, or even curb it. This is a ticklish situation. What do you do?
Some people put a hand up—cautioning “No, no, not here.” On at least one occasion, Jessye Norman had someone come out and make an announcement: “Don’t do it!”
As I say, the issue is ticklish.
(7) A fellow critic once said to me, “You know, New Yorkers consider themselves terribly sophisticated, but they applaud between songs and movements constantly. I’m not sure they do this in Des Moines.” Good point.
(8) Often, Garanca had music before her, on a stand, and really looked at it, really read it. The notes or the words? I have a feeling that singers often like to have music nearby for the words.
(9) How do you like your Wesendonck Lieder? Sung by a soprano or a mezzo? I think I prefer a soprano—but I’ll take a good mezzo over a poor soprano, of course. Wagner says specifically that these songs are “for female voice.” But Melchior, the tenor, sang them. So does Jonas Kaufmann.
I honestly don’t think Wagner would mind . . .
(10) I had a thought while Garanca was singing “Träume,” the last of the Wesendonck Lieder. As I recall, they played this song at the funeral of Walter Legge, the British record producer. They played a recording by Schwarzkopf, his wife.
Great song (from a great, immortal, cycle).
(11) The Wesendonck Lieder are sometimes considered studies for Tristan und Isolde. In all likelihood, Garanca will never sing Isolde, being a mezzo, not a soprano. But. But. Mezzos sometimes sing the Liebestod. (Ludwig did, for example.) How about Elina G.?
(12) Last week, I was in Chicago and stood before Orchestra Hall. Etched into its façade are five names, suggesting a pantheon: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner. While looking at the façade, I thought, “Wagner? Really?” While listening to the Wesendonck Lieder last night, I thought, “Really.”
(13) Garanca in French music: She is a famous Carmen, of course. And she has recently been doing Delilah. Long ago, I heard her in the aforementioned Nuits d’été, with the Vienna Philharmonic, led by her fellow Latvian Mariss Jansons.
(14) Daniel Barenboim once said of Artur Rubinstein, “He was a Frenchman in French music; a Spaniard in Spanish music; a Russian in Russian music”—and so on. Rubinstein was cosmopolitan, adaptive, universal. A singer must be this way too. (It certainly helps.) Garanca has this quality in abundance.
(15) You know what’s weird? I’ve thought of a dog not barking. I have never heard Garanca in Russian music, that I recall. And she grew up close to Russia (too close for comfort, as far as most Latvians, and most Balts, are concerned).
(16) Speaking of dogs and barking: During the Falla song “Asturiana” last night, a dog barked, at length. Or maybe it was a phone whose ring was a dog barking. Anyway: bark-o-rama.
(Usually it’s tenors in Wagner who bark.)
All night long, Garanca was almost never off pitch. Singing hundreds and hundreds of notes, she was almost never off pitch.
(17) When you listen to those Falla songs, you can’t help thinking of Victoria de los Angeles and Alicia de Larrocha. I also thought of Hunter College, not far from Carnegie Hall: because de los Angeles and de Larrocha gave a famous Spanish recital there, made into a recording. Hunter College used to have a prestigious concert series. What happened?
(18) At the end of “Nana” (Falla), Garanca did some beautiful, first-class humming.
(19) At the beginning of “Polo,” she executed an ultra-earthy “Ay!”
(20) These Falla songs: Do they not have something in common with Carmen, at whose title role Garanca is so good?
(21) All night long, Garanca was almost never off pitch. Singing hundreds and hundreds of notes, she was almost never off pitch. This makes a huge difference, in the effect of a vocal recital. Even when people don’t notice flatness or sharpness—they do, in a way. Their ear pricks or winces or wonders.
(22) Garanca’s first encore, as usual, was a Latvian song. A heads-up: The Latvian Radio Choir is coming to New York on November 13. They’ll sing in the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin on West 46th Street. Baltic people, in general, are very musical, and they are especially known for voice. (The Estonians, for example, staged what was dubbed “The Singing Revolution.”)
(23) Announcing her second encore, Garanca said, “Now you’ll know the reason I’m wearing a red dress!”—whereupon she sang the Habanera from Carmen. She sang it with due panache. It was sultry, fiery, and delicious.
(24) She closed with Delilah’s main aria, “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix”—and sang it consummately. What a great piece, by the way, a great aria: Saint-Saëns reached a height. Any composer—any—would have been tickled pink to have written it. There is scarcely a better example of love music. That sensual chromaticism gets under your skin.
(25) Elina Garanca sang a superb recital—vocally, technically, and interpretively. Kevin Murphy played a superb recital—doing what the composers wanted, in each instance. I must not review the recital. But it’s true, I promise.