“A star of the first magnitude,” Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča takes center stage in New York this fall. On September 24, she headlines her first season-opening gala at the Metropolitan Opera, making her house title role debut in a new production of Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila opposite her frequent co-star Roberto Alagna, with whom her final performance on October 20 will be transmitted “Live in HD” to cinemas worldwide. Then, three days later on October 23, she returns to the main stage of Carnegie Hall for a lieder recital with pianist Malcolm Martineau.
This return to the American spotlight comes at a transformational moment in Garanča’s career. Already responsible for creating signature portrayals of many of the most iconic roles in the mezzo canon, now she is transitioning away from the lyrical trouser parts of her youth and into darker and more dramatically demanding fare.
The change reflects the remarkable maturation of her voice. “There are few voices as sheerly lovely as hers,” confesses the New York Times. The Telegraph affirms: “Her voice is a gorgeously plum-coloured, velvet-upholstered instrument of awe-inspiring smoothness, power and flexibility, matched to a powerhouse technique and highly intelligent musicality. Her lower register is quite magnificent.”
The mezzo herself told Opera News: “Because my voice wants to develop and go into different repertoire, it’s time for the younger generation to take over the boys’ parts. It’s a good time to move on. I have just a different color now – richer, rounder, more profound.”
Over the past two seasons she has already tackled three major new roles – Saint-Saëns’s Dalila, Verdi’s Eboli (Don Carlos), and Mascagni’s Santuzza (Cavalleria rusticana) – and looks forward to adding a fourth, Berlioz’s Didon (Les Troyens), in the New Year. Selections from all four roles may be heard on Revive, Garanča’s fifth and most recent solo title for Deutsche Grammophon, with which she has recorded exclusively since 2005. A collection of arias drawn from the great Romantic repertoire, the album celebrates some of the most powerful and complicated women in opera.
Met title role debut in Samson et Dalila (Sep 24–Oct 20)
It was earlier this year that Garanča made her title role debut in Samson et Dalila opposite her frequent co-star Roberto Alagna at the Vienna State Opera. “Elīna Garanča triumphs,” declared Austrian broadsheet Die Presse. “There are only a few interpreters in each generation who meet the requirements of the title roles. The State Opera now has the perfect pair.” For her second appearance in the role, she and the tenor reunite under Sir Mark Elder’s leadership for the Met’s new, season-opening production of Saint-Saëns’s opera, which is the creation of Tony Award-winner Darko Tresnjak. The opening-night gala represents the first time the mezzo will have launched the Met season; although she was scheduled to do so in 2011, when she would have co-starred with Anna Netrebko in Anna Bolena, she withdrew from the production because she was pregnant with her first daughter, who was born that winter.
Garanča does, however, boast a long and illustrious history at the Met. Since making her company debut ten years ago, as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, she has accrued a string of successes at the house, many of which – like the upcoming production – were selected for transmission “Live in HD” to cinemas around the globe. Highlights include her appearances in the title roles of Carmen and La Cenerentola, and as Sesto in La clemenza di Tito, all of which were subsequently featured on PBS TV’s “Great Performances at the Met.” More recently, last year she gave her triumphant farewell performances at the house in the one-time signature role of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, opposite Renée Fleming. As Opera Wire observed: “Garanča is one of the great superstars in the opera world; her technical prowess and superlative dramatic abilities are among the finest there are right now. She reminded everyone of this very fact with arguably the most exhilarating performance of the night.”
Carnegie Hall recital (Oct 23) and concert (June 14)
The mezzo has likewise enjoyed a long association with New York’s Carnegie Hall. She made her first appearance at the venue in 2010, taking part in a concert performance of Massenet’s La Navarraise at the Opera Orchestra of New York’s 40th-anniversary season-opening gala. Three years later she made her New York recital debut in Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage, where she gave a second recital last year and looks forward to two more appearances this season. First, this fall, she returns to Carnegie’s main stage in company with Malcolm Martineau, for a recital of lieder by Wagner and others. This program also takes the pair back to London’s Wigmore Hall (Feb 17), where, after a previous appearance, The Independent concluded: “The Latvian mezzo … delivers her recitals with statuesque grace, dominating as much by her regal physical presence as by the power and beauty of her voice; her artistry … is informed by an acute intellectual command of her material.”
Then, for her final engagement of the season, Garanča returns to Carnegie for Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the MET Orchestra (June 14).
Leading role debut at Paris Opera and other European engagements
The British recital is one of the many high-profile European engagements that round out the mezzo’s season. In the New Year, she makes her role debut as Didon (Dido) in Berlioz’s Les Troyens at the Paris Opera, where Dmitri Tcherniakov’s new staging also stars Bryan Hymel and Véronique Gens under the baton of Philippe Jordan (Jan 25–Feb 12). It was also in Paris that Garanča made two of her acclaimed recent debuts in more dramatic roles. Last year she gave her first performances as Princess Eboli in the company’s season-opening new production of Verdi’s Don Carlos, and two years ago she made her role debut as Santuzza in a Paris Opera staging of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana.
Next spring, she looks forward to reprising Santuzza at the Vienna State Opera (March 11–23), where she holds the title of “Kammersängerin,” an honor bestowed only upon the most distinguished opera singers in Austria. One of the youngest recipients of the award, she has given more than 140 performances in no fewer than 18 roles at the house.
In concert, the Latvian mezzo joins Riccardo Muti and the Berlin Philharmonic in Baden-Baden for Verdi’s Requiem (April 14 & 20), which she previously recorded with Daniel Barenboim at La Scala, and undertakes a six-city German tour of French, Spanish, and Italian repertoire with the NDR Radio Philharmonic (May 17–May 26). Highlighted by their sold-out date at the Hamburg International Music Festival in the new Elbphilharmonie (May 19), the tour is one of several upcoming collaborations with her husband, conductor Karel Mark Chichon, under whom she also appears with Budapest’s Hungarian State Opera Orchestra (Feb 25) and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra (June 4).
About Elīna Garanča
Elīna Garanča was born into a musical family in Riga, Latvia, where her father was a choral conductor and her mother a singer, who taught her at the Latvian Academy of Music. The mezzo continued her studies in Vienna and the United States. A finalist in the 2001 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, in 2006 she was honored with the European Culture Prize and in 2010 she won both Musical America’s “Vocalist of the Year” and MIDEM Classical’s “Singer of the Year” awards. Married to conductor Karel Mark Chichon, with whom she has two daughters, Garanča is the subject of the award-winning documentary Primadonna on Rollerskates (2002). Her own memoir, Wirklich wichtig sind die Schuhe (“The Shoes Are Really Important”), was published by Austria’s Ecowin Verlag in 2013; she explains, “My feet must feel free so that my soul and voice can soar.”