Elīna Garanca Takes New York
Robert Schumann: Myrthen, Op. 25: 1. “Widmung”, 3. “Der Nussbaum”, 4. “Jemand”, 11. “Lieder der Braut aus dem Liebesfrühling I” & 12. “Lieder der Braut aus dem Liebesfrühling II”
Richard Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder
Maurice Ravel: Shéhérazade
Manuel de Falla: Siete canciones populares espanolas
Elīna Garanca (mezzo-soprano), Kevin Murphy (piano)
E. Garanca (© Karina Schwarz/DG)
Fresh from her well received run as Camille Saint-Saëns’s tempting priestess in the Metropolitan Opera’s season opening new production of Samson et Dalila, the exciting mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanca took on an ambitious recital program that spanned French, German, and Spanish art songs. After her triumphant solo program two seasons ago and departure from her now retired performances as Octavian in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, her future direction invited speculation.
It was impossible for this concert’s program to center around anything other than Wagner’s captivating five-song cycle of music composed to his own lyrics for Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of a well-to-do silk merchant who supported Wagner financially and opened his home to the composer and his unbalanced first wife while Wagner worked on the early installments of the Ring of the Nibelung and early phases of Tristan und Isolde. The extent of Wagner’s closeness to Mathilde cannot be conclusively proved, but this is only because they spent large amounts of time together in her boudoir with the door closed, an environment that was probably not restricted to discussing music. Wagner’s dismayed wife eventually spilled the beans to Herr Wesendonck. Despite the merchant’s determination to remain on friendly terms with Wagner, the impossible situation caused the composer to decamp to Venice, where he continued writing Tristan in a forlorn mood. This chronology, and the music itself, has led the songs to be read as a precursor to that opera, a transcendental tale of impossible, adulterous love, but this is mistaken. Fundamentally, they are about a hopeful flow of longing, the type of longing one might expect from a besotted adulterer yearning for the best possible outcome for a love he probably believed to be pure.
Wagner scored the songs for a generic “female voice,” meaning that they are not restricted to the soprano repertoire with they are commonly identified. Indeed, tenors have respectably sung them. But without the bloom of the high dramatic voice that dominates Wagner’s operas, they tend to sound more pallid than the ear appreciates. Although Garanca cannot be faulted on any technical grounds, this was the effect she produced. A more effective choice would have been to focus on more French songs in the mode of Ravel’s three selections in performance, which were the evening’s most enjoyable selections. Set to texts by the French poet Léon Leclère, who weirdly wrote under the fractured Wagnerian pseudonym “Tristan Klingsor,” they capture love in all its mystery and exoticism. “Asie,” the best of the three resounded with marvelous harmony as it explored the depths of the Asian continent, though Garanca blasted out the high note on the word “haine” (“hate”) in a rather unattractive yelp.
The Schumann songs that opened the concert sounded well enough, but Garanca seemed a bit too playful in de Falla’s set of Spanish popular songs, of which there are seven despite the program’s mistranslation of their title indicating only six. The first encore, a Latvian song by Jāzeps Vītols identified only after its performance, was prettily sung but seemed lost on an audience that lacked any appreciable number of Latvian speakers. The second and third encores, the Habanera from Carmen and the signature aria “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson et Dalila, resounded with the lyrical mezzo voice Garanca’s instrument has so capably delivered on the operatic stage. Kevin Murphy substituted for Malcolm Martineau in fine piano accompaniment.
Paul du Quenoy