domingo, agosto 04, 2013

Karita Mattila brought theatrical song to the Colón

            Eighteen years ago the Colón was the stage for one of Sergio Renán´s greatest successes as Artistic Director of the theatre: a starry production of Verdi´s "Simone Boccanegra" with three great artists making their debuts here: baritone Jose Van Dam, bass Ferruccio Furlanetto and a young Finnish soprano, Karita Mattila. Now she was finally back in a recital for the Mozarteum Argentino, again at the Colón, accompanied by specialist Martin Katz. It was a fascinating night (repeated for the second cycle  two days later).

            In full, radiant maturity, Mattila still keeps her important vocal means. She is a lyric soprano capable of dramatic moments, what the Italians call "spinta", meaning the capacity to give full color to individual phrases with volume and intensity. Mattila is a tall blonde of strong personality, and in recent years she has been particularly effective in operas that demand psychological insight and instant adaptation to various moods, such as the Janácek heroines. It would be quite a treat to appreciate her as Emilia Marty in "The Makropoulos Case".

            She is also a remarkable linguist. Finns start by having two languages, Finnish and Swedish; English is indispensable in an international figure, and the three main opera-producing countries are Italy, Germany-Austria and France. She adds Czech for Janácek and Russian for Tchaikovsky.  In this programme she sang in six languages, always idiomatically.

            She started with a selection of Brahms Lieder. To make her rentrée after so long a time is daunting, the Colón is huge, and a recital with piano shows the artist in full exposure. So even a seasoned artist may take a while to be at her best (it often happens in these occasions). There were tiny fissures: some white notes, a timbre not quite settled. Nevertheless there was much to enjoy; I single out the famous "Wiegenlied" and the long narrative "Von ewiger  Liebe". The initial "Meine Liebe is grün" felt a bit uncomfortable, and the funny "Vergebliches Ständchen" lacked some lightness.

               I welcome a group of three "chansons" by the admirable Henri Duparc, who left us only a dozen songs and the valuable symphonic poem "Lénore" (still awaiting its premiere here) before a lamentable neurological condition cut short his career at 36; sad in a long-lived man (1848-1933). So what we have is the best of Late French Romanticism. The chosen by Mattila showed his wide range and sensibility to the poems: "Chanson triste", "Au pays où se fait la guerre" and "Phidylé". She did them beautifully.

            Then, a surprise: we were wrenched from the world of "chanson" to that of "verismo" opera in the most dramatic of all arias in Puccini´s "Manon Lescaut": "Sola, perduta, abbandonata". This is the sort of anguished music that Callas gave with astonishing truth, but I have rarely heard it live with such range of expression and vocal quality as offered by Mattila: her low notes sounded like a contralto but her highs were very firm and expansive. This farewell to life was given to us by a great singing actress and with the same dramatic gestures as if she were in a staged version.

            After the interval, an expected specialty of the singer: three songs by her great compatriot Jan Sibelius. The first, "Illalle", in Finnish and strictly syllabic in style. The other two in Swedish (most of this composer´s songs are in that language, for the western coast of Finland has always had a deep Swedish influence): "Varen flyktar hastigt", on the typical Romantic subject of Spring, and "Flickan kom", a love story. She delved with natural affinity into every detail of these lovely songs.

            Antoni Dvorák dominated the last part of the programme with an operatic aria and seven songs. First, the "Song to the moon", tender, lyrical music from his opera  "Rusalka", unfortunately never given here, though this aria is heard from time to time. She sounded here at her plangent best, sweet-toned, with involving line.

            And then, the splendid "Gypsy songs", from which Nº 6  is very famous: "Songs my mother taught me". They are as interesting, beautiful and contrasted as Brahms´ "Ziigeunerlieder", plus the characterful Bohemian touch one associates with Dvorák, a wonderful melodist. Here the  versatile Mattila did what for me was a first: she sang barefoot!  The songs alternate between contemplative, slow pieces, and others with a clearly danceable quality, and their texts refer to the gypsy love of freedom and nature. It was quite a feat of expressive histrionics to offer them so uninhibitedly.

            The encores: a Finnish tango ("Satumaa" by Uato Monomem, 1955) in which she danced a few steps, and a creamy, lovely "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi".  Twice she talked to the public: after the Sibelius threesome, where she referred to the composer and  the two languages, and later announcing the first encore. She seemed comfortable and happy, kept near her a huge flower bouquet and touched the stage with her hands.

            I dedicate the last paragraph to my homage to Martin Katz, for he is certainly one of the best accompanists I have ever seen in my rather long life. He has been here before, each time with magisterial command of the keyboard but something even more attractive: an infallible sense of style and a full, rich sound. What a team they made, Mattila and him! I left the theatre elated.

For Buenos Aires Herald


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