The OPERA NEWS Awards: Elına Garanča
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The OPERA NEWS Awards: Elına Garanča

Elīna Garanča has already secured her place in opera history, and she may just be getting started.
by Adam Wasserman. 

ON Awards Garanca hdl 416
© Paul Schirnhofer/DG
ON Awards Carmen sm 416
As Carmen at the Met, 2010 © Johan Elbers
ON Awards Garanca Charlotte sm 416
As Charlotte in Werther at Wiener Staatsoper, 2013
© Michael Poehn/Wiener Staatsoper

FOR NEW YORK audiences, the emergence of Elīna Garanča’s Carmen from the cigarette factory in the 2009 Met premiere of Richard’s Eyre’s production signaled a star approaching her zenith. With a chilling nihilism at her Gypsy’s core, Garanča sang the habanera while washing her legs and slurping juice from an overripe orange before tossing out a “Prends garde à toi!” that seemed the vocal equivalent of an assassin’s flicking open a switchblade. It’s nearly impossible for a singer today to take on the role and not come out on the losing side of memory. Yet with her glamour, impeccable musicianship and an instrument of uncommon loveliness—plummy and plush in the middle, with a dazzling, silvery thrust at its top—Garanča proved to be the most compelling exponent of the role that New York audiences had heard in nearly two decades. 

Not yet forty and now in the second decade of her career, the Latvian mezzo has established herself as one of the most gratifying performers on the opera stage today, leaving an indelible stamp on characters ranging from Carmen and Charlotte to Sesto in Clemenza, bel canto heroines such as Angelina, Rosina and Giovanna Seymour to Strauss’s Octavian. Garanča’s talents would make her a star in any century, yet her voice and movie-star good looks seem tailor-made for our Live in HD era. But perhaps the mezzo’s greatest strength is her ability to render a cantabile line of such overwhelming beauty as to make time stop.

Look no further than the DVD documenting her Cenerentola to get a sense of how completely realized her performances are. With other mezzos in the title role, the opera can seem a two-and-three-quarter-hour warm-up to “Nacqui all’affano.” While Garanča’s rendition of the final aria is as poised and virtuoso as that of any singer, her traversal of the entire role is remarkable; from first note to last, she gives a performance that is deeply affecting and yet somehow seems to fly by in an instant. 

Garanča’s Sesto, seen at the Met in 2012, is likewise perfectly measured, so astounding in its instrumental purity that the mezzo achieves an eerie symbiosis with the basset clarinet in “Parto, parto.” Equally impressive is the DVD documenting the Wiener Staatsoper’s Anna Bolena. Watch how Garanča creates a Giovanni Seymour so riveting and gorgeously sung that she seems just as entitled to the throne as Anna Netrebko’s queen. In terms of sheer refulgence of tone, the powerhouse high C that she and Netrebko brandish in unison at the end of “Va’, infelice, e teco reca” simply has to be called a draw. 

Throughout her career, Garanča has shown herself to be a performer who uses all of her vocal and dramatic resources in service of the subtlest gesture, so it’s not happen stance that the French repertoire has become central to her career. Roles such as Dalila, Anita in La Navarraise, Léonore in La Favorite and Didon in Troyens seem to be Garanča’s destiny. When great artists peak, new summits have a way of revealing themselves. Elīna Garanča has already secured her place in opera history, and she may just be getting started.  —Adam Wasserman 

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