Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana
Roberto Abbado, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2016
With her album Revive, Latvian mezzosoprano Elina Garanca widens her repertoire to Verdi and Verismo and explores the torments, joys and passions of «strong women in moments of weakness; women who nevertheless regain their equilibrium and their inner strength».
Revive collects fourteen arias from 19th century operas, for the major part from the Italian and French repertoires with the addition of an aria from a Russian opera (Marina’s aria from Boris Godunov). Garanca explains the choice of these arias in consideration of the fact that «in the Italian repertoire there are very few roles where the mezzo-soprano plays the role of a young woman. […] There’s no question that I do have a certain affinity for the French repertoire; after all, there is a much greater number and much wider range of roles in that repertoire for mezzo-soprano, parts that generally portray younger women involved in complex story lines. And ultimately I am convinced that the lyrical aspect of my voice comes out to its best advantage in the French repertoire». Revive includes aria from very well-known operas as Cavalleria rusticana, Adriana Lecouvreur, Don Carlo, Samson et Dalila, La forza del destino and Werther and less famous operas as Les Troyens, Hérodiade and Mignon to end with two rarities as Leoncavallo’s La Bohème and Saint-Saëns’s Henry VIII.
From a general point of view, the first thing to be noticed is that Garanca shows here her usual, elegant phrasing and her beautiful, crystalline voice with burnished timbre, so that it is clear from the very first note that her voice is valuable, strong not only technically speaking, but also in the modulation and virtually nothing troubles her or makes her performance clumsy or ungraceful. Everything from this side justifies Garanca’s acclaim as international interpreter and it is worth mentioning precious passages as the wonderful finale of Les Troyens (Ah! Ah! Je vais mourir), in which Garanca’s voice fades magisterially and naturally disappears behind the orchestra, the thrills in Don Carlo (Nel giardino del bello), the refined vocal line of Samson et Dalila (Samson, recherchant ma presence) and the anxious beginning of Adriana Lecouvreur (Ecco, respiro appena – Io sono l’umile ancella) and many other fine things of this kind.
The real problem is that Garanca’s singing, although flawless, is cold as usual and sometimes her temperament contrasts with that of vivacious characters as Preziosilla (Rataplan, rataplan, rataplan) and the lively Eboli of the aforementioned Nel giardino del bello. Marina, the only Russian role of Revive, is portrayed as an indisputably royal character, but she is better portrayed in her initial boredom rather than in her next élan, although she preserves her majestic attitude. What is worse is that sometimes nothing distinguishes one character from another. It seems that Garanca has found a vocal line which is melodious and elegant (this is out of question) and has decided to apply it to everything she sings, from Berlioz’s Les Troyens to Leoncavallo’s La Bohème. After two or three pieces, the impression to listen again and again to the same aria is unavoidable and in this regard Roberto Abbado’s direction is plain and quiet and does very little to improve the situation.
Among Garanca’s best performances, it must be numbered Santuzza’s aria from Cavalleria rusticana, Voi lo sapete, o mamma, an aria to which Garanca reveals a particular attachment in the booklet notes («my first dramatic verismo role, […] marked my branching out into new, challenging territory» and later: «firstly because that role is one of the new ones that I have been singing in concert in every possible variation and combination: the big chorus scene with the prayer, the aria as a matter of course, the duets – with a tenor, and then with a baritone. All that is missing now is a performance of the entire opera»). Garanca’s Santuzza is characterized by spontaneity, inner strength and richness in expression.
Revive is not a failure and many nice moments can be found in it, but if on the one hand Garanca’s beautiful voice and solid technique allows her to excel in the performance of the arias, on the other hand her lack of characterization prevents this to be a really authoritative album.