We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Elina Garanča
With undeniable artistry the stunning mezzo Elina Garanča took possession of the stage of Carnegie Hall and invited us into her world, and what a world that was!  Her all German program happily focused on the 19th century with a brief excursion into the early 20th c. but with the same flavor of German Romanticism that we cherish.

Five songs from Myrthen, Op.25 opened the program; all were composed during Robert Schumann's most creative period.  He had just won a lawsuit that enabled him to marry his beloved Clara and presented  a bound volume of these songs to her on the day before their wedding.  There is a strong feminine emphasis therein and Ms. Garanča sang them with great delicacy.  At this level of accomplishment the artist is expected to excel in musianship and the intelligent use of her instrument and Ms. Garanča completely lived up to our expectations, and then some.  What is unique to her is her total comfort onstage and her special way of inhabiting each song as if she herself were composing it on the spot.

For us, the highlight of the program was Schumann's Frauenliebe und leben, Op. 42.  In this heartbreaking song cycle, the text by Adelbert van Chamisso describes the phases of a young woman's infatuation, engagement, marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and early widowhood.  Several of our feminist friends have found the poetry offensive but we are able to see the work in its context and within the limitations of early 19th c. womanhood.  What is remarkable is Schumann's ability to distill all the varying emotions represented in the text and Ms. Garanča's ability to interpret these feelings.  Each song became an aria, not surprising because of the singer's success on the opera stage.

We have always found Alban Berg's music to be rather inaccessible but his Sieben frühe Lieder, composed when he was barely out of his teens and studying with Arnold Schoenberg, are replete with Late Romanticism, somewhat reminiscent of Mahler's.  We have become completely taken with "Die Nachtigall" and cannot get the melody out of our head.  And for us, that is a good sign!  That Mr. Berg later tried to disown these songs matters to us not at all.  Ms. G. made as much sense of the text as she did of the music and we plan on giving them all a good listen in the near future.

The final set on the program comprised a half-dozen of Richard Strauss' youthful songs, all written when he was courting Pauline de Ahna.  They are juicy songs, just dripping with youthful passion.  We especially enjoyed "Allerseelen", setting of a text by Hermann von Gilm, and "Heimliche Aufforderung", an invitation to a secret rendezvous, with text by John Henry Mackay.  Perhaps Mr. Mackay was fluent in German because the poetry scans and rhymes beautifully.

There were two encores but we didn't catch their identity.  One was likely by Brahms and might have been "An di Nachtigall" and the other was a lovely Latvian folk song.

It is extremely difficult to create a feeling of intimacy in a hall the size of Carnegie Hall and an artist of this caliber could not be presented in a small hall and still accommodate all her fans.  That being said, she created far more intimacy than most.  We found her accompanist Kevin Murphy to be somewhat lacking in his involvement with her.  We are accustomed to collaborative pianists who seem to breathe in tandem with the singer.  Mr. Murphy's pianism was more enjoyable during preludes and postludes when one could appreciate his involvement with the music; but he didn't seem to be totally in sync with the singing.

© meche kroop

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