Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča’s voice has only been growing in power and weight since she first came onto the scene in 2001, unaccountably missing out on the top prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Now, several albums later and with many role successes at the Met and Royal Opera under her belt, she returns with a new recording and a new sound.
Well, perhaps not entirely new. Garancˇa has been heading towards this heavier repertoire for a while, trading her signature bel canto for Verdi, verismo and the swoonier French 19th-century repertoire. Scenes from Samson et Dalila and Werther are inevitable, but arias for Eboli, Santuzza and Didon (let alone Marina’s Skuchno Marine… from Boris Godunov) feel more exploratory, more like first steps in a new journey. No Amneris or Azucena yet, but Garanča’s programme note makes clear that it’s only a matter of time.
The theme underpinning this wide-ranging collection of scenes and arias is an interesting one: strong women at moments of crisis. It’s not a concept that reduces very tidily to a tagline, but musically it amounts to an album of beautifully managed contradictions. Garanča finds the girlish frailty in Santuzza as well as her power in an exceptional Voi lo sapete, o mamma, and mines all the mature emotional indulgence of Charlotte’s Va! Laisse couler mes larmes.
A shard of emotional light peeks through for Eboli’s Moorish song with colourful contributions from the chorus and Jennifer O’Loughlin’s delightfully brittle Tebald, but for all-out beauty it’s hard to beat the endless legato of Garanča’s Connais-tu le pays, even if consonants do tend to get sacrificed for the greater good. Conductor Roberto Abbado draws plenty of swagger and surge from the Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana, though both they and Garancˇa herself feel more at home in Massenet and Saint-Saëns than Mascagni or Leoncavallo.