by James Leonard
Karita Mattila, the forty-three-year-old Finnish soprano, just sang the title role in Salome at the Met. By the end of Salome's "Dance of the Seven Veils," in the words of the New York Times, Mattila stood "exultant, half-crazed, and completely naked." Mattila will presumably not be doing that when she makes her Ann Arbor debut at Hill Auditorium on Thursday, April 22. Instead, she'll just be singing Duparc, Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, and Dvorak. Whatever the thoughts of licentious local males, no one will be musically disappointed.
From her superb 1989 recording of Sibelius songs through her sumptuous 1999 recording of Strauss orchestral songs and her sublime 2001 recording of Janacek's Jenufa, Mattila has demonstrated her superlative qualities as a singer. Her voice is rich, full, and powerful. Her technique is supple and subtle. Her tone is voluptuous from top to bottom, with no sharp shifts and no hard edges. Her interpretations are intensely expressive but always nuanced and supremely refined. Mattila has the strength, the sensitivity, and the musicality to sing anything she wants and sing it spectacularly.
What will Mattila sound like singing Duparc, Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, and Dvorak? As a born and bred Finn, Mattila has the music of Sibelius, Finland's great composer, in her veins. Still, it is difficult to anticipate her current Sibelius from her 1989 recording, because her voice has changed so much since then. Until the early 1990s, Mattila's voice was fresh and attractive, but also much lighter. Since then, her voice has lost some of its freshness but has gained immense power and depth. While the 1989 recording was lovely, one suspects that her current Sibelius singing will be of an entirely different order of magnitude.
One can only imagine what Mattila's Duparc, Rachmaninoff, and Dvorak will be like. Duparc's chansons are filled with an exquisite ennui and decadent sensuality. Rachmaninoff's songs are suffused with melancholy despair and sexual longing. Dvorak's Gypsy Songs are strong and healthy, with robust tunes and joyous lyrics. Given Mattila's recent performance, one might guess that she'll be in the mood for Duparc and Rachmaninoff. What she'll do with Dvorak is anybody's guess. But we can assume she'll do it wearing all her clothes.
[Originally published in April, 2004.]
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