Habe Dank

The last major concert of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival was a recital by Finnish soprano Karita Mattila and pianist Bryan Wagorn.  Talk about ending on a high note.  This was an exceptional performance by a mature artist at the height of her powers. In her mid-fifties, she is starting to transition to older roles.  For example she will sing Kostelnička, rather than the title role, in her next Jenůfa.  She has really acquired an ability to darken her voice which she used to great effect, especially in the set of Sallinen songs she sang after the interval but she hasn’t lost the vocal qualities that made her a star.

karita_mattila_002_2001_lauri_erikssonThe first half of the concert was actually quite straightforward.  She gave us three sets of songs; Brahms, DuParc and Sibelius (the last mostly to Swedish texts).  She walked on, she sang – beautifully, she walked off.  The audience seemed in awe.  One could hear a quiet intake of breath between songs in a set but otherwise as quiet as I have ever heard a hall in Toronto.  She spoke not a word and her gestures were few but she held the audience as if a trance.

The second half was even better.  The four songs by Aulis Sallinen were sung with an intensity and a brooding darkness that made one feel lost in an Arctic night.  Then she switched to Strauss and the voice was back to the youthful Mattila; shimmering, gleaming, a sound of great purity and beauty.  And it was Strauss.  She also got steadily more intense and more physically active as she worked up to a barn storming version Frühlingsfeuer that brought the house down.  Standing ovations have become a pretty debased currency in Toronto but this one felt genuine, long and loud.

Back for a first encore, a clearly drained singer gave us a beautifully straightforward and simple Zueignung. Hackneyed?  Perhaps but it gets me every time and this was no exception.  By now she was relaxing and playing a bit with the audience as well as clearly moved by the reception and she ended things up with a Finnish song that, as best I recall, translated as something like “Hope shines the day” written to commemorate the end off the Winter War.

So, an exceptional evening with a true diva at the height of her musical and interpretive powers.  It doesn’t get much better.  Habe Dank.

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8 thoughts on “Habe Dank

  1. It was spellbinding for certain. Something very earthy about her sound and delivery. Hard to put into words. She started out as quite a full lyric soprano I think but now is risking it and moving into a more dramatic sound and delivery. There were many highlights last night but the Sibelius songs for me were probably those most affecting.

    • It was the second half that really got me though the Sibelius was great too. I guess I’d never realised he set so many Swedish texts! I’m still slightly in that kind of emotional hangover one gets when a performance is really affecting.

      • And isn’t it the greatest feeling! There were several truly great moments – I guess if I had to choose it would have been the final Strauss song – I mean really, who sings that way these days??? I also appreciated the fact that despite a certain degree of diva-ness [her outfits!] she was honest enough to, in a slightly self-mocking way, display afterwards, how much physical and mental energy it takes to sing a song like Strauss’ Wiegenlied. As audience members, we sometimes forget, faced with such beautiful singing, that it’s really a intellectual/athletic feat we’re witnessing.

  2. Mattila is a goddess. Fortunate enough to have seen her as many times as I have, recitals as well. If you can find it I recommend a live recording of a recital in Helsinki from 2007. She has the audience in the palm of her hand from the moment she starts singing. Even as an audio only experience (though I believe there is a dvd) it’s hypnotic and the velvety beauty of her middle register was at it’s peak. I was nervous she was no longer really functional vocally but lately it seems that she’s gotten her groove back. I look forward to seeing her Ariadne this season at covent garden and I hope she returns to the met soon.

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