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.
The 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.