Classical Archives Exclusive . . . A Conversation with Elīna Garanča

Classical Archives Exclusive . . .  A Conversation with Elīna Garanča

Elīna Garanča. Photo courtesy of the artist and BroadStage.

Upcoming Concerts in the U.S.

May 10, 2024, 7:30 P.M. BroadStage, Santa Monica, California. Elīna Garanča with Orchestra, Conducted by Karel Mark Cichon. BUY TICKETS AND LEARN MORE

June 14, 2024, 8:00 P.M. Carnegie Hall, New York. Yannick Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Soloists Elīna Garanča and Christian Van Horn in a concert performance of Bluebeard’s Castle by Bela Bartok. BUY TICKETS AND LEARN MORE

Classical Archives Exclusive . . . A Conversation with Elīna Garanča

The superstar mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča and Barry Lenson from Classical Archives recently discussed a wide range of topics, including her approach to singing coloratura, her love of Spanish music, and much more. Whether you are already a fan of Ms. Garanča or simply a lover of great singing, you will learn some amazing new things in this interview.

Barry Lenson: All of us in New York are looking forward to your concert performance of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle in Carnegie Hall with the Met Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin on June 14th. Your Bluebeard will be Christian Van Horn. Will this be the first time you have performed Bluebeard?

Elīna Garanča: Well no, in New York it will not be the first time. It will be after four performances of a production I’m doing in Napoli, coming up in a few weeks.

Barry: Bluebeard’s Castle is not exactly a contemporary opera. It premiered in 1918. Yet it still sounds amazingly modern. Are there special challenges in preparing the role of Judith?

Elīna:  I think that for somebody who is used to the typical, classical operatic world who is listening to Bluebeard for the first time, probably it’s kind of a shock. Because there are a lot of clashes, keys where you suddenly go from major to minor. But the more you listen, the more you like it.

It’s very interesting, rewarding and very exciting. The biggest problem is obviously Hungarian, and I have been working on it for more than a year now. It’s one of the biggest challenges for me in the last couple of years.

Barry: I have only seen one performance of Bluebeard, in English.

Elīna: Well you still have some time to pick up Hungarian!

Barry: When preparing a new role, do you work with the words first? How do you put it all together?

Elīna:  Well for Bluebeard I try to work with a recording. You try to search for a recording that’s supposed to be one of the leading ones. Preferably also in the original language. And even if it’s maybe not a very known singer but it’s a local native singer, it obviously helps. And while you are doing that, you also read the translation, so you understand what it is about. I accepted this role after I learned that there was also a production in Paris, which I saw. The production, I liked it very much and that helped in the final decision for me to accept this role in this production, which would be in Napoli. Since we are performing in a concert version of the piece in New York, that makes it easier.

Barry: Can you tell us a little bit about your early life and studies?

Elīna: My parents were musicians. I wanted to be an actress, but singing has thankfully worked out. I was very young when I left to work in a small theater in Germany. I was in the third year of my studies. And then it was always step by step, developing, changing theaters. I was in the ensemble in different theaters for nearly six years. Every time, starting really from the smaller roles until you earn the theater’s trust, and the public recognizes you.

I was a freelancer. I was building up my repertoire really slowly, step by step. I was very grateful, after investing a lot of time and money in teachers, to be able to develop the repertoire that I am singing. It was obviously a long road. You can’t just wake up and decide you want to do verismo, or Verdi or Wagner. It takes a lot of preparation and discipline and dedication and curiosity also for the task. And thankfully, it has worked out. Yeah, I’m rather content about that.

Barry: I think you certainly should be. You said your parents were musicians. Were they singers?

Elīna:  My father was a conductor, and my mother was a singer, actually a mezzo-soprano herself. They didn’t intentionally push me into music, knowing what this business can be. But mathematics and physics and history weren’t my strong side!

Barry: Well I think you made a very good choice. I was watching on YouTube your performance of “Non più mesta” from Cenerentola. I have never ever heard anyone sing coloratura so beautifully, and I have heard some of the “greats.” And I think that all our readers who are studying singing would kill me if I didn’t ask you how you think about how you sing those runs and florid passages.

Elīna: (Laughs) Well, thinking I would say doesn’t help. You need to have a lot, a lot of patience and repetitions and discipline of dedicating time every day for the coloratura. Now, there are different interpretations of how coloratura should be. And you know, a couple of the great singers might have a different technique and a different way of singing coloratura than I do. I don’t want to say that the way I do it is the right way.

It really is repetition. It’s hours and hours of making a group of notes, of singing them in different rhythmical combinations, very slowly. You are not supposed to sing it fast while you are learning and practicing it and rehearsing. After four or five days of doing it permanently slow, changing the rhythmical groups, changing the accents, changing the vowels, changing the words. Then you sing it once with the orchestra and the next day you go back, and you do it slowly again. It’s very, very time-consuming. But I believe it’s necessary to get your vocal machinery used to the height, to the tension, the trust of the muscles to be there when you need them, even if it’s very fast.

It’s not for nothing we are called athletes. I’d say the Rossini repertoire particularly is athleticism at its best.

Barry: That’s a wonderful answer, thank you. I have seen some singers over the years who are renowned as great coloratura singers. Their faces were moving around, there was tension. But you look so calm when you do it. I guess that explains it.

Elīna: (Laughs.) Well, thank you. Believe me, I spend many hours practicing.

Barry: Well, your work certainly shows. I have just a few more questions, since I don’t want to interfere with your family time. On your wonderful DGG album “When Night Falls,” you seem to have a particular love of Spanish songs, and you sing them so beautifully. Do you have a special relationship to Spanish repertoire?

Elīna:  Well, you could believe in reincarnation and believe that the world is an open space and the soul goes wherever it needs to travel, from lifetime to lifetime. I believe that probably in my previous life, I have been somewhere in Latino land. And at present, I also spend a lot of time in Spain, and I feel very much at home here.

I should also say that I don’t believe so much in geographical temperament, which would limit your being and your temperament to the place where you were born. I’ve met very hot-tempered Finnish people and some very dull and boring Italians. It’s really the personality of each individual. And I feel very at home here in Spain, due to my family relationship. My husband’s family lives in Spain, and I think the Spanish language has a lot of colors. And there is a certain way you carry your body, a way you carry your spine, a way you carry your persona, which I think very much suits me. In the beginning of my career, I was maybe a little bit provocative because of being the cold blond from the north with blue eyes, and there I was singing this rather temperamental music.

But for me it felt like something very close to my heart and fascinating for that matter. Because I am quite fluent now in Spanish, it makes it all much fun.

Barry: What is coming up for you now with new roles and new recordings for DGG?

Elīna: Well, “As the Night Falls” just came out. I’m thinking about which direction I would like to go, and what would be suitable also for me. And to make a 65-minute recording isn’t that . . . well it’s changed. And it has to be interesting for a wide group of people. So we are thinking of maybe making a single, in a pop music kind of way. You record maybe a piece or two pieces, but obviously, it has to reflect the repertoire that I’m doing on the stage and the roles that I’m doing.

When I was starting as a young singer, I always said that once I sang Cenerentola, once I sang Amneris, I could stop singing because I had reached the full spectrum. I never thought of Wagner, but Wagner has come to my life. As I am getting older, I am also thinking of which “Witches and Bitches” as you call them, could appear in my repertoire. I have started to think that maybe Ortrud from Lohengrin could be a good option to expand my repertoire. At age 50-plus, I could say that would also be very interesting, it’s very interesting to play her. And I’m still not bored with Eboli, Santuzza, or Kundry.

So you know . . . I need to reduce a bit of my activity, I’ll be very frank, because I have two daughters growing up who are now 10 and 12, and they always call the teenage years the period when they need people around.

Also, the song repertoire, and the song repertoire with orchestra, is something that I enjoy very much. And all of that takes time. It’s not the same at 47 as it was when I was 25!

Barry: I know you want to get back with your family now and have dinner. Is there anything else you would like to say to your American fans?

Elīna: I would like to say that I’m looking very much forward to coming back to Carnegie. Working with Yannick is a great pleasure. It’s always been. And to work with the wonderful Met Orchestra. I am also very happy to return to Carnegie Hall, with acoustics which I absolutely adore.

I am looking forward to presenting myself in, shall I say, a new vocal capacity. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Barry: And we are very much looking forward to it too. Thank you for this wonderful conversation and opportunity to talk with you.

Elīna: Thank you!

About Elīna Garanča

Elīna Garanča was born into a musical family in Riga, Latvia. She began her professional career as a resident artist with the Südthüringischer Staatstheater in Meiningen, followed by the Opera in Frankfurt am Main and Wiener Staatsoper, in each theatre appearing in numerous leading roles.

Since then, Elīna has established herself as one of the music world’s major stars through her performances with leading opera companies and symphony orchestras around the world. She has captured critical and popular acclaim for her beautiful voice, intelligent musicianship, and compelling stage portrayals.

Among other roles, she is particularly famed for her portrayal as Bizet’s Carmen which she has sung in the majority of leading theatres, like Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía Valencia, or Metropolitan Opera to critical acclaim; the NY Times named her “the finest Carmen in 25 years…”. The Met Carmen production was broadcasted in more than 1,000 movie theatres worldwide and is one of the most viewed and successful “Live in HD” performances of the Metropolitan Opera.

Recent highlights include the debut at the Bayreuth Festival in the role of Kundry, becoming the first Latvian female singing at this prestigious stage, the long-awaited dream role debut of Amneris in Verdi’s Aida at the Wiener Staatsoper and the Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert with Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin, streamed in over 30 countries live and broadcast in more than 80 countries. In 2023/2024 season will Elīna star at various festivals and galas throughout Europe, Asia, and North and South America.

In September 2005 Elina became an exclusive artist with Deutsche Grammophon (DG). Her first solo recording ‘Aria Cantilena’ was released in March 2007 to great popular and critical acclaim. Two of her previous albums (‘Romantique’ and ‘Meditation’) both won an ECHO Klassik award. Her album ‘Sol y Vida’ was released in May 2019 and has been unanimously praised by the critics: “Garanča’s selection of flamboyant Mediterranean and Latin American songs is a predictably good fit for her ripe and beguiling timbre.” (Gramophone). In November 2020, she released her first solo recital album, featuring Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben and a selection of Brahms songs followed by ‘Live from Salzburg’ album released in December 2021 documenting two remarkable events at the Salzburg Festival in the summers of 2020 and 2021 with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Christian Thielemann.

Elīna has been the recipient of numerous national and international awards, greatly cherishing the title of ‘Kammersängerin’ honoured by the Wiener Staatsoper for her devotion to the House, singing over one hundred and sixty performances of eighteen roles since her debut in the House in 2003.

Elīna appears regularly at the Metropolitan Opera, Wiener Staatsoper, ROH Covent Garden, Salzburg Festival, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Carnegie Hall New York and Wigmore Hall London and continues to perform in various concerts, festivals, and recitals all over the world.

Recordings of Elīna Garanča You Can Listen to Now on Classical Archives*

Arie Favorite: Elīna Garanča Sings Mozart, Rossini, Bellini and More LISTEN NOW

Opera Gala: Works by Verdi, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and more LISTEN NOW

* If you are not yet a member of Classical Archives, we invite you to join now. Free 14-day trial memberships are now available.

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