Habanera: Songs and Arias

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COMPOSERS: Barbieri,Bernstein,Bizet,Chapí,Falla,Lehar,Montsalvatge,Obradors,Ravel etc,Songs and arias by Balfe
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Songs and arias by Balfe, Barbieri, Bernstein, Bizet, Chapí, Falla, Lehár, Montsalvatge, Obradors, Ravel etc
PERFORMER: Elina GaranΩa (mezzo-soprano); Philharmonic Choir of Regio di Torino; RAI National SO/Karel Mark Chichon
CATALOGUE NO: DG 477 8776

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The Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca’s new collection is doubly themed. The album’s title Habanera sends us in the direction of Carmen (one of her major roles these days), and thus both gypsies and Spain, whose operatic characters and musical modes are variously celebrated in songs and arias by an eclectic mix of composers.

All of Carmen’s solos are here, with Roberto Alagna filling in as Don José. Elina Garanca’s is a medium-scale mezzo approach, elegant and devoid of ugly lurches into chest voice. An unusual item is an early setting of Carmen’s Habanera that Bizet later replaced; it’s interesting to hear it, though the regular version is superior.

From Spain, too, come zarzuela numbers by composers such as Chapí, Barbieri and Luna, all familiar in Spanish-speaking countries and little-known elsewhere. Garanca presents them with spirit and conviction, as she does a clutch of Spanish songs – Falla, Obradors and Montsalvatge – the first two expertly accompanied by guitarist José Maria Gallardo del Rey, whose own Canción del Amor Garanca also includes, though it suits her less well than most of the material here.

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Balfe’s ‘I dreamt that I dwelt’ is more soprano territory, and Garanca sounds on the young side for Bernstein’s Old Lady in Candide. But she shines in the csárdás from Lehár’s Zigeunerliebe, with smoky vocal colours to the fore. George Hall