In the 1990s, the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila established herself as one of the world's leading operatic sopranos. Coming to early attention as a prize-winning singer adept at the more lyric roles in the repertory, she developed the qualities of a dramatic soprano as well, with an especially warm and grand voice. She is a tall, blond, and striking woman with excellent stage presence and acting skills. She studied voice at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. While still a student, she won one the first prize of the Lappeenranta Competition in 1981. This led to her professional debut at the Savonlinna Opera Festival, where she sang Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni. In 1983, she became the first Cardiff Singer of the World. She was now ready to enter the international opera world. Once again she debuted in one of the great Mozart roles: Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro at La Monnaie Opera in Brussels. While not exclusively singing Mozart, she became best known for her work in his operas. She chose Donna Elvira (another role in Don Giovanni) for her British and American debuts in 1985; these were at the Scottish Opera and Washington, D.C. Opera, respectively. She made her Covent Garden and Paris debuts the next year as Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, and also added Pamina and Ilia to her operatic repertory. She continued to make international appearances, but found that her career was leveling out in the early 1990s. She went into a period of introspection and she came to the realization that full vocal maturity was leading her into a different quality. She took the time needed to restudy and retrain it for its new, rich, and weighty quality. After that, she re-emerged with a striking new capacity to sing roles such as Eva in Die Meistersinger and Chrysothemis in Richard Strauss' Elektra. She sang the Wagnerian role of Elsa in Lohengrin in her debut at San Francisco in 1996. But the role in which she had her greatest triumphs was that of Elisabeth of Valois in Verdi's Don Carlos, a level of acclaim that has since been matched by her stunning appearance as Janacek's Jenufa at the Hamburg Opera in 1998. She has proven especially effective in Slavonic operas; in addition to Jenufa she is noted for her performances as both of Tchaikovsky's greatest heroines, Tatyana in Eugene Onegin and Lisa in Pikovaya Dama (Queen of Spades), which she sang at the Metropolitan Opera in 1995. Other roles she has sung are Emma in Schubert's Fierrabras, Musetta in La bohème, Puccini's Manon Lescaut, and Amelia in Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. In 2000, her first performance as Leonora in Beethoven's Fidelio (Metropolitan Opera with James Levine conducting) won accolades. When she appears in lieder recitals, she regularly receives great acclaim, especially in Sibelius songs. Her stage presence allows her to appear effectively in the increasingly popular large-scale outdoor arena events, where she is not hesitant to use electronic amplification. She holds her performances down to between 45 and 60 performances a year, believing that this represents for her the right mixture of work and rest to keep her voice in good shape. This means that she has come to restrict her performances to leading music venues like New York, Paris, London, and Salzburg. "Not the crappiest places in the world, are they?" she laughs. Karita Mattila was an active recording artist, with releases on the Philips, Ondine, Bis, and EMI labels, and has recorded popular songs as well as classical and operatic selections.
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Classical - Released October 2, 2000 | Deutsche Grammophon (DG)
Opera - Released April 1, 2010 | Ondine
Ondine's Essential Highlights of Karita Mattila brings together two previous releases, Karita Mattila Live in Helsinki from 2001 and Sibelius: Songs from 1996. Karita Mattila Live in Helsinki begins with riotous opening applause that continues through the orchestral introduction to "Dich teure Halle" from Tannhäuser, greeting Mattila like a rock star, and she performs with the passionate abandon and almost tangible audience rapport characteristic of rock stars. The intensity of her performance is palpable and she is fully invested in this material, holding nothing back. Besides the Wagner, Mattila brings characters from Dvorák, Verdi, and Puccini operas to life with a searing focus. Her powerful, radiant voice in the service of such an intelligent and heartfelt commitment to the music communicates viscerally with her audience. The remainder of the concert is devoted to lighter material, which she delivers with no less understanding and effectiveness. The comic gifts she brings to three arias from Die Fledermaus and her seductive performances of "Falling in Love Again," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and "Summertime" show that she could have made a career as a chanteuse if she'd chosen not to pursue opera. There are a few ancillary noises and some applause, but generally the sound is terrifically clean and present. Mattila's large, focused, warmly expressive soprano is especially well-suited to the music of the Romantic and post-Romantic eras, so it seems natural that she would have an affinity for the songs of her countryman Jean Sibelius. The songs are especially attractive, harmonically lush and melodically gratifying, beautifully constructed, and written to show off the virtuosic possibilities of the voice. Many of them, such as "Fåfäng önskan" and "Svarta rosor," lie very high, but Mattila soars and floats through their punishing tessitura with apparent effortlessness. Her robust soprano is absolutely secure throughout the full extent of her range (as is especially evident in "Arioso"), and it sounds like an advertisement for superb vocal health and grounded technique. That health comes across in the exuberance of her interpretations and her ability to sing with an abandon that never threatens to veer out of control; she never sounds less than fully at ease. Pianist Ilmo Ranta supplies a supportive accompaniment. Ondine's sound is clear, clean, and vibrant. This album should delight Mattila's fans, as well as Sibelius enthusiasts, and anyone who appreciates luminous vocal performances.
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