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Music review: Karita Mattila at the Broad Stage

December 4, 2011 |  4:55 pm


 We’re so used to hearing Karita Mattila, Finland’s prima donna assoluta, in big opera houses and recordings confronting the likes of Richard Strauss, Janácek and Wagner that it was a novelty to sample her at the relatively cozy Broad Stage on Saturday night -- alone with her redoubtable accompanist, Martin Katz.  And not only that, but she also chose to present a rarefied program of art songs outside the experience of all but a  small minority of classical concertgoers.       

Nevertheless, Mattila the dramatic diva could burst through the stylized formality of the vocal recital format -- holding an imaginary cigarette between her fingers as she languorously bent the notes of “Hotel” in Poulenc’s song cycle “Banalités"; finding the emotion and force in passages of Aulis Sallinen’s stark, mildly dissonant musical language in “Four Dream Songs.”  

“Cinq poémes de Baudelaire” is not top-drawer Debussy to these ears, but Mattila found some resonance in its debt to Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” as her top A eventually flooded forth.  Toward the evening’s close, in five Joseph Marx lieder -- overripe relics even in their time -- her voice was in full, opulent bloom, fitting quite comfortably within the room.

Then, Mattila’s playful side suddenly emerged in “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” -- a throwback to another Scandinavian force-of-nature Birgit Nilsson’s campy turn with same on a recording -- and a comical, almost gypsy-like Finnish folk song, “Viisi Suomalaista Kansanlaulua,” in which she cut loose with a maniacal laugh.

No one was more aware of the challenge of this program to her listeners than Mattila herself, who sagely saved her comments about that until the close of the evening.  “Spread the word, and I will come back and sing more,” she said -- and given the vociferous reaction from the faithful, she won’t have to ask twice. 

-- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Soprano Karita Mattila in recital at the Broad Stage. Credit: Amy Graves / WireImage.