Elīna Garanča's Habanera

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Natural recording artists -- those able to focus a phrase for the microphone -- are rare, particularly when it comes to opera singers. Yet anyone fortunate enough to have heard the Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča in her recent Metropolitan Opera appearances as Carmen will know what to expect from "Habanera," her latest recital album. Featuring a variety of gypsy roles from opera, operetta and song, the recording is our Album of the Week.

At 34, Garanča has been on a steep ascent for several years, thanks to an unusually rich, creamy voice that she has learned to use to great effect. It doesn’t hurt that this alluring Northern European blonde can also look -- and act -- the part. Offstage, her look gravitates towards the outrageous, as a promotional video from her label suggests (below).

Regardless, Garanča makes this imaginative and varied program come to life, which includes several selections from her career-making role as Bizet’s femme fatale including the “Seguidilla” and two versions of the “Habanera:” first, the one everyone knows, and then Bizet’s original version, which is completely different, both heavier and more energetic. These display her bright upper register, especially the "Seguidilla," where she interpolates a flashy yet thrilling high B.

Garanča also casts a wide stylistic net on this album, moving well beyond Spanish composers. There's an aria from a Hungarian (Lehar's Zigeunerliebe), an Irishman (Michael William Balfe's The Bohemian Girl) and an American (“I am easily assimilated” from Bernstein’s Candide), the latter of which may be a bit of a stretch thematically. Her voice particularly shines in Cancion del amor by guitarist Jose Maria Gallardo Del Rey, who also joins her in a smoldering lullaby by de Falla. Elsewhere she receives lively and sensitive support from the RAI Symphony Orchestra led by her conductor husband, Karel Mark Chichon.

Garanča can be heard several times in New York this fall – including in nine more Met performances as Carmen, starting November 4, and at Carnegie Hall in a concert performance of Masenet’s La Navarraise with the Opera Orchestra of New York on October 25.

In the meantime, check out this video and tell us what you think. We'll be reading your comments all this week.

Elīna Garanča
Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI/Karel Mark Chichon
Deutsche Grammophon