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Right here, right now

img  Tobias

So what is this mysterious element, which makes one singer a star and condemns another to acting as an extra for all her life? How does one single out that so-called “little bit more”, which noone can define, but everyone seems to be able to identify immediately, when they hear it? And: Which are the parameters of success and failure? Elina Garanca had a very clear opinion on this early in 2003, shortly after her purported “overnight rise to fame”: “You need about ten different aspects to make it as a singer.”, she said in a conversation with Ulla Kalchmair, “Talent, naturally, but also job opportunities and the will to work hard. And you need to be lucky enough to meet the right people at the right place.” Assuming this were true, she certainly seems to have found the right partners on the right locations.

Right now, things could hardly be better. She has just released a recoding of “Il barbiere di Siviglia” on Sony BMG Masterworks in co-operation with American hot-shots Nathan Gunn Lawrence Brownless (with her name leading the way). Her concert agenda is packed with magnificent and promising engagements well into 2010 (!). And she has just signed a contract with what is now maybe the last remainder of the legendary labels of the golden times of classical recording, the Deutsche Grammophon. Michael Lang, who heads the DG and has been championing a whole new league of superstars, was a most happy man when he welcomed Elina to his house: “We are delighted to welcome this gifted and charismatic young singer to our roster. The sheer beauty and expressive power of her voice will captivate new audiences worldwide – in the opera house, in the concert hall, and at home through her recordings.” With mezzo Garanca under his wings, he can now boast the power of the two supposedly best (or at least most charismatic) singers in their profession, soprano Anna Netrebko being the other one. And different to Netrebko, who released her solo debut with the German record company, Elina has already amassed a prolific CV.

The profile of her album deals has always been in tune with her reputation as an operatic performer. It was Finish outfit Ondine, who engineered her debut - a label with a lot of excellent credits, a will to take risks and build a career from scratch. On her “Arie Favorite” CD she touches her native Latvia, with the National Symphony Orchestra accompanying her. There are no surprises here, when it comes to repertoire, but then again, despite Garanca’s early love for Whitney Houston, this is what she enjoys most. The "nightingale" label follows this up with a feature of “Norma”, where she stars alongside Edita Gruberova, before Virgin Classics take over for two albums, including her second solo effort, which focusses exclusively on Mozart. Even though this strategically coincides with the Mozart year, it should seem only natural that Elina record the ever-popular Viennese master – after all, he was the main inspiration to two of her three great career moments – those moments, which raised her from one level to the next.

In 2003, she comes to Vienna as a promising young singer, with a lot of excellent live credentials and the Ondine recording under her belt. Her contract obliges her to stay in the city for at least five months a year, which she never conceives to be a prison sentence: “Ever since I first came to Vienna in 1998”, she explains, “I have felt incredibly at home here. The city virtually breathes culture! And then there’s this magnificent opera house, with its brilliant orchestra!” Hopes are high, while she remains a realist – she is here to learn and willing to take on slightly less flashy roles: “I don’t really have a problem with that. I know I will still have to learn a lot and facing a better singer than myself is not a threat to me, but a motivation. That’s why I’m happy to have been casted as a cover for many roles. This gives me the opportunity to sit in on some rehearsals and listen to what others are doing, and how they are doing it.” She listens to many of the great stars of her trade then, naming Cecilia Bertoli (whom she at first strongly dislikes), Anne Sofie von Otter, Jessye Norman, Dolora Zajic (for her versatility) and especially Monserrat Caballé. Her performances in Vienna receive rave reviews, but it is in fact Salzburg, which marks her first, most unexpected breakthrough. Under Harnoncourt, she plays in “La Clemenza di Tito” and even though she is merely casted for the “smaller” character of Annio, the crowd go wild over her performance and critics fall in love with her. Harnoncourt, the audience, the critics and Garaca in Salzburg – the right people at the right place.

Then there is a short moment to breathe out again and sustain her position. Austria loves her and she returns the affection with a string of projects. By now, her German has progressed considerably from the very first days, when she debuted in Meiningen and had to teach herself by picking vocabulary  from a dictionary and from watching talk shows on television. It also gives her a bit of time to realize what she has already accomplished. After all, not only has she overwhelmed the public in Salzburg, the concert had also given her the chance to put into practise one of her eternal dreams: Performing live with Bulgarian Vesselina Kasarova, one of her most beloved colleagues: “I said to myself: “It doesn’t matter, what I sing, as long as I can be on the same stage with her. I have ectually never seen her live, I merely know her from her CDs, especially from the Rossini recordings. I listened to those so often, that I initially even copied them.” When Kasarova is unable to fulfill her obligation for "Il Barbiere di Siviglia” in Munich in 2005, Garanca steps in and again amazes everyone – despite the fact that this is only a concertant version and not even the “real thing”. Kasarova and Garanca in Munich – the right people at the right place.

Have there ever been setbacks? Well, yes, even though they have been neglectibly small. After winning the Mirjam Helin Singing Competition, she applies for the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World extravaganza. Elina effortlessly battles her way into the finale, where she causes tenor Robert Tear to exclaim: “Her singing is sumptuous and the technique from Mozart to Rossini is fantastic. It was stunning singing; some of the best I’ve ever heard.” The listeners agree and her give a comfortable 10% lead over her closest rival. Even expert Graeme Kay puts his money on her to win. Still, it is Marius Brenciu who is frst past the post according to the jury. The BBC jury and Garanca – maybe they were the right people, but they definitely met at the wrong time.

But Elina doesn’t need the supportive words of a jury any more, and neither does she care all too much for putting expensive trophies on display in her bath room. Instead, she marches straight on to her next moment of glory. And she doesn’t have to wait long. In early 2006, she stars in “La Clemenza di Tito” for a second time – only that she’s Sesto, the opera’s main character, instead of appearing on a side track. The reactions leave no room for interpretation: Elina Garanca is now being hailed as the best mezzo on the planet and dame Joan Sutherland, who carried that title herself in her prime, praises her exuberantly: “She has a superb voice and the natural born appearance of a diva” It is only shortly after, that Michael Lang comes knocking on her door.

However you look at it, this has not been a fairy tale-like rise to fame. Rather, Garanca seems to have proven the validity of the Latvian saying that success is based on 10% of talent and  90% hard work. It has cost her about eight years to be where she is now and she has never sat by idly, enjoying the laurels she’d collected. Yet, her suspicion, that it is about meeting the right people at the right place, has also held true. So will Lang and Garanca be the right combination for the next stage? We’ll see in 2007, when she is set to record her Deutsche Grammophon debut. Until then, there is room enough to speculate about that mysterious element just a bit more.

By Tobias Fischer

Picture by Lukas Beck

Homepage: Elina Garanca
Source: Elina Garanca at "Der Neue Merkur"
Source: Elina Garanca at the "Salzburger Festspiele"

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