Débuts at Milan’s La Scala Opera House are notoriously tricky. In opera, singers worry about possible boos showering down from the famous loggionisti, though for a recital that isn’t likely to happen. Elīna Garanča’s début was to have been in opera at the season’s inauguration in Robert Carsen’s Don Giovanni, but as she was pregnant she had to cancel. So last night’s recital marked her first appearance at La Scala and her ease on this legendary stage was extraordinary: Angela Gheorghiu was visibly shaking at the start of her recital.
A well chosen programme of German lied showed off her glorious, warm, mezzo voice, and her seriousness as an artist. Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben lieder were touching and varied, Sieben frühe Lieder proved her precise technique as she fearlessly walked Alban Berg’s high-wire of intonation, and with the Strauss lieder she seemed truly at home.
An all Spanish series of encores allowed the audience a quick peek of Garanča’s coloratura, and gave her the chance to be more theatrical in two Carmen arias. At the start of the evening she radiated a Grace Kelly coolness, but now she kicked off her shoes – literally – for Carmen’s Seguidilla. Roger Vignoles accompanied her with his usual sensitivity, though his famous rock-like quality appreciated by nervous artists was not needed by this singer.
As recitals go this was a triumph. As La Scala débuts go, it was rare and remarkable.