Our Geo Quiz takes us to the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.
The country we’re looking for has neighbors, big and small: Russia’s the big one — looming on its eastern border.
And it’s nestled among the smaller ones: Estonia, Lithuania, and Belarus.
This country has a strong tradition of folk songs some dating back more than a 1,000 years. That musical tradition helped inspired one woman to find her voice.
And ultimately her place on stage as a mezzo soprano at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Below, watch her onstage in her role as Sesto.
The answer is Latvia.
Mezzo soprano Elīna Garanča grew up in and around Riga, Latvia.
It’s where she developed her passion for theater and music, “we have really a very long traditions of music, and then of course being a small country and being occupied a couple of times we have been influenced by many people, however we manage to keep our traditions, our culture, our language only about 2 million still speaking in Latvian or at least considered to be Latvians so yes, we are little, but we are strong,” Garanča says.
It’s not just opera that keeps her going during the cold dark winter months. She says she grew up singing Latvian folk songs. “There is one song that I actually sing now to my little girl that she likes very much. It’s called Circeniöa Ziemas Svetki (The cricket’s Christmas) which is about a little not exactly a mosquito or fly but a little cricket…this song is very often sung at Christmas time.”
Garanča says her first brush with opera wasn’t exactly encouraging. It was Wagner.
“My first experience was at the age of seven when I went with my girlfriend to see Tannhauser (Wagner’s opera) and I found it so boring that in the break we went home. However, both of my parents were musicians, my mother was a song singer, a lieder singer and obviously I knew about music in the tummy of my mother. I was fascinated by theater because my mother started to work in a theater and I wanted to be an actress, but I failed in exams, so somehow I thought, the stage? I had a musical background, I was playing piano for 14 years, I thought what about singing? I tried to sing and I fell in love,” she says.
Now Elīna Garanča performs on world stages as the defiant Carmen in Bizet’s Carmen and as Octavian in Strauss’s The Knight of the Rose. In 2008, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Rosina in The Barber of Seville. And now she’s back at the Met in the role of Sesto, a young Roman aristocrat, who’s in love with Vitellia.
His sister Servilia is in love with Annio and they’re conspiring to kill the Emperor whose name is Titus, got it? Opera plots can be a bit confusing.
The opera is “La Clemenza di Tito,” The Clemency of Titus. Mozart wrote the music set to an Italian libretto just before he finished The Magic Flute.
After wrapping up the Mozart production, Latvian mezzo soprano Elīna Garanča says she plans to return to her hometown of Riga to sing with a Christmas Gala at the Latvian National Opera.
Schedule: December 1, 6, 10 – Sesto in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” in Metropolitan Opera, New York, US
December 14, 16 – Hector Berlioz, “Les nuits d‘été,” Sechs Lieder für Singstimme und Orchester op. 7, Congresshalle, Saarbrücken, Germany
December 28 – Gala concert in Latvian National Opera, Riga, Latvia
Garanca’s performance in “La Clemeza di Tito” will be shown as part of the MET’s ENCORE HD series in US theaters on December 19th.
US Encore: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm
Canada Encores: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm
Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm
Check out this video of Elīna Garanča recommended by opera critic Renata Rosso: “Her singing is superb. I have been listening to many Dalilas, and Elina interpretation is one of the most enchanting.”