Ondine's Essential Highlights of Karita Mattila brings together two previous releases, Karita Mattila Live in Helsinki from 2001 and Sibelius: Songs from 1996. Karita Mattila Live in Helsinki begins with riotous opening applause that continues through the orchestral introduction to "Dich teure Halle" from Tannhäuser, greeting Mattila like a rock star, and she performs with the passionate abandon and almost tangible audience rapport characteristic of rock stars. The intensity of her performance is palpable and she is fully invested in this material, holding nothing back. Besides the Wagner, Mattila brings characters from Dvorák, Verdi, and Puccini operas to life with a searing focus. Her powerful, radiant voice in the service of such an intelligent and heartfelt commitment to the music communicates viscerally with her audience. The remainder of the concert is devoted to lighter material, which she delivers with no less understanding and effectiveness. The comic gifts she brings to three arias from Die Fledermaus and her seductive performances of "Falling in Love Again," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and "Summertime" show that she could have made a career as a chanteuse if she'd chosen not to pursue opera. There are a few ancillary noises and some applause, but generally the sound is terrifically clean and present.
Mattila's large, focused, warmly expressive soprano is especially well-suited to the music of the Romantic and post-Romantic eras, so it seems natural that she would have an affinity for the songs of her countryman Jean Sibelius. The songs are especially attractive, harmonically lush and melodically gratifying, beautifully constructed, and written to show off the virtuosic possibilities of the voice. Many of them, such as "Fåfäng önskan" and "Svarta rosor," lie very high, but Mattila soars and floats through their punishing tessitura with apparent effortlessness. Her robust soprano is absolutely secure throughout the full extent of her range (as is especially evident in "Arioso"), and it sounds like an advertisement for superb vocal health and grounded technique. That health comes across in the exuberance of her interpretations and her ability to sing with an abandon that never threatens to veer out of control; she never sounds less than fully at ease. Pianist Ilmo Ranta supplies a supportive accompaniment. Ondine's sound is clear, clean, and vibrant. This album should delight Mattila's fans, as well as Sibelius enthusiasts, and anyone who appreciates luminous vocal performances.