The great Finnish soprano Karita Mattila is no stranger to crossing over. Though she made her reputation as a Strauss/Mozart soprano with a voice that cuts like a knife and a presence that burns like a brand, Mattila has spent at least part of her time walking the pop side of the street. There was her 1995 disc Wonderful, with its soulful renditions of "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz, "Memory" from Cats, and "Somewhere" from West Side Story. There was her 2000 disc Live in Helsinki, which concluded a recital of Wagner, Verdi, and Strauss with sensual readings of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.
Never before had Mattila crossed over so far as she does here in 2007's Fever. Recorded live in performance on what must have been a particularly torrid August night in Tampere Hall in Helsinki, Mattila teamed up with arranger/conductor Kirmo Lintinen to deliver the goods on 15 pop selections. There are several by Porter -- "Love for Sale," "It's All Right with Me," and "You Do Something to Me" -- a couple by Gershwin -- "The Man I Love" and "Nice Work If You Can Get It" -- a couple by Rodgers -- "My Favorite Things" and "Blue Moon" -- and even one by Antonio Carlos Jobim -- "Corcovado." Lintinen's arrangements are light, jazzy, and driving, with delicious backup singing on five tracks from the group How Many Sisters.
But, of course, Mattila is the center attraction here and she turns all her star power loose on these songs. Purist jazz fans may find her delivery a bit arch, her rhythms a tad studied, and her vibrato too controlled. And purist classical fans may find the whole thing faintly degrading. But no one could deny the power, the tenderness, the sensuality, and the sheer vocal heat of Mattila's performance of these standards from the American songbook. This disc may not thrill everyone, but everyone it does thrill will be in seventh heaven. Ondine's live pop sound is very light, very bright, and very present.