For most of her career, Karita Mattila’s risks onstage have been rewarded. At the Met, the Finnish soprano won ovations for her deliberate performance as Elsa in Robert Wilson’s slow-mo Lohengrin; for singing the title role in JŸrgen Flimm’s starkly modern Fidelio; and for famously unveiling her birthday suit in Salome. So it’s paradoxical that one of her most conventional turnsÑplaying Tosca in Luc Bondy’s beleaguered 2009 productionÑturned out to be her biggest gamble to date.
Since then, Mattila has mostly laid low on the New York scene, but on Friday 27 she’ll wager on a role of diva-esque proportions: the enigmatic Emilia Marty in Janacek’s The Makropulos Case. Only two other sopranos have portrayed the ageless E.M. on the Met stage beforeÑJessye Norman premiered the role in the house in 1996, and Catherine Malfitano last sang it 11 years (minus one day) before Mattila’s attempt to make it her own.
There’s good reason to believe that she will. In past outings, Mattila excelled at singing Janacek heroines Jenufa and Kata Kabanova with Czech conductor Jiri Belohlavek, who helms this run. Reviews from Mattila’s first Marty at the San Francisco Opera (again with Belohlavek) were unanimous in their praise. A cast well-stocked with singing actors (tenor Richard Leech; baritones Tom Fox and Johan Reuter) promises a dramatic production.
On Sunday 29, Mattila will accept an Opera News Award for her contributions to the genre, along with another legendary Marty, Anja Silja. One wonders if a torch will be passed as well.