On Thursday evening, not even the blustery snowstorm outside could overpower the strength of Olga Borodina’s performance at Carnegie Hall. The concert was nothing short of exquisite.
The program consisted of Russian-language songs from the late-nineteenth and early- to mid-twentieth centuries; nearly all of the pieces were written by composers who are unfamiliar to most Americans. In Russia, works by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui, and Alexander Borodin are at least better known than they are here. Presenting such selections has become something of a personal mission for Borodina, as the singer continues to introduce Western audiences to uniquely Russian music.
It’s not difficult to understand why Borodina loves these songs so much. In addition to the gentle melodies, the texts, penned by poets like Alexander Pushkin and Alexey K. Tolstoy, are equally beautiful. Set to music and then delivered by Borodina with both tenderness and intensity, the lyrics take on layers of richness, which deepen when expressed by a singer whose native language is Russian.
One could easily argue that Borodina is the best mezzo-soprano performing in opera today. Her voice glides through each register with evenness so natural-sounding that it seems deceptively effortless. Her absolute control over the dynamics of every phrase allows the listener to relax and simply enjoy being in the presence of a singer with masterful technique. As another mezzo in attendance, Mary Ann Stewart, commented, “She’s technically perfect. There is no flaw.”
The audience, recognizing with seemingly endless standing ovations the excellence of the performance, insisted upon three encores. For the third, pianist Dmitri Yefimov—whose accompaniment throughout the evening was outstanding in its own right—delicately began the opening chords of “Mon Coeur S’ouvre à Ta Voix,” from Samson et Dalila. The aria by Saint-Saëns is a sort of signature piece for Borodina, as she debuted as Dalila in 1992 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It’s quite possible that no one sings that role better than Borodina; to hear her interpretation of the aria after an already superb concert was a treat that will likely linger in the ears of every audience member long after the snow outside has melted.