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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Famed Mezzo Makes Her Moscow Debut

Jay K HoffmanJennifer Larmore
This season's Moscow Philharmonia subscription series "Stars of World Opera in Moscow" devotes itself entirely to the mezzo-soprano voice. The series began in November, when Russia's most prominent mezzo, Olga Borodina, presented an unforgettable evening of romances by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninov, and concludes in April with the Russian debut of captivating Alaska-born Vivica Genaux, in a concert of operatic arias and Spanish zarzuelas.

The midpoint of the series takes place on Monday at Tchaikovsky Hall with yet another Russian debut by a singer from the United States, in this case Jennifer Larmore, one of the brightest lights in opera throughout the world for more than two decades and probably the most-recorded mezzo-soprano of all time.

In an interview by telephone earlier this week from her home near Chicago, Larmore described her first appearance in Russia as "a huge opportunity.

"I've been almost everywhere else I can think of," she said, "so it's not often these days that I get to go to a new place. And it's particularly exciting for that new place to be Russia."

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Larmore made her debut in 1986 in France, at the Opera de Nice, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "La Clemenza di Tito." Soon afterward, she took on what was to become perhaps the most important role in her entire repertoire, that of Rosina in Giaochino Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," a role she has now sung more than 500 times.

Following success on virtually every major operatic stage of Europe, Larmore returned to the United States in 1994 and the following year made her debut, as Rosina at New York's Metropolitan Opera. Versatility became a hallmark of her subsequent career at the Metropolitan, where she proved an outstanding interpreter not only of Mozart and Rossini but of such diverse composers as George Frideric Handel, Jacques Offenbach and Johann Strauss, Jr. In 2005, she participated in the highly successful world premiere at the Metropolitan of U.S. composer Tobias Picker's "An American Tragedy," an opera based on Theodore Dreiser's novel of the same name.

Recently, Larmore has turned to German opera, singing Fricka in Richard Wagner's "Das Rheingold" last season at the San Francisco Opera, and she is scheduled later this year to take on the fiercely demanding role of Countess Geschwitz in Alban Berg's "Lulu" in both London and Madrid.

As a recording artist, Larmore has to her credit more than 70 albums and some seven Grammy award nominations. In addition to a host of solo and ensemble discs and complete roles from her stage repertoire, she has notably participated in nine recordings on the exotic Opera Rara label of virtually forgotten operas from the bel canto era, including works by Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti and their lesser-known contemporaries Saverio Mercadante and Giovanni Pacini.

Asked to name the favorite among the many parts she has sung, Larmore cited the title role in Handel's "Giulio Cesare," which was originally performed at the opera's 1725 premiere by an alto castrato. Given the understandable absence of castratos in modern times, the part of Julius Caesar, in his dalliance with Cleopatra, is now often cast with a baritone or counter-tenor. But, as Larmore's own 1991 recording gives ample evidence of, a female mezzo-soprano with technique and style such as hers seems far and away the most appropriate voice for Handel's music.

For her concert on Monday, Larmore has chosen an ambitious and wide-ranging program of arias from operas in which she has enjoyed particular success: Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," Giaochino Rossini's "l'Italiana in Algeri," Jules Massenet's "Werther" and Georges Bizet's "Carmen." Added to that will be one of the greatest of all challenges for a mezzo-soprano -- Joseph Haydn's seldom-heard cantata "Berenice, Che Fai?"

"It's huge," said Larmore, "and very dramatic. I love drama, and I also wanted to put something serious into the program."

Some may regret the absence of anything by Handel or of an aria or two from one of those rare bel canto operas in her recorded repertoire. But what she does have in store for her audience promises a feast of refined singing, the likes of which Moscow hears all too rarely. And Larmore herself promises even more than that.

"I'm not just a singer," she said. "I'm also an entertainer. I want to entertain the audience. I want to bring them right up on stage with me."

Accompanying Larmore on Monday will be the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, one of Moscow's two or three truly world-class orchestral ensembles, under the baton of Mikhail Tatarnikov, a highly regarded young conductor from St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater.

Jennifer Larmore sings on Monday at 7 p.m. at Tchaikovsky Hall, located at 4/31 Triumfalnaya Ploshchad. Metro Mayakovskaya. Tel. 232-0400/5353.