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People often complain that the
state of operatic singing has fallen off greatly in the last several
decades—who are today’s Corellis, Sutherlands, Callases, and so on? These
people should be reminded that, in the 1950s and 60s, nobody was singing
Baroque opera as well as it is being sung today, on both stages and on
recordings. Talent has not dried up, it’s simply been focused in other
areas. This is a good time, then, to explore Baroque opera. (In the
meantime, it seems unlikely that Aida and Faust and Lohengrin, etc., are
going to disappear.)
Julie Boulianne is a
French-Canadian mezzo who was born in 1978. She studied at McGill and
Juilliard, and has sung at the Met. I forgot that I reviewed her Mahler disc
in 2012, in Fanfare 35:4. I probably forgot this because I found the disc to
be forgettable, and I have not listened to it since. Had I remembered this,
I probably would not have requested this new CD of arias by Vivaldi and
Handel (with a few instrumental excerpts added for variety). I am glad that
I forgot, because it is most enjoyable. The predecessor to this disc, which
involves the same performers, features arias by Handel and Porpora, and I am
now looking forward to discovering it.
The program starts with “Alma
oppressa,” the aria that gives this disc its overall title. One is
immediately impressed with the warmth of Boulianne’s tone, and with her
ability to express the aria’s emotional content. Also, she negotiates
Vivaldi’s florid writing in such as way as to make it support that emotional
content; it is not display for the sake of display. Cecilia Bartoli’s Decca
recording of this same aria is most impressive, but I find her voice a
little too fruity and vibrato-heavy for the material. Hearing her CD, you
think, “Good God, that’s Bartoli!” With Boulianne, you think, “Ah yes,
that’s Vivaldi!,” and it makes you smile. Bartoli might have been one of the
singers that reopened the door to this repertoire, but Boulianne has taken a
comfy chair in the room behind that door. She presides over it with serene
authority. This might be heresy, but I think Boulianne’s recording—and not
just of this particular aria—will wear better as time goes on.
I also prefer the work of
harpsichordist-conductor Luc Beauséjour and his ensemble Clavecin en Concert
to Il Giardino Armonico on the Bartoli recording. The latter group, like
Bartoli herself, is dramatic but sometimes a little heavy-handed. I like the
more understated sparkle of Boulianne’s musical companions.
This disc has a playing time
of just under an hour. However, it’s so enjoyable that it goes by in a
flash. I’ve played it at home and I’ve played it in my car (stuck in
Northern Virginia traffic on a Saturday afternoon!), and it has enlivened
any situation. I’m sorry I badmouthed Boulianne’s Mahler disc; maybe the
Baroque repertoire is where she belongs. A pleasure.
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