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  41:1 (09-10 /2017)
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Reviewer: Raymond Tuttle


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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