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Arias by Vivaldi and Handel
Julie Boulianne (mezzo-soprano)
Clavecin en Concert/Luc Beauséjour (director, harpsichord)
rec. 2016, St-Mathieu-de-Beloeil Church, Québec, Canada
English summary of each aria contained in booklet. Sung texts available online without English translations. ANALEKTA AN28780 [58:53]
French/Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne first came to my attention in 2016 at BBC Prom 20 with John Eliot Gardiner conducting a concert performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette at Royal Albert Hall, London. At the Prom I vividly recall Boulianne gloriously performing her lengthy and immensely challenging first act narration. The same year the mezzo also excelled as Aloés in Chabrier’s comic opera L'Étoile at Royal Opera House, London.
On the Analekta label, Boulianne’s latest release, an album of baroque arias from Vivaldi and Handel operas, is titled Alma Oppressa after the aria di bravura from Vivaldi’s opera La fida ninfa which opens the album. In the collection Boulianne performs nine arias, three from Vivaldi and six by Handel. Also included on the set are some instrumental works: a couple of Sinfonias from Vivaldi operas and an extract from a Handel opera overture all played by Clavecin en Concert.
It comes as no surprise that it’s the better known arias which attract attention here. Of the Vivaldi works it’s the title track of the album, Licori’s aria ‘Alma oppressa de sorte crudele’ (Soul oppressed by cruel fate) from the 1732 opera La fida ninfa (The Faithful Nymph) which stands out. Here Boulianne demonstrates her conspicuous control of the fiendishly demanding coloratura as Licori ineffectively strives to ease her suffering with thoughts of love.
Standing out like beacons are Boulianne’s performances of two especially celebrated Handel arias. First Almirena’s meltingly beautiful aria ‘Lascia ch'io pianga mia cruda sorte’ (Let me weep over my cruel fate) from the opera Rinaldo (1711). Displaying the melodic line of this poignant lament to great effect, the captive Almirena requests to be left alone in her sorrow with Boulianne interpreting the text with rapt and attractive feeling.
Boulianne excels in a trouser role from Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724) with the striking aria ‘Cara speme, questo core tu cominici a lusingar’ (Dear hope, you begin to give joy to my heart). Rejoicing that heaven will avenge his torment Boulianne performs Sesto’s aria with telling emotional sensitivity.
Throughout these arias Boulianne’s smoky-tinged mezzo-soprano voice imparts an appealing tone together with telling breath control which feels resiliently projected. At times, especially performing the more emotional texts, Boulianne’s voice reminded me of the celebrated Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená yet without having the comparable degree of creaminess to her tone.
Under Luc Beauséjour directing from harpsichord, the period instrument ensemble Clavecin en Concert plays beautifully, demonstrating its excellence in this Baroque repertoire, admirably balancing vitality with telling receptivity.
Recorded at St-Mathieu-de-Beloeil Church, Québec the sound team provide excellent sound being clear and well balanced between voice and instruments together with admirable presence.
An English summary of each aria is contained in the booklet but irritatingly no texts are provided. It is some small consolation that sung texts are available on the Analekta website but without English translations. Another grumble is that at less than an hour playing time the disc is short measure by current standards.
Julie Boulianne’s performance certainly hits the spot with this desirable collection of Baroque arias from Vivaldi and Handel on Analekta.