Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Heureux Enfants!

Amongst my listening the past few days has been a new album by the Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. I first heard her in 2002 when my darling Ryan and I met for a weekend of opera, food, wine and chat in Toronto. Marie-Nicole was making her operatic debut at the COC in Handel's Guilio Cesare. It was a high profile start as she was appearing with the great Polish contralto Ewa Podleś as well as Isabel Bayrakdarian, Daniel Taylor and Brian Azawa - not exactly light weights in the field of Handelian opera. It was a memorable debut. I did not have the good fortune to see her again until this past fall when she presented a concert here in Roma.

That particular evening she gave a programme that I was familiar with from a BBC prom concert but she was slightly under the weather and her voice was not as free as it had been in London. That was until she launched into Orlando's going "furioso" from Vivaldi's opera and in what is basically an accompanied recitative she tore the place apart and had the Rome audience begging for more.

She has become something of a specialist in the baroque though her albums have also included composers from Brahms to Berg by way of Schumann, Hahn and Hector Berlioz. The one selection that I have on repeat is by the last composer. From his dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliette here is the contralto aria from the Prologue: Heureux Enfants.

It may be best to use the "Watch on YouTube" button to see and more importantly hear this in HD.

Those first transports of love that no one forgets!
The first confession, first vows of two lovers under the stars of Italy;
In the hot breeze-less air laden with the distant scent of orange blossom,
the nightingale singing with their sighs!
What art is in its song that can match your heavenly allure.
First love, are you not higher than any poetry?
Only Shakespeare in his poetry had your
supreme secret which he took with him to the stars.

Happy children with hearts aflame,
met by chance, one glance joining your two souls,
hide in the flowery shade,
the divine fire that consumes you,
this pure ecstasy which words turn to tears.
What royal degree could govern your chaste delirium,
what could equal your transports of love?

Happy children, what treasure would be paid
for just one of your smiles?
Ah! Savour the sweet cup of honey for as long as you can,
this cup sweeter than all the chalices from which the angels in heaven,
who are jealous of your passion, derive their pleasure.
Back in my misspent youth I had a passion for Berlioz particularly when sung by Janet Baker. The Berlioz crush waned - the Baker one never! - bu with Marie-Nicole's new CD and a few of the recent concerts at Santa Cecilia I am finding a new interest in the romanticism and complexity that is Berlioz.

22 marzo - San Benvenuto

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Debra She Who Seeks said...

A beautiful voice indeed!

David said...

Well, Will, you know I've adored her ever since that late-night Prom (before, in fact, from her hilarious dykeinuniform Mistress Quickly), but lovely though that clip is, it still leaves me with the feeling that Berlioz is a bit anodyne, if lovely, there. The one of all the Building a Library candidates that didn't - and this surprised me - was Catherine Robbin, incredibly nuanced and passionate on 'the choice', Gardiner's (and it was probably she who swung it for me).

yvette said...

I have been thinking of you lately! I was in Nice opera house on wed march the 30th for the opening night of Orlando Furioso.
It is hard to describe what Marie-Nicole Lemieux did that night: I think she gave (above all in the 3rd act) a tremendous dimension to this role. Utterly moving what with her rich and contrasted voice and her dramatic gifts. I should write my post, but lately I cannot make sense in what I want to express! So... I posted on my Facebook page, it is easier!
And this Berlioz rendition is a wonder. I shared it on my wall right away, before going to Nice! Thank you willym!