VIVALDI: Il Farnace: Gelido in ogni vena; Da quell ferro che ha svenato. Ercole sul Termodonte: Zeffiretti, che sussurata. Il Giustino: Vedrò con mio diletto. Bajazet: Sposa son disprezzata. Arsilda, Regina di Ponto: Ben conosco a poco. All’obmra di sospetto. Sonata in A min.: Preludio-Largo (harp solo). Sonata in C min., RV 53 / Myriam Leblanc, sop; Ensemble Mirabilia: Grégoire Jeay, fl; Antoine Malette-Chénier, triple hp; Marie-Michel Beauparlant, cello / Analekta AN 2 9137
It’s not so much that I hate Vivaldi’s music; on the contrary, he was a technically fine composer and wrote some fine and interesting scores. The problem I normally have, particularly with his vocal music, is that the singer(s) normally just sing the notes—with dazzling technique, of course—but don’t make any attempt to interpret the words, some of which are quite moving and even haunting.
To her credit, however, the young Canadian soprano Myriam Leblanc, a graduate of McGill University and Artist-in-residence of the Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, does just that in these little gems from the Vivaldi catalog. Those listeners expecting just another “bird of passage” will, I think, be quite surprised by her singing. Like the great, groundbreaking British soprano Emma Kirkby, Leblanc has all the goods—a high, pure voice with an unlimited top range, outstanding musicianship and style—but also a desire to make the words count. In the opening aria on this recital, for instance, “Gelido in ogni vena” from Il Farnace, the soprano sings:
Like ice in every vein,
I feel my blood flow;
The shadow of my lifeless son
Fills me with terror.
And to worsen my agony,
I see that I was cruel
To an innocent soul,
To the heart of my own heart.
These are not words to be rattled off like an automaton, and Leblanc does her level best to inform them with a feeling of pathos without resorting to melodramatic histrionics…and she succeeds very well.
Perhaps her decision to have these arias accompanied not by a full orchestra, but by a trio of flute, harp and cello, is part of what helped her to achieve this intimacy, but you still have to give her credit for choosing to at least try to interpret the words and not just sing them. This approach takes away the “flashier” side of Vivaldi and concentrates on something he is not always given credit for, his tenderness.
The aria from Il Giustino (“I will see with joy / The soul of my soul / The heart of my own heart / Full of content”) is a rare happy piece, set to a fairly lively 6/8 jig. By contrast, the upbeat lyrics of “Vedró con mio diletto” from Il Giustino are at odds with the rather sad, slow, dirge-like melodic line. This was not, I think, one of Vivaldi’s better inspirations, but it’s not too bad.
In “Da quell ferro che ha svenato” from Il Farnace, the tempo is rather quick while the words are somewhat deep:
From that iron which has made
My wretched bridegroom bleed
I learned cruelty.
Beholding a son so wan
And laved with my blood,
I forgot pity.
But at least he was smart enough here to use a minor key, which helps.
The aria “Sposa son disprezzata” from Bajazet, the only Vivaldi opera of which I own a complete recording, is unusual in that the composer changed tempi and accents to highlight the shifting moods of the lyrics, which focus on the protagonist’s love for her cruel and unfaithful husband. Here Leblanc is a little less word-specific in her reading of the aria, but close enough to make it an interesting performance.
There are two purely instrumental pieces on this CD, the “Preludio—Largo” of the Sonata in A min., RV 32, and the complete Sonata in C min., RV 53, which is oddly broken up. The “Largo” is on track 6 while the rest of the sonata is on tracks 9 and 10. These are played well, and contribute to the intimacy of the album, though they do point up Ensemble Mirabilia’s rather cold, bloodless performing style. Fortunately, Leblanc’s voice helps them come to life when she is singing with them—which, thankfully, is most of the time.
In addition to the various opera arias, she has also included the cantata All’ombra di sospiro, which closes out the CD. It’s pretty music that, in this case, doesn’t really match the words or the mood of the text very well: the music is chipper while the words reflect on a woman’s mistrust in her affection for men.
All in all, however, this is a very interesting CD. Perhaps the casual listener will be less titillated than normal by this recital, since most of the arias here are, as noted above, somewhat slow music which accompanies rather sad lyrics, but for me this is what MAKES this album. Any well-trained voice can rattle off the Baroque fiddlybits of Vivaldi’s (and Handel’s) virtuoso arias, but it takes an artist to do what Leblanc does here. This is singing that is almost on a par with the legendary soprano Bethany Beardslee’s interpretations of 18th-century music.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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