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Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Opera Lafayette

Also on Ionarts:

Opera Lafayette at La Maison Française (December 19, 2005)

Opera Lafayette at Hillwood (October 2, 2005)

Sacchini's Œdipe à Colone (May 15, 2005)

Lully's Acis et Galatée (February 22, 2005)

Opera Lafayette (January 23, 2005)
French tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt is one of those legends in the early music movement, having sung on any number of recordings with Sandrine Piau, Veronique Gens, Sophie Daneman, Dominique Visse, William Christie, Marc Minkowski. He has appeared with Opera Lafayette here in Washington before, for their concert version of Gluck's Orphée et Euridice (1774 Paris version), recorded live for release by Naxos last year, and he was back for a solo program of airs by Jean-Philippe Rameau on Sunday. Of course, Fouchécourt is known in the United States from his well-received appearance in the title role of Rameau's Platée, staged by Mark Morris with costumes by Isaac Mizrahi for New York City Opera. This spring, Fouchécourt will share that role with Paul Agnew on the stage of the Opéra national de Paris, with the Musiciens du Louvre led by Marc Minkowski and in a staging by Laurent Pelly.

This concert was not a staging of Platée, but it was an ingenious look at the operas of Rameau through the roles created by him for one great singer. Pierre de Jelyotte (1713-1797) was a celebrated haute-contre, the very high tenor voice that could sing into the countertenor range without much use of falsetto. Jelyotte's voice could soar up to high D, and Rameau wrote thirteen roles (out of sixteen total operas) for him during the time he was in Paris. The live concert recording that Naxos will release of this performance will be of the same genre as that devoted to arias composed for Senesino by countertenor Andreas Scholl. Fouchécourt's voice may be the closest thing we have today to what Jelyotte's voice could do, and it can do extraordinary things.

Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Opera Lafayette, February 12, 2006Where Fouchécourt seemed to be the most comfortable was in the pieces from Platée, many of which I heard a different tenor, Tony Boutté, sing with a smaller ensemble of Opera Lafayette members at Hillwood in October. Fouchécourt's voice came across with clarity and finesse, with only one odd flight into his falsetto voice, in the owl section of A l'aspect de ce nuage. Thespis's aria Charmant Bacchus, from the prologue to Platée, is an ariette un peu légère (according to the score), and it was a good vehicle for Fouchécourt's slapstick, including the popping sound (made with his finger in his mouth) timed at the final cadence, as he opened one more bottle. The ensemble got into it, too, with a drunkenly mistuned final cadence at the line "Dussé-je être mal écouté" (Should I be poorly understood). During the final selections from Platée (Que ce séjour est agréable), Fouchécourt marched offstage during an instrumental interlude and returned wearing a T-shirt with a frog illustration on it, recalling the ugly frog princess, Platée.

The other operas included in the program, after serious revisions announced from the podium involving the removal of the excerpts from Les Indes Galantes, were of great musicological interest. Only the first excerpt, Myrtil's aria Peut-on être à la fois si tendre et si volage? from La Guirlande de Fleurs, was a little rough in the instrumental ensemble, which seemed disjointed at times, an exception in what was generally beautiful playing. Castor's Séjour de l'éternelle paix from Castor et Pollux is a favorite of mine, and Dardanus's Lieux funestes from Dardanus is now. Its use of somber bassoons in rather unusual harmonic sequences reminds me of Tristes apprêts, Télaïre's funeral aria from Castor et Pollux. Here the vocal lines floated on a swell of orchestral sound.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Fouchecourt's Valentine to Rameau (Washington Post, February 14)
Three selections for Neptune from Naïs and arias from Zoroastre and the ballets Les Festes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour and Zaïs showed off Fouchécourt's shimmering high notes, which he can hold very softly and then swell through crescendo. He is an expressive singer, vocally graceful and visually engaging, not to say distracting. His clenched fists, grimaces, and fits of self-conducting reminded me of similar tics displayed by Cecilia Bartoli. Dance pieces selected from Pygmalion and Hippolyte et Aricie added to our general understanding of the style of Rameau's music. It will hopefully soon be possible for Opera Lafayette to begin staging operatic productions, as their musical forces -- a finely tuned instrumental ensemble and connections to the best Baroque singers -- are absolutely in line. Staging is all that remains to be done.

One performance remains in Opera Lafayette's season, a concert performance of Mozart's Idomeneo on June 2 and 3. Dancers from the New York Baroque Dance Company will perform with the orchestra, soloists, and chorus.

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