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Emmanuelle de Negri with Opera Lafayette

Soprano Emmanuelle de Negri
(photo by Bdallah Lasri)
Hurricane Sandy, among many other far more dastardly things, disordered the Washington concert schedule. On Tuesday night, the planned WPAS recital by András Schiff was canceled: it has now been rescheduled for next April, but Schiff will no longer play the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, replacing it with his next tour programming, Bach's French Suites. Although it was a shame not to hear Schiff's preludes and fugues (review of the fine recording forthcoming), the cancellation did provide the chance to hear another concert I had regretted missing, the Opera Lafayette recital featuring the company debut of French soprano Emmanuelle de Negri. The program was a little unusual for Opera Lafayette, with a Baroque first half, accompanied by a small ensemble of historical instruments, followed by a selection of late Romantic songs with piano. Strikingly, de Negri sang the entire recital from memory, creating little dramatic vignettes for each piece in the first half.

The 17th- and 18th-century selections showed de Negri's voice in the best light, a clear-toned, bright, agile instrument with verve and energy. Much of the appeal of French Baroque music has to do with the poetic recitation of text, and there were no complaints with de Negri's diction: her attention to the texts and charming, often funny vocal characterizations brought this music to life. For the opening set, drawn from André Campra's opera-ballet Les Festes Vénitiennes, she wore a masque as the character of Amour, dancing and moving about gracefully. Standout discoveries included a melancholy passacaille by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Sans frayeur dans ce bois, and the knock-out sleep aria from Le Sommeil d'Ulysse by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729). Introduced by the sweet tones of Colin St. Martin's transverse flute with cello and theorbo, de Negri sang this piece seated, while reading from a book, as if narrating, floating long high notes that hung in the air limpidly. Other beautiful discoveries included the ardent Laissez durer la nuit by Sébastien Le Camus (1610-1677) and two delightful airs by Michel Lambert (1619-1696), especially the pathetic Vos mépris, which sounded a lot like the famous aria Pur ti miro, pur ti godo, probably not by Monteverdi, from the end of L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Sopranos in search of an unusual encore piece may want to take a look at the cute aria Rien du tout, by Nicholas Racot de Grandval, sung by a diva who refuses to sing.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Opera Lafayette’s passionate ‘Invitation’ (Washington Post, November 1)
The idea behind including the set of songs by Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, and Henri Duparc -- all on exquisite poetry that evoked the fantasy Arcadia of the 18th century, prefaced by de Negri reading a poem from Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal -- was stronger than the execution. Something happened to de Negri's voice at the top of the range presented by these songs, revealing a tone that was a little constricted, a little brittle. Not that there was not much to admire in these songs, especially those by Duparc, a composer who destroyed all but a very small number of his songs, all of which are perfectly formed jewels. Pianist Jeff Cohen, filling in for Susan Manoff (who was still listed in the program), often overshadowed de Negri in terms of vigor and flair, giving an acrobatic wackiness to Debussy's Fantoches, for example. The two were best together in the final two songs, the drunken post-party revel of Ravel's Sur l'herbe and the radiant ecstasy of Debussy's C'est l'extase langoureuse. Two encores continued in the same vein, the neo-Baroque A Chloris by Reynaldo Hahn and Debussy's Mandoline.

The next performance by Opera Lafayette will be Félicien David's Lalla Roukh (January 26, 8 pm), at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. This exotic opéra-comique, set in India and Uzbekistan, will feature choreography by Kalanidhi Dance.

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