JOLIETTE – Negative in so many ways, the pandemic has given local presenters a good reason to hire Canadian talent. The Lanaudière Festival profited from the opportunity Sunday afternoon in the Fernand-Lindsay Amphitheatre by matching the soprano Karina Gauvin with Les Violons du Roy under Nicolas Ellis.
Gauvin has been making music for years but seems no less special for her accessibility. Official biographies stress her strength in baroque repertoire. In fact she can do it all. This program focused on Gluck and Mozart, the composers most responsible for ushering opera from baroque formality into an era of relative realism.
One could hardly have asked for a more compelling combination of musical and dramatic virtues. The tone was ample, the expression deep and the melodic curvature natural and fluid. Whether projecting the love-versus-duty dilemma of the title character of Gluck’s Armide (in French) or the more nuanced intrigues of Vitellia in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito (in Italian), Gauvin seemed to convey the truth of the matter.
Backup by Les Violons du Roy was consistently lucid. Young Ellis (whose rumpled jacket stood in contrast to Gauvin’s glamourous strapless gown) has a knack for supporting (rather than overwhelming) vocal lines. Stéphane Fontaine was a sure hand on the basset horn in the Act 3 aria from Clemenza. It is common, in concert performances, to give the player of this alto clarinet a position at the front of the stage, along with the singer. I think the obbligato sounds better emerging from the midst of the orchestra.
The program included two dark-hued symphonies in G Minor: Haydn’s No. 39 and Mozart’s No. 25. There were some vivid dynamic contrasts and, in the Andante of the Mozart, delicate sounds from the strings, but overall the performances seemed less than fully polished. The six first violins (all women, as it happened) dominated the soundscape, especially in the first movement of the Haydn. Was this due to my close-up seat a little to the left of centre? Or does the spread-out pandemic configuration make perfect balance hard to achieve?
The audience offered warm applause, none of it intrusive. It says something about the quality of the Lanaudière experience that Gauvin turned again to Mozart for her sparkling encore – “In uomini, in soldati” from Così fan tutte – rather than the Broadway songbook.
There being no printed program, Ellis supplied lengthy spoken introductions to the selections, entirely in French. Gauvin, a native of nearby Repentigny, also picked up the microphone and addressed the audience in neighbourly terms. Musicians were not masked but audience members were required, absurdly, to wear masks as they walked through this outdoor facility to take their seats.
Masks in the great outdoors. When will this madness end?