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A collaboration with the Vancouver Opera
Karina Gauvin (soprano)
Les Boréades de Montréal
Francis Colpron (Artistic Director, recorders, traverso)
Femke Bergsma (recorders)
Matthew Jennejohn (oboe)
Chloe Meyers (baroque violin)
Karol Gostynski (baroque violin)
Jacques-André Houle (baroque violin)
Mélisande Corriveau (baroque cello, viola da gamba)
Mark Edwards (harpsichord)
Nicolas Lessard (double bass)
Canada’s very own superstar soprano, Karina Gauvin, has impressed audiences and critics the world over with her luscious timbre, profound musicality and wide vocal range. The Globe and Mail calls her “one of the dream sopranos of our time.” A regular collaborator with conductors as diverse as Dutoit, Nagano, Nezet Seguin, Bichkov, Norrington, Hogwood, Rilling, Labadie, Rousset, Curtis, and Haim, Karina is one of the most respected sopranos of her generation and a national treasure.
“At the very heart of Alcina, Karina Gauvin opens an abyss, transcending a hallucinating vibration and signs with this interpretation of the title role, the most deeply moving without any doubt, since Arleen Auger…” – Diapason
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Chaconne (King Arthur, Z.628, 1691)
Air Hither, This Way (King Arthur)
Air How Blest Are The Shepherds (King Arthur)
Song Music For A While (Oedipus, Z.583, 1692)
Air Shepherds, Shepherds (King Arthur)
Third Act Hornpipe (King Arthur)
Song See, Even Night Herself Is Here (The Fairy Queen, Z.629, 1692)
Song One Charming Night (The Fairy Queen)
Prelude (recorder) (The Fairy Queen)
Song If Love’s A Sweet Passion (The Fairy Queen)
Prelude (strings) (The Fairy Queen)
Air From Rosy Bowers (Don Quixote, Z.???, 1695)
Symphony While The Swans Come Forward (The Fairy Queen)
Air Fairest Isle (King Arthur)
An Evening Hymn (collection Harmonia sacra, Z.193,1688)
Air Now The Night Is Chas’d Away (The Fairy Queen)
Prelude (The Fairy Queen)
The Plaint O Let Me Ever, Ever Weep (The Fairy Queen)
Air Strike The Viol (ode Come ye sons of art, away, Z.323, 1694)
Symphony Trumpet Tune (King Arthur)
Air Hark! The Echoing Air (The Fairy Queen)
Air (King Arthur)
Lamento When I Am Laid (Dido and Æneas, Z.626, 1689)
Henry Purcell was only 36 years old when he died, and the posts he occupied were relatively modest — organist at Westminster Abbey and at the Chapel Royal, harpsichordist for the king’s private music — yet he composed in all the genres of his period, vocal as well as instrumental, sacred as well as profane.
A considerable part of his large output was written for the stage. Plays, including comedies and tragedies that were sometimes mediocre, served as vehicles for the presentation of many pieces of music: overtures, dances, airs, act or curtain tunes. These were all more or less integrated into the dramatic framework of the plays. Opera was an Italian invention that had not taken hold in England; despite many attempts, it had not supplanted the musical theatre of which the English were so fond. Throughout several decades, the favoured genre was the masque, a mixture of vocal music and dance. Masques were written on allegorical or exotic subjects, and were presented with sumptuous sets and costumes; they were, in a sense, the equivalent of the ballets de cour that had been so popular in France since the end of the preceding century. The masque was, above all, a princely diversion, much in favour during the reign of Charles I. However, the enchantment and the fantasy world that it provided were felt in nearly all forms of entertainment at this period in England.
Purcell wrote only one real opera, Dido and Aeneas; it was a modest production, the result of a commission in 1689 from a boarding school for girls in Chelsea, directed by Josias Priest. Some people believe, though, that the work had been presented previously at Court, inspired by Venus and Adonis by John Blow, and with Mary Davies in the role of the Queen of Carthage. This masterpiece of conciseness and of depth of expression ends with the air When I am laid in earth. The heroine, abandoned by Aeneas, sings the celebrated lament before putting an end to her life. As Nanie Bridgman explained, “this lament of Dido, while so short, reaches the heights of emotion and is one of the most beautiful moments in the entire history of music.” An Evening Hymn — which appeared in 1688 in a collection of airs written for use in domestic worship, entitled Harmonica Sacra — is a celebrated piece based on a ground, as the basso ostinato was known in England. This is also the case for Music for a while, which was inserted into the Oedipus of John Dryden. Purcell was able to use the very constraints imposed by this form to find new ways to evoke sadness and suffering; he offered audacious harmonies, often recurring to chromaticism, and played with the ambiguity between modality and tonality. And throughout, as Jack A. Westrup explained, “the vocal line is adjusted to disguise the repetition of the bass.”
During his final years, Purcell composed five particularly elaborate theatrical scores, called “semi-operas” by Roger North. These pieces were not planned as a series of optional interpolations, but instead were completely integrated into the dramas, participating in the unfolding of the plays through scenes showing ceremonies, supernatural tableaux, or pastoral episodes, which were most often performed by secondary characters. These masques of various magnitudes alternated, as divertissements or interludes, with the dialogue. Thus, in the words of William Christie, “Purcell created a series of mirrors that reflect the action, but that also subtly reveal ambiguities, underline the tensions at work in the piece, or throw an ironic light on certain themes, considerably enriching the initial frame- work of the piece.” In his semi-operas, Purcell had recourse to an imposing orchestra, adding woodwinds and brass to the strings. In the overtures, the dances, the instrumentation, and the accompaniment to the voices, he showed himself to be the disciple of Lully. Yet he even surpassed the French master in his range of inspiration, his elaboration of the inner parts, and his harmonic invention, while his vocal lines blend Italian fluidity with the sonorities and colors of the English language.
King Arthur or The British Worthy, presented in June 1691 at the Dorset Gardens Theatre, was the fruit of the close collaboration between Dryden and Purcell. It tells the story of the victory of the Britons, led by King Arthur, over the Saxons and their king Oswald. If, in the view of Roland de Candé, the work “makes you laugh with its excessive chauvinism,” it nevertheless contains elements of remarkable ingenuity, liveliness, and expression. In the second act, the elf Philidel leads the armed Britons through the night (Hither this way), while shepherds and shepherdesses entertain the lovely Emmeline, Arthur’s beloved (How blest are shepherds and Shepherd, shepherd, leave decoying). In the air Fairest Isle, in the fifth act, Venus evokes the miraculous birth of Britannia, the island where the united Britons and Saxons will live forever in love and harmony.
The Fairy Queen was presented in May of 1692 at Dorset Gardens, in an expensive and extravagant production; it was conceived as a revision of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many people consider that the poetic imagination and incomparable humour that Purcell employed in his magnificent score respect more closely the spirit of the original work than did the adaptation of the text, by Alkanah Settle, which did not have a single line of the original. Here, according to Christie, “English Baroque musical theatre, a complete and protean show, highly diverting and rich in emotions and in contrasts, attains its summit.” The masques of each act show the to-ing and fro-ing as well as the magic powers of Titania and Oberon, the lovelorn Queen and the King of the fairies. In the second act, Night (See, even Night her self is here), Mystery, Secresie (One charming night) and Sleep put Titania to sleep. In the third act, the air If Love’s a sweet passion accompanies the love of Titania for the ass Bottom, which is the result of a magic potion. Now the night is chac’d away is sung in the fourth act to announce the arrival of Phoebus in his chariot; finally, the air Hark! The echoing air announces, in the fifth and final act, the triumph of love and the reconciliation of the couples. In this score, the longest that Purcell wrote for the stage, “the melodic, rhythmic, and instrumental invention of Purcell is inexhaustible,” according to Roland de Candé, “and his rich and refined writing makes use of all styles and all techniques.”
Henry Playford, in the 1698 edition of the collected airs of Purcell, entitled Orpheus Britannicus, stated that From rosy bowers was “the last song the author sett, it being in his sickness.” Inserted into The Comical History of Don Quixote, a comedy by Thomas D’Urfey performed in 1695, the air develops into a veritable scena, which is presented in five contrasting sections. Sung by Altisidore (a role played at the time by the very young Letitia Cross), who wants to give Don Quixote a love parody in order to distract him from Dulcinea, it is an air of madness “wrung with emotions heightened by abrupt changes in tempo and by unexpected modulations and dissonances,” according to William Christie. To illustrate the connections between excitement, disappointment in love, and madness, D’Urfey planned the following sequence, which Purcell respected perfectly: Sullenly Mad – Mirthfully Mad (a swift Movement) – Melancholy Madness – Fantastically Mad – Stark Mad.
The theatrical music of Purcell stands alone in making use of the vitality and suppleness of the English language, while demonstrating an exceptional diversity of tones and of atmospheres. Nothing, in effect, was beyond his inspiration — the joys and torments of love, the pain of abandonment, the mysteries of the night, the raving of madness — each is given the most perfect tone imaginable. John Dryden, who cared about the compatibility of poetry and music, declared that he was delighted with his collaboration with the musician, admiring the perfection of English music “through the Artful hands of Mr. Purcell,” adding that “with so great a Genius, that he has nothing to fear but an ignorant, ill-judging Audience.”
It is difficult to learn much about the personalities of musicians who lived in the distant past; often we have only anecdotes or evidence that is questionable and second-hand. Some rare writings describe Purcell as an affable man, spontaneous, generous towards musicians, loyal to friends, and able to laugh. He was happy in his marriage, although his children died young, as often happened in that period. That is about all one can say about the man himself, despite the very personal accents that we can sometimes detect in his music. Romantic ideology would have us relate the composition of certain works to ups and downs in the life of their creator; we would search in vain for such a connection with Purcell and his contemporaries. It is tempting, at times, to examine the sensitivity, the melancholy poetry, and the feverish vigour given off by the art of the British Orpheus, as well as the strained harmonies and the “angular qualities” of his melodies (in the words of Manfred Bukofzer) and try to read therein a sort of portrait of the personality and feelings of the composer. Nothing could be less certain: the vein of nostalgia that he manifested was everywhere in the England of his time. All we can agree upon is that he expressed it better than his contemporaries!
Recognized for her work in the baroque repertoire, Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin sings Bach, Mahler, Britten and the music of the 20th and 21st centuries with equal success. The prestigious distinctions she has received include the title of “Soloist of the Year” awarded by the Communauté internationale des radios publiques de langue française, first prize in the CBC Radio competition for young performers, and the Virginia Parker Prize and Maggie Teyte Memorial Prize in London.
She has sung with the greatest symphony orchestras, including the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the San Francisco Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic and the Rotterdam Philharmonic, as well as baroque orchestras such as Les Talens Lyriques, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, Accademia Bizantina, Il Complesso Barocco, the Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin, the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and Les Violons du Roy. She has performed under the direction of Charles Dutoit, Michael Tilson Thomas, Bernard Labadie, Christophe Rousset, Alan Curtis, Sir Roger Norrington, Kent Nagano, Semyon Bychkov, Helmut Rilling and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In addition, she has given recitals with pianists Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Michael McMahon, and Roger Vignoles.
She was Alcina (Handel) with Les Talens Lyriques and Ariadne in Georg Conradi’s Die Schöne und getreue Ariadne for the Boston Early Music Festival. She has sung Seleuce in Handel’s Tolomeo with Alan Curtis, with whom she also recorded Handel operas on ARCHIV/Deutsche Grammophon, Virgin and Naïve labels, among others. She performed in Tito Manlio (Vivaldi) in Brussels and at the Barbican in London, in Ezio (Handel) in Paris and Vienna, in Giulio Cesare (Handel) in Paris and Vienna, as well as in Juditha Triumphans (Vivaldi) with Andrea Marcon at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Her performances with the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra earned her nominations at the Grammy Awards in 2007 and 2009.
Karina Gauvin’s extensive discography – over 30 titles – has won numerous awards, including a “Chamber Music America Award” for her Fête Galante disc with pianist Marc-André Hamelin, and several Opus Prizes.
Her recent projects include a European tour and a recording of Ariodante (Handel) for EMI Virgin Classics, along with a European tour and a recording of Giulio Cesare for the Naïve House, both with Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco. She has also sung the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian and the Symphony No. 2 (Mahler) with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. In 2009, she recorded Britten’s Les Illuminations with Les Violons du Roy under the direction of Jean-Marie Zeitouni, and she has just completed an album in honour of Anna Maria Strada del Po, with Alexander Weimann and the Arion Orchestre Baroque.
Karina Gauvin recently performed the Princess in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and she sang in Bach’s Johannes Passion with Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie, on tour in Canada and then at Carnegie Hall in New York. Future seasons promise to be exciting: she will sing Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo at the Glyndebourne Festival, Giunone in Cavalli’s Callisto at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Vitellia in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, and Armide in Gluck’s Armide with the Netherlands Opera.
Les Boréades de Montréal
Founded by Francis Colpron in 1991, Les Boréades focuses on early music. The ensemble has chosen an interpretative approach in keeping with the spirit of the Baroque era, by adhering to the rules of performance practice of the past and playing on period instruments. Critics and audiences alike in Canada and abroad have been unanimous in hailing the group’s energy and spontaneity as well as its theatrical, expressive and elegant playing, indicative of a unique flair for Baroque aesthetics.
The group has received many grants from the Québec and Canada governments and has toured extensively in Canada and abroad, taking part in several renowned festivals. The musicians also performed at the Frick Collection of New-York, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Salle Gaveau in Paris, Vancouver Festival, Musikfest Bremen and at the Alter Musik Regensburg.
Les Boréades has performed with world-renowned artists such as Hervé Niquet, director of the Concert Spirituel de Paris; Skip Sempé, harpsichordist and director of Capriccio Stravagante; violinists Manfred Kraemer and Adrian Butterfield; harpsichordist Alexander Weimann; conductor Eric Milnes; cornettist William Dongois; recorder player Stefano Bagliano; as well as with tenor Charles Daniels, and Canadian singers Matthew White, Karina Gauvin. The ensemble Les Boréades owns a solid discography of 25 titles, on the Atma Classique label, which are distributed around the world.