This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne’s new CD Alma Oppressa, recorded with the Clavecin en Concert and Luc Beauséjour, features arias by Vivaldi and Handel as well as a few short instrumental pieces taken from their operas. It’s a pleasing combination of the dramatic and the more lyrically relaxed, though as pretty much all these arias were written for star castrati it’s also highly virtuosic. The first two numbers give a very good sample of what’s to come. The title track, from Vivaldi’s La fida ninfa is dramatic and allows Ms. Boulianne to use the darker colours of her voice to good effect as well as providing coloratura hijinks. “Sovvento il sole” from the same composer’s Andromeda Liberata is much more lyrical. Indeed, it’s very beautiful with a haunting melody line and an interesting dialogue between voice and violin. It shows off both the brighter tones of the voice and her very attractive lower register. The Vivaldi pieces will likely not be too familiar to most opera goers but there are much better known Handel pieces on the CD including “Lasci ch’io pianga” from Rinaldo and “Cara speme questo core” from Giulio Cesare. The latter shows off the brighter side of the voice as befits an aria for a juvenile character. The twelve piece band, with Beauséjour directing from the harpsichord is quite excellent. They provide a brisk and transparent accompaniment to the arias and sound really excellent in their three short instrumental pieces. I think this is a sensible sized ensemble for this music and probably not far away from what the composers would have expected.
The recording quality is very good and the ambience of the recording venue; the church in St-Mathieu-de-Beloeil, suits the music. It’s not too reverberant and allows for a crisp, clean sound. The booklet does not include full texts but there’s a contextual summary of each aria and a translation of its opening line. I think that’s a good option for presenting da capo arias. All in all, this CD is a most enjoyable compilation of well known and not so well known baroque opera.