Sabine Devieilhe: Mirages
You’d be forgiven for assuming that this release, featuring a French coloratura soprano in repertoire that includes the Hamlet Mad Scene, an extract from Thaïs and hit numbers from Lakmé, might be a conventional affair. You’d be wrong. As a quick glance down the rest of the track-listing shows, this adventurous programme places those familiar showpieces into the most fascinating of contexts, exploring, to quote Sabine Devieilhe’s brief note in the booklet, ‘the fantasy image of a different country’ that was such an obsession in fin de siècle France.
Those Lakmé numbers can rarely have sounded fresher or more original, with Devieilhe joined by Marianne Crebassa in a supremely seductive account of the Flower Duet and offering some breathtaking coloratura in the Bell Song. And the latter, in particular, is heard in an entirely different light when juxtaposed with Maurice Delage’s remarkable Quatres Poèmes hindous (1912) – almost ethnographic in their attempts to capture the strange sounds of an exotic world.
Similarly, the programme underlines that weird orientalist episode that turns up half way through Ophélie’s Mad Scene (at 7'20" here) and forces one to hear Thaïs’s charmeuse afresh – we have just that small episode from Massenet’s wonderful score, rather than any of the title character’s numbers. Stravinsky makes a guest appearance with the brief Nightingale’s Song from Le rossignol, here in its French version.
‘Le voyage’ from Charles Koechlin’s voice-and-piano setting of Tristan Klingsor’s Shéhérazade poems serves as a beguiling intermediary palate-cleanser, as do Berlioz’s own delicate La mort d’Ophélie and Debussy’s Le romance d’Ariel – all three are superbly accompanied by Alexandre Tharaud. The briefest wisp of Pelléas et Mélisande – sung with disarming artlessness – takes us into another strange, distant world between the different easts evoked by Messager and Delibes, minimal gaps between tracks allowing them almost to blend into one another.
The performances themselves are terrific. François-Xavier Roth exploits the period instruments of Les Siècles to emphasise the sheer variety of orchestral colours on display (captured in excellent sound) and accompanies with sensitivity. Devieilhe, meanwhile, has a wonderfully instinctive and apparently effortless way with this music. The voice is on the light side but marries seductive delicacy with astonishing pinpoint accuracy, as well as an ability to turn on a sixpence from cool, quasi-instrumental purity to seductive warmth.
All in all, this refreshing, fascinating and beguiling album is impossible to resist. Highly recommended.