Oh dear … where do I begin? There’s so much out there that I like! I love opera (Verdi, Puccini, even Rossini), renaissance and baroque music, jazz (Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee), Mahler, organ music, a good dose of new music, Maria Callas, Requiems in general, Poulenc, world music (especially African and Arabic music), pretty much anything by Tafelmusik, and French singers Aznavour, Montand, Brassens, and arrrgghhh … Jacques Brel.
Jacques Brel Les bonbons
So here it goes! In Tafelmusik rehearsals, Ivars always talks about word painting. For me, the ultimate master of word painting was Jacques Brel. His poetry was beautiful and poignant, yet powerful and cynical at times. Though his voice was untrained, his pitch was impeccable, and his sense of rhythm extraordinary, to great dramatic effect. Most of all, the listener never, ever misses a word. Brel’s interpretations were heart wrenching, though he was sometimes just plain funny. From Ne me quitte pas to Les Bourgeois, from Les vieux to Amsterdam … Les Bonbons is a gem, almost like a mini movie. Sweet, with a hint of sourness.
Monteverdi “Duo Seraphim,” from Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610
Sacred music always moves me. I discovered Monteverdi ‘s Vespro della Beata Vergine 1610 in my first year of university. Though I had been singing for many years by then, this type of music was completely new to me, and I remember being astonished at the complexity, the beauty, the depth of the work. I kept staring at the score in disbelief. A few years later, I went on a six-week tour of France with Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal — and some incredibly talented colleagues, including Suzie LeBlanc and a very young Daniel Taylor—performing the Vespers. I remember some magical performances taking place in twelfth-century cathedrals by candlelight. I have such great memories of that tour! This work will always be close to my heart. I find it both inspirational and … terribly sensual. One highlight is the incredibly gorgeous “Duo Seraphim.” It begins simply and builds up, with delicious dissonances and stunning ornamentation. I used to have an LP recording with Max von Edmond and Nigel Rogers, with Harnoncourt directing, which is absolutely divine. Sadly, I cannot find it on CD; if you know how to get it, please let me know!
Francis Poulenc Dialogues des Carmélites
Poulenc has to be one of my favourite composers. There is a mystical quality to his music—a blend of mystery, angularity, humour, and tendresse—a trait that is unique to him. His opera, Dialogues des Carmélites, again stirs me in ways that I cannot explain. I must say that the text by Bernanos on which it is based has a lot to do with it! I discovered this work when singing with the Montreal Opera chorus, many years ago. We (the nuns from the chorus) cried profusely every night. The stagehands had to come around backstage with a box of Kleenex and a waste basket between scenes! I am particularly fond of Constance, a character who, despite her naïve, childlike vision of the world, delivers some of the most profound statements, as if to illustrate the saying, “La vérité sort de la bouche des enfants.”
Ladysmith Black Mambazo Shaka Zulu
I am also very attracted to world music—Arabic and African music in particular. Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s album Shaka Zulu is always within reach. I listen to it often. As described in their biography, they sing “joyous and uplifting music that marries the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native South African musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music.” Well, that sums it up. I saw them peform live only once, and was absolutely taken by their beautiful a capella music and irresistible charisma.
Mahler Kindertotenlieder (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau)
I love Mahler. When I feel tired and sad, I put on the Kindertotenlieder and I cry. It’s just good to let go once in a while, you know? The subject is dark, of course. The idea of losing a child is unbearable. To think that Rückert wrote the poems after he lost two children is heart-breaking enough. To think that, four years after he set these texts to music, Mahler lost his own daughter is even more distressing. The first time I heard this, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I realized that I had a maternal instinct. Now that I am a mother, I can only listen to this cycle once in a while, as it moves me too much.
And now … I realize most of the pieces I picked are somewhat religious, sad, or tragic … By fear of coming across as a miserable, glum person who takes herself too seriously, I will end on a happier, lighter note! I want to thank my teenage son for making me discover a whole new musical world, which includes a lot of rap, Bruno Mars, and the Black Eyed Peas. So for the song of the day, I picked something that brings me right back to my own teenage years: Harmonie du soir à Châteauguay, by Beau Dommage.