Seals and Pelicans - French Baroque Christmas, November 30, 2012

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Nov 30, 2012

Seals and Pelicans - French Baroque Christmas, November 30, 2012

Francine Labelle, soprano

I just got home from rehearsal and I feel exhilarated. 

On the menu this time is music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The French Baroque Christmas programme is comprised of the Christmas oratorio In nativitatem, and the gorgeous Messe à huit voix.  Of course, Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit is better known, but I trust Toronto audiences will relish in these two works. In fact, if you are looking for something a little different this holiday season, this is for you.

Did I mention that this music is simply divine? Mon Dieu! I forgot how much I love French Baroque music… Is it just because of my ‘frenchitude’ (or should I say Frenchness)? I feel so at home in this repertoire.

Next week will be concert week – and things are really shaping up. So far, our rehearsals have been with choir only. I cannot wait to sing this with the orchestra…

As everything we do with Tafelmusik is historically informed, this particular programme requires the use of French Latin. Come on, people; bring your lips forward and nobody gets hurt!  It’s not always easy, even for me (I sometimes get confused between French Latin and German Latin – but please don’t tell Ivars).  My score is marked with weird pronunciation reminders: Crédo in üne-homme dé homme Exültémüs jübilate Déüs! Looks weird, right? But don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. This really gives the piece a special colour. And of course, French Baroque entails a specific style of ornamentation: notes inégales, mordents, and so on. To quote the famous William Christie from Les Arts Florissants: "If you ask any singer in Baroque music today which of the national styles is the most difficult he or she would probably answer immediately the French Baroque".  Indeed, it is sometimes tricky but… what glorious music.

Rumour has it that Charpentier spent a fair bit of time in Rome (circa 1666-1669) where he was greatly influenced by Giacomo Carissimi. This is becoming more and more apparent to me as I get to know this music better, especially in the Messe à huit voix. The work is definitely French in character yet evokes Italian polychoral music. Some passages actually remind me of Monteverdi as well. It’s like travelling to Paris via Rome!

As always, Ivars is very attentive to the text; I greatly admire that in him. In addition, he is a colourful person, and a gifted communicator. To convey moods, shapes and musical ideas, he uses metaphors. And in doing so (rather than using technical terms), he manages to put the singers at ease. Naturally, with Ivars’ sense of humour, this sometimes leads to hilarity - but our work, of course, remains very serious. For example, to achieve an ethereal, smooth quality for the (very delicious) Sanctus, he suggested we think of seals, graciously swimming under water. Now, “that sounded more like eels”, he exclaimed when we did not succeed right away.  That night, all the metaphors were about water and sea creatures. The following rehearsal seemed to be about birds, and pelicans in particular… For a little exuberance in the Exultemus (from In nativitatem), he yelled ‘like happy pelicans flapping their wings – but not freaked out pelicans’!

I wonder what he will come up with next time…

To learn more about the French Baroque Christmas Programme and to purchase tickets, please click here!

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