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CD booklet
Songbird

Opera News
November 16, 2017

Gounod’s “Viens! Les gazons sont verts” and Wolf’s “Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten” are irresistibly ebullient. Claire mines a more probing, reflective tone for Chausson’s “Dans la forêt du charme et de l’enchantement,” while Quilter’s “Now sleeps the crimson petal” is nostalgic without being sentimental. Strauss’s “Epheu” and Liszt’s “Der Fischerknabe” offer moments of exquisite control. Brahms’s “Regenlied” is haunting and rich, and his “Unbewegte laue Luft” undergoes a transformation from mellow poignancy to sensual invitation. In Claire’s voice, Purcell’s stalwart “Music for a While,” often soporific, becomes active, driven by a seemingly urgent need to make music.

She skates effortlessly over the scales and arpeggios in Gounod’s gently rocking “Sérénade,” tapping delicately into chest voice, and the butterflies of Chausson’s “Papillons” take flight with brilliance. Claire’s Debussy offerings, “Romance” and “Il pleure dans mon coeur,” are lush and heartfelt. Barber’s “St. Ita’s Vision” captures the passionate rapture of devotion. Bizet’s “Chanson d’avril” is a little too heavy, as is Britten’s “Seascape.” Fauré’s “Le secret” offers a better balance of suppleness and sheen, and Argento’s “Spring” is like a refreshing, cool shower.

Pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone is a supportive, unobtrusive partner throughout. This lovely collection fulfills the hope Claire expresses in her liner notes—that music will remain a bright spot of joy in a tumultuous world.

© Joanne Sydney Lessner - Opera News 

Opera Canada
September 22, 2017

Opera at Home: A Review of Layla Claire’s Songbird

The 20 track collection is the soprano's solo recording debut featuring accompaniment from pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone.

Lyric soprano Layla Claire, who hails from Penticton, B.C., was a graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist program and made her debut on that storied stage as Tebaldo in Don Carlos in 2010. Since then, her career has advanced quickly,with appearances at the Washington National Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Canadian Opera Company (as Fiordiligi in the 2014 Così fan tutte), Opernhaus Zürich, as well as the Salzburg, Glyndebourne, Grant Park and Aix-en-provence Festivals. Her Salzburg debut in 2016, as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, was greeted with wildly enthusiastic reviews.

On the concert stage, she has made appearances with the Boston, Montreal and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras, and the New York and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras. She has sung under a host of esteemed conductors, including Nézet-Séguin, Levine, Haitink, Tilson
Thomas, Nagano and Christie. This CD marks her solo recording debut.

Together with piano accompanist Marie-Ève Scarfone (who, like Claire, studied at L’Université de Montréal), she serves up a varied program of 20 tracks, ranging from Purcell to Wolf transversing Gounod, Debussy, Strauss, Brahms, Barber and Dominick Argento along the way. Many of the offerings are extremely short (seven are under two minutes), but all are sufficient to display her bright, uncluttered tone and impeccable enunciation.

Gounod’s “Viens! Les gazons sont verts” (Come! The lawns are green!”) exudes charm and elegance; Wolf’s “O wär dein Haus” (Oh, were your house transparent as glass” from the Italienisches Liederbuch) is almost frantic in mood and pace, but beautifully controlled; and Strauss’s “Epheu” (“Ivy”) with its demanding range and wandering melody, is expressively sung. Other highlights include Liszt’s “Der Fischerknabe” (“The Fisher Lad,” a real gem); Gounod’s charming, waltz-like “Serenade” and Barber’s “St. Ita’s Vision” (where Claire shows off her impressive range).

The CD booklet includes the texts in their original languages, but no translations.

Rick MacMillan - Opera Canada

The WholeNote
August 30, 2017

Canadian soprano Layla Claire's impressive background includes concert performances with top international orchestras and roles in significant Handel and Mozart opera productions. She participated in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, leading to return engagements. This disc demonstrates her recitalist side with 20 art songs in French, German and English. She has an attractive, agile voice with a light vibrato, sparkling top and rich middle-to-low register. Her choice of songs leans towards cheer, intimacy and (she writes) “music that I think is charming and cozy.” In impeccable collaboration with outstanding Quebec-based pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, bright songs like the opening Viens! Les gazons sont verts! (Gounod), Chanson d’avril (Bizet) and Spring (Dominick Argento) communicate a definite sense of joy.

But there is more. In Gounod’s Sérénade, Claire’s vocal agility is remarkable. Her wide registral and dynamic range show in Richard Strauss’ Epheu, where after a dive of nearly two octaves she continues with perfect control. Warm low notes aptly colour the beginning of Brahms’ great Unbewegte laue Luft. Both artists lead me mesmerized into Chausson’s symbolist Dans la forêt du charme et de l’enchantement; Scarfone contributes subtle colouring and pacing. As for small quibbles, one vocal climax note is cut off unusually and a couple are slightly under pitch. Also the package lacks song translations. Not to worry; I recommend Songbird highly and look forward eagerly to more music from Claire and Scarfone.

Roger Knox – The WholeNote

ICI Musique
June 9, 2017

La soprano vancouvéroise Layla Claire, que les Québécois ne connaissent pas aussi bien que Marie-Nicole Lemieux ou Karina Gauvin, ne mérite pas moins votre attention que ces dernières. Voici une artiste de classe mondiale! L’album Songbird, un bouquet de mélodies variées qui vient de paraître sous étiquette Atma, est une vraie merveille et le témoignage d’un talent immense qu’ICI Musique vous donne la chance de mieux connaître.

Enregistré à la salle Françoys-Bernier du Domaine Forget (à Saint-Irénée, dans la région de Charlevoix) en octobre 2016, à un moment où la soprano était enceinte de huit mois, le programme fait la part belle à des textes qui parlent d’enfance, de vie, de printemps, de renouveau, etc. Les mots subtils de Heyse, de Tennyson, de Schiller, d’Hugo, de Verlaine et de bien d’autres deviennent douces brises, émois délicats ou encore caresses de gerbes colorées grâce à la musique de Gounod, de Debussy, de Liszt, de Barber, de Brahms, de Purcell, etc.

Mais toute cette beauté serait inutile si elle n’avait pas trouvé son passereau ensorcelant en la personne de Layla Claire. C’est une voix lumineuse qui s’exprime ici. Rayonnante dans les aigus et veloutée dans les graves, elle n’est heureusement jamais surcoffrée (vous savez, le genre de voix qui semble sortir directement de la poitrine, avec un vibrato extralarge et un timbre presque caverneux). C’est un vrai délice de l’écouter.

Et puis, il y a la pianiste Marie-Ève Scarfone, un trésor national d’accompagnatrice qui sait tirer le meilleur parti de chaque artiste qu’elle soutient de son jeu à la fois discret et imposant de pertinence et de musicalité.

Il s’agit d’un album exceptionnel, rien de moins, qui nous donne l’occasion de mieux connaître une artiste d’ici qui ne saurait rester méconnue bien longtemps. Ce serait un crime.

Frédéric Cardin - ICI Musique
 

Le Devoir
June 2, 2017

★★★★
Layla Claire est l’une des protégées de Jacqueline Desmarais avec laquelle le Québec a eu le moins de contacts, jusqu’à cette saison, où les représentations de Don Giovanni à l’Opéra de Montréal nous ont révélées, en Donna Elvira, une soprano de classe mondiale. La présence de cette native de Vancouver au Festival de Salzbourg en 2016 n’était donc en rien usurpée ! Layla Claire a enregistré ce récital de mélodies en octobre 2016 au Domaine Forget, juste avant le Don Giovanni de Montréal. Enceinte au moment de l’enregistrement, il est ici beaucoup question, dans trois langues, de naissance, de verdeur, de printemps, mais aussi des mystères de la vie. Ce sont des mélodies du jardin secret de Layla Claire, un récital qui, comme celui, récent, de Michèle Losier, s’apprivoise plus qu’il s’impose. La voix est superbe, riche et moelleuse dans le bas médium. Et, nul doute, on réentendra Marie-Ève Scarfone comme accompagnatrice de mélodies !

Christophe Huss - Le Devoir

Schmopera
May 22, 2017

Canadians Layla Claire and Marie-Ève Scarfone are set to release their debut album together, Songbird. It's a broad-reaching collection of songs, beautiful picks by Wolf, Debussy, Brahms, Argento, Britten, and plenty more. The album is officially released on ATMA Classique on June 2, 2017, but Canadians are in luck: Songbird is available for free streaming on CBC until May 26.

We spoke with Claire about recording her first album, choosing "songs that we loved", and the artist's responsibility to "cut through the noise" in tough times.

HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THE SONGS FOR YOUR FIRST ALBUM? WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY HAVE IN COMMON?
Because this was our own love project we were really free to change repertoire as we went. Marie-Eve and I started with a list of songs but during the rehearsal process we let some fall away and added others organically. We were after a cohesive sound garden — songs that we loved and thought worked well together, rather than a collection built around a specific theme.

DID YOU FIND ANYTHING SURPRISING ABOUT THE RECORDING PROCESS, COMPARED TO A LIVE PERFORMANCE?
We had the chance to run the program for voice students and faculty at l'Université de Montréal, (where Marie-Eve and I used to study together), which turned out to be very valuable. I tried to replicate the feeling of singing to an intimate audience while recording in an empty hall.

HOW DID YOU FIND THE POST-RECORDING PROCESS? DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SINGERS WHO FIND IT DIFFICULT TO LISTEN TO RECORDINGS OF THEMSELVES SINGING?

I think it's hard for everyone to listen to themselves objectively. Some days I'd listen to our first edits and think it was all crap and then the next time I'd listen I'd think, hey, it's pretty good! Of course you think, ooh, I could do that better, but when you've got a limited budget and time, you can only give everything a couple of takes. You have to accept that it's a snapshot in time and let it go.

IN YOUR ALBUM NOTES, YOU TALK ABOUT RECORDING THIS ALBUM IN TOUGH POLITICAL TIMES, WHILE YOU WERE PREGNANT - HOW DO YOU FIND THE HEAD SPACE TO FOCUS ON THINGS LIKE MUSIC AND SINGING, WHEN THERE SEEM TO BE LARGE, UNIVERSAL ISSUES OVERSHADOWING THE ARTS?

I believe it is my job as an artist is to cut through the noise and remind us that life is too beautiful and precious to let base negativity be the resounding voice. We are capable of creating incredible beauty - the sophisticated marriage of poetry and song being the example we had to offer.

Jenna Douglas – Schmopera
 

CBC First Play
May 19, 2017

"It is important for me to come back to art song as often as I can to hone my musicality and work in more detail as well as connect more intimately with my audience," explains soprano Layla Claire, whose 2016-17 calendar has been dominated by opera: Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Montreal, Zurich) and Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (Philadelphia).

Her debut recital album, Songbird (due out June 2 on ATMA Classique), has given her not only the art song fix she craves, but also an opportunity to collaborate with pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone, whom Claire describes as "a terrific musician and a joy to work with. Her personality is pure sunshine, which was a perfect match for the repertoire we chose."

The recording sessions took place in Salle Françoys-Bernier at Domaine Forget in the Charlevoix region of Quebec. "We recorded it there because of [the] terrific facilities and acoustics. The region was beautiful and inspiring — we had an incredible view of the St. Lawrence River. We walked along the beach and through the spectacular colours of the autumn forest between recording sessions."

'Sound garden'
Claire describes Songbird as a “sound garden — songs that we loved and thought worked well together,” rather than a collection built around a specific theme. “They are songs that are nurturing, cosy and charming,” she continues. “I wanted a CD that I could imagine someone putting on and listening to at home with a cup of tea."

The first song they selected was Ernest Chausson's "Dans la forêt du charme et de l'enchantement" — "unsettling, unusual and beautiful," says Claire — and they built the rest of the program around it: songs in three languages and spanning three centuries, from Henry Purcell's "Music for a While" to Dominik Argento's "Spring," by way of Gounod, Brahms, Wolf, Fauré, Britten and others.

"I added Barber's 'St. Ita's Vision' last," she notes of the lullaby from Hermit Songs, "as I was coming toward the end of my pregnancy and could start imagining rocking and nursing my little one."

Matilda
In January, Claire and her husband, baritone John Chest, welcomed baby Matilda into the world. "It is a joy and a privilege to be a mother," she says, despite the fact that parental leave isn’t really an option for performing artists whose engagements have often been confirmed a year or two in advance. They've both fulfilled important opera and concert contracts in the few months since their baby arrived.

Claire puts a positive spin on the situation: "Our daughter is a good little traveller and seems to enjoy discovering new places, faces and languages already. She has come to rehearsals a few times already and enjoys listening and watching," she explains, adding, "We're hoping that, although it is an unusual childhood, it will be what is normal for her."

Alcina, Elijah
Claire, a graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program at the Metropolitan Opera and a past recipient of the Virginia Parker Prize from the Canada Council, has in recent seasons sung Anne Trulove in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (Pittsburgh Opera, Metropolitan Opera) and Helena in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream (Aix-en-Provence) in addition to her recent Mozart's roles. She's excited to announce she will add the title role in Handel's Alcinato her repertoire next season, starring in Katie Michel's critically acclaimed production at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre and a new production at the International Handel Festival in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Closer to home, she sings Mendelssohn's Elijah with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Kent Nagano on May 21 at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim synagogue in Westmount, Que.

Claire and Scarfone's Songbird will be released on ATMA Classique on June 2.

Robert Rowar - CBC Music