Definitely the Opera
November 7, 2011
The Conversion of Clovis, a very operatic baroque oratorio in Italian, dramatises one of the founding myths of France, the conversion to Christianity and baptism of the King Clovis of the Francs, the event that indeed took place, historians tell us, following a key military victory in 496.
The soprano consort of the pagan mezzo king is already Christian, and pleads with her husband to turn to one true God before his big battle. Her ally is the archbishop San Remigio, interestingly also a soprano. The battle doesn’t go too well for the King, and amidst plans of withdrawal he abandons Mars and turns to the Christian God, which in turn changes the outcome of the battle in his favour. The King comes home converted, and the rest of the Act 2 are arias of acceptance of the one true faith, celebration of the victory, renewal of marital love and loyalty to the One Church.
Musically, it’s a more intricate affair. The riches are achieved with nominally very little: a super-thin orchestra and only four voices, and all four relatively high, but how very different in colour. The da capos are the expected virtuosic exercises with embellishments on the second go, but not predictable at all. The recitativi are even more expressive than the da capo arias – or they are rendered such by these highly drama-literate singers. Occasionally and unexpectedly, the solo organ becomes the only musical accompaniment in statements of particular monotheistic fervour. About the entire second half of the last act becomes a singspiel competition in God-worship and contrition among the characters.
Allyson McHardy is a mezzo on the make getting press and contracts left, right and centre, and now that I finally heard her I understand why. Her darkish timbre and her coloratura agility remind in all the right ways of the young Marilyn Horne, and in this oratorio she is given a considerable gamut. The early arias she gets are guerriere and the latter ones are umili, with many amorous exchanges with the spouse in between. She will sing Dejanira with Tafelmusik’s concert Hercules at the Koerner Hall in a couple of months, which should be interesting to hear.
She has a good match in Nathalie Paulin as her spouse Clotilda, whose substantial and expressive soprano made the character of the wife sound (fortunately) not too youthful but more of a wise woman. The archbishop is also a soprano, and with Suzie LeBlanc it is an angelic-sounding immaculate girl of a bishop that very productively undermines our gender expectations. The bishop sings almost exclusively in allegories and is prone to stratospherically high and light fiorituras. Imagine a figure like the Grand Inquisitor from Don Carlo being given a score along the lines of the novice Constance in the Dialogues des Carmelites and you’ll get the picture.
Before being recorded, this Clodoveo was staged some years back as a Canadian-German co-production and travelled to Vancouver, Montreal and Berlin. Its director in both versions is Alexander Weimann, a Munich-born keyboard instrumentalist of wide interests (from Bach recitatives to medieval Latin to jazz piano) who recorded noted Scarlatti and Buxtehude CDs.
Clodoveo is a keeper.
Lydia Perovic - Definitely the Opera
October 1, 2011
Le Nouvel Opéra, a company directed by Suzie LeBlanc and Alexander Weimann, has contributed a stellar performance of a gem seldom heard. This oratorio by Antonio Caldara relates the story of the first Frankish king to convert to Christianity. It is characteristic of Caldara’s later Roman oratorios, set in the galant style for a small instrumental ensemble with singers chosen from the higher vocal ranges. Thus we have a cast of four: the pagan King Clovis sung by mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy; his devoutly Christian wife Clotilde sung by soprano Nathalie Paulin; his captain Uberto sung by countertenor Matthew White and the bishop Remigus sung by soprano Suzie LeBlanc.
The artistry of the ensemble and the vocal beauty of these four voices and their marvellous interpretive skills in conveying dramatic changes are remarkable. McHardy is a superb foil as the forceful warrior to Paulin’s tender charms as wife, LeBlanc’s patient and saintly monk and White’s steadfast captain. The small size of the ensemble and Weimann’s direction from the harpsichord and organ provides a masterful but sensitive accompaniment, allowing these superb voices to shine through brilliantly. Nowhere is this more evident than in the king and queen’s duet which takes place after the baptismal ritual, the two voices intertwining and signifying a true union of spirit.
Dianne Wells - The WholeNote
American Record Guide
September 1, 2011
The Nouvel Opera ensemble plays with fine rhythmic balance and well-judged tempos: violins imitate trumpets’ call to battle; recitatives and dialog are underlined effectively with varying instruments; drama and movement are well sustained. The singers convey many emotions: San Remigio’s fervent and beautiful triple-meter aria ‘Se Mesta L’Alma’ on the contrasts between the hope-less and hope-filled soul, and Clodoveo’s earnest declaration to spill blood on the battlefield to compensate for Clotilde’s tears in ‘Rasserenatevi’ (with an inventive rippling accompaniment) are just two examples. (...) The Caldara discography is not large, and this is a welcome addition.
American Record Guide
August 31, 2011
Il y a bien plus de trois raisons d’écouter cet oratorio d’Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) concernant la mythique conversion au christianisme du premier roi de France, Clovis, mais puisqu’il faut être bref, résumons :
1- Les voix : Suzie LeBlanc, sublime et étincelante comme toujours; Nathalie Paulin, impériale et assurée; Matthew White, leste et agile; Allison McHardy, puissante et charnelle.
2- La production : la maison Atma a eu la main heureuse en faisant confiance au Nouvel Opéra, ensemble canadien consacré à la redécouverte en nos terres d’Amérique du théâtre musical baroque, encore tellement méconnu. L’orchestre, sous la direction d’Alexander Weimann, resplendit, en particulier dans les passages plus ardents. La prise de son, claire et directe, est excellente.
3- Le caractère historique : en plus de marquer le premier enregistrement réalisé par Le Nouvel Opéra, compagnie installée à Montréal, il s’agit à ma connaissance de la première gravure de cette œuvre éminemment réjouissante, bourrée de mélodies délicates et accrocheuses.
Les amoureux d’un baroque à la fois poignant et pétillant, accessible et vivifiant, tendre et festif, devraient être ravis et charmés, comme je le fus à l’écoute de ce disque. Bravo. Mille fois bravo
Blogue classique - espace.mu
The Toronto Star
April 19, 2011
★★★★ (out of 4)
This Canadian resurrection of dramatically charged music from Baroque-era Rome is full of brilliant surprises. The singers — sopranos Suzie LeBlanc and Nathalie Paulin, mezzo Allyson McHardy and counter-tenor Matthew White — are excellent, as are their period-instrument accompanists led by Alexander Weimann. The story itself — a sort of sacred opera that was performed in the days leading up to Easter — tells of the conversion to Christianity of Clovis, King of the Franks. This two-CD recording brims with gorgeous arias that prove why Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) was one of the most famous vocal composers of his day. It leaves us wanting more.
John Terauds - The Toronto Star