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Marshalling a career in ancient and modern: soprano Karina Gauvin takes on rare French Baroque in Boston's Psyche.

LIFE CONTAINS MANY MYSTERIES, I KNOW, BUT I MUST admit that among the most unfathomable to me is why soprano Karina Gauvin is not appreciated as she should be. Simply stated, she is one of the most, if not the most, versatile world-class sopranos in Canada. Equally at home in the recital and concert hall as on the operatic stage, she has a repertory that ranges from Monteverdi to Berio and also created a stunning work by Quebec composer Francois Tousignant at the 2004 Orford Festival.


When I raised her lack of recognition in a recent conversation, she adroitly and pragmatically replied that she simply "wished that the public listened with their ears rather than base their views of singers on what they read in articles influenced by an army of publicists." It is true that many modern singers owe their celebrity more to the efforts of a publicity machine than their own vocal and interpretative achievements. In an objective universe, not only would Gerald Finley be acknowledged as the finest singing-actor in the world today, Gauvin would be widely recognized as one of the vocal world's leading ladies.

With a laugh, Gauvin adds, "While in transit at Los Angeles airport recently, I bought a book that I have yet to read, but the title is Talent is Never Enough--and in our vocal world, it never is!" Perhaps not, but Gauvin's remarkable talent has taken her a tremendous distance recently. This present season is evidence of her considerable artistic diversity. In January, she appeared in Brussels in Vivaldi's Tito Manlio with l'Accademia Bizantina and Ottavio Dantone, and she also appeared with them in Giovanni Paisiello's Annibale in Torino in the spring. By the spring, she had also completed an extensive European tour with Les Boreades de Montreal with the ensemble's Purcell Project.

In concert, she performed Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem with the Minnesota Orchestra as well as Haydn's Die Jarheszeiten in Boston, under the direction of Sir Roger Norrington. It was her first appearance with the world-renowned, but demanding, conductor, and after the opening night of the Haydn, Gauvin recalls, "I was so surprised and pleased when he whispered into my ear, 'You were the star of the evening and this is not the last time we will work together'."

Equally important was her first Mendelssohn Elijah with conductor Sir David Willcocks. This marked a vocal and interpretative challenge for Gauvin. "The Mendelssohn went very well, but it is a hefty piece for soprano. For me, it proved that my voice continues to evolve. Without losing its flexibility, suppleness and, I hope, its beauty, it has gained in scope and body I must admit that I first became aware of this evolution when singing Handel's Alcina. The vocal and dramatic nature of the work challenged me and made me realize I could now take Alcina and several other works on board."

This summer, Gauvin returns to Boston to perform with the Boston Early Music Festival as Venus in the North American premiere of Jean-Baptiste Lully's Baroque masterpiece, Psyche, under the direction of Stephen Stubbs and Paul O'Dette. Her first appearance with the BEMF in 2003 was in the title role of another neglected Baroque masterpiece, Johann Georg Conradi's Ariadne. "The role of Ariadne has a huge vocal and emotional range and is exhausting, but immensely rewarding. It was an incredibly enriching and inspiring experience, especially working with the extraordinary Stephen and Paul. It is reassuring to work in a context of such excellence and it forces you to surpass yourself.

"It was a style that was almost unknown to me and marked the first time I had worked on Baroque gesture and dance. It was tremendously fulfilling as a creative artist to discover and develop one's assurance in this fascinating aesthetic. The work was well received and the crowning achievement of the production was the recording of the work, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2006. We were all very proud of that."

Her return to Boston as Lully's Venus is another debut for her. This will mark the first time she sings in a production of a French Baroque opera. "It will be hugely enjoyable to sing in my native tongue," says Gauvin, "but frankly, I don't really know what to expect. The stage director asked me if I was scared of heights, so who knows what the production will look like or what they have in mind for me?" French Baroque opera brings its fair share of challenges. "While respecting the conventions of the genre, there is always the danger that we will fall into a world of artifice and mannerism, but I'm confident that we will be able to sidestep those traps with a frank, honest and open approach. Our, and specifically my, biggest challenge will be to find a way, without betraying the genre, to search out and transmit the emotion of my character. The key for me is always to speak to the public."

Yet another aspect of the production that appeals to Gauvin is that she will be joined by a number of Canadian colleagues. "This particular production includes such Canadians as baritone Olivier Laquerre, mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel and tenor Colin Balzer. It is proof, if proof were needed, that young Canadians are at the forefront of the international Baroque opera revival."

Baroque opera and Handel are important parts of Gauvin's future plans. She is to record two Handel operas, including Tolomeo, for Deutsche Grammophon. She will add to her impressive discography with a recording, with Toronto-based Tafelmusik, of Handel's dramatic oratorio, Solomon, slated for release later this year. Indeed, it was during a break between the recording and performances of the work in Toronto that we spoke. She was overjoyed, both with the concerts and the reaction to the work. "It's such a moving work and the music is so beautiful! It is technically difficult, but so rewarding." Also on the cards are joint recitals with her great friends and colleagues, contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux and pianist Michael McMahon, in both Toronto and Montreal. Gauvin's expressivity and artistic sensibility are perfectly suited to the recital platform, where her mastery of so many languages and musical styles is often taken too easily for granted. It is both intriguing and revealing to see her establish and develop an intimate communication with her public, and it is an unmistakeable mark both of her performing magnetism and the consummate mastery of her artistry.

If Gauvin has a fear, it is that she is perceived as a "Baroque specialist or concert singer. For example, few people seem to know that I have sung operatic Mozart at Glimmerglass and elsewhere, and I would love to do some more. In fact, I feel that the more standard 19th- and 20th-century operatic repertoire is the area I would now like to explore." After a brief pause, she continues: "For a certain time, it was my own choice. I wanted to make sure I had solid vocal, technical foundations. I didn't want to burn myself out like some kind of brush fire. My teacher, Marie Daveluy, used to tell me that I should look to sing well into my 40s, but that would happen only if I took care of the first decades of my singing career. What I would like is to keep the balance I have in my career at present, with recital and concert work that keep the voice fresh and that, as an artist, I need to cultivate the contact with the public. But I would like to do some more opera, although I don't want to get onto the operatic bandwagon and not get off. I am human, after all, and not a machine. I need and want that artistic variety. In fact," she adds with a slight laugh, "I want to keep on doing what I'm doing, but only more so!"
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Title Annotation:New Productions New Roles
Author:Turp, Richard
Publication:Opera Canada
Article Type:Concert review
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2007
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