Soprano Emmanuelle de Negri and members of the Opera Lafayette Orchestra brought a wide array of French songs to the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Tuesday. Titled “L’Invitation au Voyage” (“Invitation to the Voyage”), from a poem by Baudelaire, the program opened with songs — or mélodies — of the French baroque followed by 19th- and 20th-century examples. Opera Layfayette director and violinist Ryan Brown paired baroque and romantic works in one concert to underline a connection between the two sets: the later composers and poets often intermixed in the salons of Paris, idealizing the baroque repertoire and other styles of the past. Yet the romantics were also charging their songs with Asian exoticism such as “Japanese” and other Eastern musical idioms.
Throughout her expansive program, de Negri infused passion with sophistication. With dramatic gestures of baroque formality, she recreated the evocative, sophisticated elegance of the baroque period transformed into the romantics’ enchantment with an imagined past. The soprano precisely recaptured the courtly air of songs by, for example, Campra, Charpentier, Jacquet de la Guerre and Rameau. For songs of Debussy, Duparc, Faure and Ravel, de Negri missed none of that frisky wit — suggestive and ironic — that characterizes so many French songs. Occasionally, though, her suave melodiousness and lovely rounded tones were tinged by hints of harshness and edginess.