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Fouchecourt's Valentine to Rameau

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What makes tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt a supreme artist is the way he gets to the heart of French music. On Sunday a sizable audience braved snowy conditions to hear him do this in a magnificent, yet taxing, concert with Opera Lafayette at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the University of Maryland campus.

Ryan Brown, the ensemble's founder, conducted an intriguing program of airs, recitatives and instrumental excerpts from the operas and opera-ballets of Jean-Philippe Rameau, a contemporary of Bach and Handel. The music centered on the Rameau repertoire of an 18th-century haute contre (high tenor) -- not a countertenor, then disdained in France.

French music in Rameau's day, as earlier, draws its charm and depth from its ability to depict the emotional and visual aspects of sung texts. Infinitely malleable, focused and delicately intense, Fouchecourt's voice fully transmits these qualities with coloristic innuendos subtly distinguishing among the emotional intimations of each character -- Neptune's tender moments in "Nais" and Thespis's comic mockery in "Platee." In "Castor et Pollux," the tenor voiced passionate unrest against the strings' Arcadian calm.

Above all, Fouchecourt's infinitely extended yet controlled roulades of melodic embellishment left every listener in awe. The orchestra captured the sonic essence of Rameau's exacting imagery with elegant dances and marches bowed regally by the strings or highlighted by solo piccolo and bass drum. A saraband exuded sheer elegance.

Unfortunately, an announcement about last-minute changes was largely inaudible, leaving most of the audience unable to follow the printed English text matching what Fouchecourt was singing in French.

-- Cecelia Porter

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