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In a spin-off from his early music group Les Arts Florissants, William Christie is one of the directors of Le Jardin des Voix. This initiative, offering young singers specialist training in period performance, is held in Caen every other year – like biennial plants, budding voices evidently blossom in their second spring.
There is an in-joke here. Christie is also the proud keeper of a noted garden at his house in the Vendée region of France. Woe betide any opera company that dares to schedule rehearsals that clash with the Chelsea Flower Show.
After their period of training, the selected singers have the opportunity to perform with Christie and Les Arts Florissants on tour. The Barbican is their choice of venue in London – this is where Les Arts Florissants generally appear – but the hall is not an easy option for young singers, who are unlikely to have the experience or presence to make an impact there.
The first half of this concert was too long and too bland. Grouping the voices in threes or fours to sing extracts from Monteverdi’s books of madrigals was a neat idea, but too much effort had gone into producing a nicely blended sound, not enough into putting across the Italian texts or the variety of emotions. Nor were a couple of operatic plums picked from the Baroque repertoire well enough sung to justify their inclusion.
Fortunately, there were also successes. The young Israeli-Italian soprano Claire Meghnagi showed the spirit and vocal character that could bring Monteverdi and Handel solos vividly to life. Tenor Juan Sancho rattled through his coloratura in Monteverdi with a rapidity that could be useful in Rossini; and soprano Sonya Yancheva and tenor Pascal Charbonneau duetted lyrically in Haydn’s L’incontro improvviso. Otherwise these young voices sounded as if they had blossomed too early to be singing in such a difficult hall. Blame it on global warming.
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