Music review: Vivacious Karina Gauvin sings her Baroque heart out

Karina Gauvin. Photo: Michael Slobodian

As one of the most acclaimed Handel and Mozart opera specialists of the day, soprano Karina Gauvin is accustomed to performing for full houses in London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna and Amsterdam. If she was disappointed at the rather thin audience that turned out to hear her at Dominion-Chalmers on Monday, she didn’t show it, singing her heart out with her usual vivacious, seductive charm.

This last concert of Chamberfest’s fall-winter concert series featured Gauvin in an all-Purcell program with Montreal early music ensemble les Boréades, led from the Baroque recorder by Francis Colpron. The program featured 15 or so arias, chiefly from King Arthur and the Fairy Queen, interspersed with a handful of instrumental interludes.

The impressively varied selections showed off the full power of Gauvin’s glorious technique: her seamlessly supported legato, brilliant and precise coloratura, rich chest voice and marvellous dynamic control. They also allowed this terrific singing actress to make mood and colour her playthings, as the music skipped from serene to jocular, passion to pathos.

Music for awhile was cast in a hypnotic, bewitching half-light. King Arthur’s Fairest Isle was tenderly crooned. The Fairy Queen’s O let me ever, ever weep was sung with austere sorrow and affliction, the words “he’s gone” repeated brutally, each hard g like a stab to the heart. Gauvin is no white-toned faux treble: her sensual, womanly tone brought a startling modernity to works like See, even Night herself is here and the florid, panting From rosy bowers.

In the final aria, Dido’s famous Lament, Gauvin was every inch the jilted queen, full of regal, implacable despair, each “remember me” becoming gradually paler, each plea bringing us a step closer to oblivion.

The musicians of Les Boréades provided a lustrous, velvety setting for Gauvin’s jewel of voice. The playing was aristocratic,  yet warm and sympathetic.

Gauvin and the musicians returned for an encore; not Purcell but Handel: the lively Tornami a vagheggiar from Alcina.

Photo credit: photo@Michael Slobodian


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Natasha Gauthier has been covering classical music in Canada and the US for more than 20 years. She was the classical critic at the Ottawa Citizen, and was one of the founding critics of Montreal's HOUR Magazine. She has served on the classical music and dance juries for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. You can also read her at her blog, Natasha has a BA in Journalism from Concordia University.