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“The Art of Dominique Labelle”


Dominique Labelle (Lino Alverez photo)

What immense pleasure the magnificent, charismatic soprano, Dominique Labelle gave Thursday  night’s audience at Slosberg Music Center at Brandeis! With various combinations of violinists Daniel Stepner and Julie Leven, along with Laura Jeppesen on viola da gamba, Catherine Liddell on theorbo,always  and Michael Sponseller on harpsichord, Labelle sang Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Purcell, Handel, and Luigi Rossi. The instrumental quintet had an interesting variety of pieces to itself, and sounded largely excellent of tone and ensemble, as one would expect in this 50th-anniversary year of Aston Magna. The sensational Laura Jeppesen, whom I have heard in various ensembles dozens of times, showed acuity and passion. Catherine Liddell, who seems to have cornered the market on concert theorbo, communicated her customary sensitivity. She accompanied Labelle in Monteverdi’s recitative-like “Lettera Amorosa,” from Monteverdi’s Seventh Book of Madrigals, certainly one of the evening’s highlights (with a hopelessly romantic text by Claudio Achillini).

The instruments, of course, gave the singer time to catch her breath, and they transmitted the panache one expects from people who, for the most part, have been collaborated for decades. But clearly the Labelle star power drew the large, distinguished crowd. And she did not disappoint. Keith Kibler wrote of her a few years back, “Her sound came out of the air and went back into the air with passion. It was singing playing with silence. I often could not tell when the note started and when the note ended. Dominique is a great musical conjurer.”

Instrumental numbers by Vivaldi (Overture to Il Giustino), Antonio Bertali (“Sonata Tausend gulden”), Biagio Marini (Sonata senza cadena), Marini (La Monteverdi”), harpsichord pieces by John Bull, Carl Friedrich Abel, and Purcell’s delightful Trio Sonata in Four Parts, No. 2 worked remarkably well between the vocal numbers, which often belonged in the masterpiece category (at least on this night).

An aria, “Quell’amoroso ardor,” followed the Overture to Vivaldi’s Il Giustino. Daniel Stepner’s interesting program notes inform us that this opera in three acts was composed for the carnival season in Rome in 1724, but was withdrawn after one performance, and not revivaed until 1985, under the baton of Alan Curtis… starring Dominique Labelle.

In the text of Luigi Rossi’s “Lamento di Zaida” came the sorrowful Zaide’s anguished cri de couer: as a Moslem woman, she desperately wants her lover Mustafa back from the Christian pirates who have abducted him. She dramatically curses both Christianity and Islam for her cruel fate. In glorious voice, Labelle treated this—and every selection―to glorious expressivity.

The audience loved Purcell’s “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation” and Handel’s famous “The Triumph of Time and Truth” about which Stepner wrote (and covered in his pre-program talk), “It had three incarnations. It was his very first Italian oratorio―composed in Rome in 1707, and revived in London in 1737, still in Italian…. and then again in 1757 with a new English translation. Thus, among his oratorios, it was both his first and last.” Handel knew a good thing when he heard it, and recycled many of its arias and interludes.

Finally, Labelle, one of the first to perform it, introduced us to Handel’s Gloria, returned from the misssing in the 1990s.Thanks to Aston Magna for a vocally and instrumentally splendid and inventive evening.

Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. She writes about classical music and books for The Arts Fuse. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.

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