French soprano sparks a program of rarities at Tropical Baroque Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Julie Fioretti

On a South Florida night when temperatures dipped into the forties, a small group of Baroque enthusiasts braved Saturday’s chilly winds to attend the Tropical Baroque Festival’s “Judith and Esther,” a tribute to heroines of the Old Testament through the musical lens of largely obscure French Baroque composers.

The excellent group Fuoco e Cenere, which has become almost a resident ensemble at the festival, provided the backdrop for a program of cantatas but the discovery of the evening was the young French soprano Julie Fioretti.

Due to the indisposition of the originally scheduled vocal soloist Claire Meghnagi, Fioretti learned the esoteric repertoire on short notice; yet one would never have guessed that from her assured, idiomatically vivid performances. With pure, vibratoless tone and incisive French articulation, Fioretti imbued an aria from Jean-Baptiste Moreau’s incidental music to Racine’s play Esther with a command of grand classical tragedy, shaping the anguished declamation of the musical line.

An elegantly crafted cantata by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre presented a more songful portrait of Esther. An important female harpsichordist and composer at the Court of Versailles, Jacquet de la Guerre was an anomaly in seventeenth century France. Recreating the tale of the Judaic Purim festival, her version concentrates on the heroine’s wiles and cunning.

For all the beauty and luster of Fioretti’s vocalism, she also projected an edgier side, attacking the opening recitative with fierce anger as Esther reflects on her people being condemned to death. In the ensuing aria, she spun fast coloratura roulades, perfectly executing ringing trills. Suggesting Esther’s fear as well as resolve, Fioretti floated the ravishing lyric phrases of the murderous Haman’s advances, her delicate pianissimos  accompanied on viola da gamba by Jay Bernfeld. The catchy melody of Esther’s final triumphant aria was assayed with incisive precision and sterling musicianship by Fioretti and the entire ensemble.

By contrast Fioretti brought an air of solemn, plaintive sorrow to Couperin’s lament for the destruction of Jerusalem. Entering from the back of the sanctuary at St. Phillips Episcopal Church in Coral Gables, the soprano slowly walked up the aisle, reaching the stage for the final agonized strophes, a powerful conclusion to the concert’s first half.

Turning to the tale of Judith and Holofernes, the program offered a remarkable cantata Judith, ou la mort d’Holoferne by Sebastian de Brossard. The music is almost Italianate in bel canto lightness and grace, belying the bloody Biblical tale. Opening with an introduction of Bachian majesty, the score abounds in martial rhythms, dramatic recitative and  long-breathed melodies, concluding with a tour de force showpiece displaying the soprano’s technical agility.

Fioretti’s fearless vocalism, exquisitely sculpted phrasing and winning charm were as triumphant as the heroine she musically embodied. As an encore, she offered a beguilingly sung aria from Lully’s opera Atys. An exceptionally gifted lyric soprano, Fioretti has the personality and vocal goods to explore the operatic heroines of Mozart, Haydn and the classical era as well as her obvious Baroque expertise.

While Fioretti inevitably commanded the lion’s share of attention, the excellent musicians exhibited clean intonation and felicitously blended sonority in the instrumental interludes. Louis Antoine Dornel’s tripartite Suite was almost a recorder sonata and Patricia Lavail’s rapid dexterity and singing tone exuded mastery of the instrument. Jean Rondeau’s deft harpsichord and Simon Heyerick’s seasoned period violin took honors in Dornel’s Chaconne. Couperin’s Sonade Le Pucelle is a medley of memorable tunes, both toe-tapping and evocative. James Holland’s theorbo provided wonderfully tangy rhythmic underpinning and the warmth and tonal richness of Bernfeld’s gamba seemed tailormade for these early Gallic vignettes.


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Sun Mar 3, 2013
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