Notes and Editorial Reviews
William Christie, cond; various interviewees; Les Arts Florissants (period instruments)
BEL AIR 056 (DVD 93:00)
With the advent of a plethora of early-instrument ensembles in virtually every country in Europe and the Western hemisphere, one is certainly familiar with the product that these groups provide in terms of recordings and live concerts. What may be less well known is how these groups are formed and rejuvenated, and one might have questions about how musicians decide to perform early music on period instruments and
using period vocal techniques, who decides the repertoire, and how they survive in a world that seems to be overrun with competition. Another issue is who comprises these ensembles, and how do they discover and train new blood so that the breadth and depth of their particular musical strengths does not vanish over time.
French directors Priscilla Pizzato and Martin Blanchard have produced a documentary that answers some of these questions in a fluid and rather intriguing way. The focus is conductor William Christie, who has long been the doyen of early-music performance practice with his own ensemble, Les Arts Florissants. A number of years ago they decided to expand their work from performance and recording to education, forming Le Jardin des Voix, an academy that takes a cohort of singers through an entire year-long process from trial by jury to a final performance in a program ranging from Monteverdi to Haydn at the Théâtre de Caen. It is quite a journey. Thirteen singers, all young and well trained vocally, are chosen from a large number of hopefuls, and this documentary follows their progress, with a fair portion devoted to the auditions themselves.
We see ambitious and often somewhat seasoned young men and women strutting their stuff before a panel led by Christie. There is an Italian woman who is largely self-taught, a Polish countertenor, a dark Handelian bass who conducts his own early-music ensemble in Cambridge, and a Bulgarian mezzo with a dark, rich tone. These are the ones chosen, but the film also shows moments of those who fail to be selected. Christie himself displays some disappointment when his auditions in the United States fail to find anyone he considers suitable, and there is considerable relief when the basso is chosen in London, just as they were thinking that there were to be few male voices making the grade. Interspersed among this are bits of the private lives of contestants, from the happy family life of the Bulgarian, to the solid work put in by an Israeli singer. It shows that these are real people, all of whom are excited to work hard, bond thoroughly, and perform as the discoveries of the year with an international period ensemble. The final portion shows the year of work, with each of the students learning stage deportment, ornamentation, interpretation, and phrasing—in other words, how to bring the music of the period to life. Of the final performance, one hears but bits and pieces of Handel, Monteverdi, and Haydn, the last an ensemble finale that brings all out on stage. As one might expect with such a
, the success and acclamation seem to propel them onto more professional careers.
One need not be a reviewer to understand that this documentary is an important and yet rare look into how early-music singers are nurtured. Although sometimes the continuity seems a bit fractured as scenes of personal lives and the audition process are interwoven, the editing and cinematography are well done. My only peeve is with the subtitles (here in English and German), since Christie and his cohorts tend to switch languages from French to English at the drop of a hat, making it hard to watch, listen, and read at the same time. My solution was to turn these annoyances off, but then one will need to understand the French to do so, and that is the bulk of the film. Priscilla Pizzato, the producer, has done a nice job on this documentary, and although it will probably not be featured at either the Golden Globes or Academy Awards anytime soon, if you want to know the process through which some of the latest stars in the firmament of early music are found, this will give you some excellent insight.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
A film by Priscilla Pizzato.
Directed by Priscilla Pizzato and Martin Blanchard.
To reveal the talent of unknown young singers by sending them on a tour of the world’s leading venues: this is the aim of "Le Jardin des Voix", the academy founded by William Christie.
We share moments of grace, uncertainty and disappointment as the film follows the jury through the auditioning process. Then, a year later, we find the ten winners at the Théâtre de Caen for three weeks of intensive rehearsal with some of the leading figures from today's Baroque music scene.
Running Time: 93 minutes
Picture Format: 16/9
Audio: PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English, German
Works on This Recording
Work(s) by Various
Pascal Charbonneau (Tenor),
Sonya Yoncheva (Soprano),
Francesca Boncompagni (Soprano),
Claire Meghnagi (Soprano),
Laura Hynes Smith (Soprano),
Amaya Dominguez (Mezzo Soprano),
Juan Sancho (Tenor),
Nicholas Watts (Tenor),
Jonathan Sells (Bass)
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