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Monday, October 22, 2012

The Superconductor Interview: Misplaced Childhood

Julie Boulianne sings L'enfant et les sortilèges.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The destroyer: Julie Boulianne sings the Child in Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges
at Boston's Symphony Hall. Photo © 2012 IMG Artists.
It's not easy being a brat.

That's certainly the case for Canadian mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne , who sings the title role in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's two performances of Maurice Ravel's opera L'enfant et les sortiléges ("The Child and the Enchantments") at Symphony Hall this week. The concert marks Ms. Boullaine's debut at Symphony Hall.

"It's a little tough," she admits in a telephone interview with Superconductor, speaking of the title role in this opera, an obnoxious brat who destroys his possession and his surroundings only to have them come to life and take umbrage at his behavior. "He's all over the place. "He's so mean to everybody."

"It's really written like a child would sing it," she says. "The comments (in the score) are 'child-like' and vocally you feel as if you are a child too. I bring something different to the voice and the musical phrasing--I try to keep it as a younger child would sing it without taking away the beauty of the music."

Written between 1917 to 1925 to a libretto by the composer's friend Colette, L'Enfant is labeled a Lyric Fantasy in Two Parts.  Because the the opera is just 45 minutes long, it is usually paired with Ravel's earlier L'heure Espagnole. However, these performances will match it with another fairy tale:  Igor Stravinsky's one-act  Le Rossignol in a program conducted by Swiss maestro  (and Ravel expert) Charles Dutoit.

To torment his underage protagonist, Ravel created many vocal supporting roles, ranging from a singing tea-set to a damaged grandfather clock and a princess ripped (literally) from the pages of a story-book. (The imaginative libretto may also have provided inspiration for the singing household implements in the Disney film Beauty and the Beast.) The second half of the work moves the Child to the garden, where he encounters, among other things a pair of amorous cats and a succession of angry, revenge-minded animals.

"I had to learn to love it," Ms. Bouilianne says. "You dont discover how wonderful it is right away."

The mezzo's growing resume includes an appearance as the goddess Diana in the Metropolitan Opera's 2010 revival of Gluck's Iphegenie en Tauride, switching to a travesti or trouser role is in her comfort zone.. "It's something I'm used to doing," she admits. "I do a lot of little boy parts because of the voice range and the way my body is."

"This is something I have in me now, it's incorporated," she adds. "It's much more fun to play a boy than to play a girl when you have it--the difference in the character--in you."
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.