Lea Desandre launches her debut album Jupiter featuring Thomas Dunford
International Release date: 17 September 2021
Little wonder that the fast-rising mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre, being of French-Italian descent (her name is to be pronounced all’italiana, “Désandré”), chose to present a sumptuous selection of French and Italian arias from the baroque era, ranging from the Neapolitans Francesco Provenzale and Giuseppe de Bottis or Venice’s fabled Vivaldi, to France’s celebrated Grand Siècle luminaries such as Couperin, Destouches and Philidor, and reaching as far as Germany where Saxon composer Georg Caspar Schürmann and Italian-born Carlo Pallavicino developed their careers – at Saxon courts, indeed, but still in the realm of Italian opera that was then all the rage.
Sixteen out of twenty-five arias on this album Amazone are world premiere recordings, some of the pieces even never having been heard since their first (and last) performances 250 or 300 years ago. Vivaldi, Marais, Cavalli, Destouches and Couperin, of course, hide no secrets from anyone nowadays, but the aficionado will be astonished to discover several forgotten luminaries here, composers who were great stars and highly sought-after musicians during their lifetimes even though the passing centuries have been very unkind to them: Pallavicino, Provenzale, Schürmann, de Bottis, Viviani, all of whom worked between the 1650s and the 1750s. At any rate they have deservedly waited their turn for a few centuries in exchange for being rediscovered by Desandre’s delicate voice, whose timbre is so perfectly suited for this music, and whose astonishing vocalisation pyrotechnics are a pure wonder.
The programme is built around the characters of the mythological (even though recent archaeology has provided some evidence of their possible existence) Amazons – hence the title – those fabulous female warriors and hunters, who matched men in physical agility and strength, archery, riding skills and the arts of bloodthirsty combat, but who were also associated with the foundation of temples and the establishment of numerous ancient cities. These ladies were named Myrina (or Mitilene), Antiope (present both in Pallavicino’s L’Antiope and Vivaldi’s Ercole sul Termodonte, where she is the main female character although for the premiere in Rome in 1723 the role had to be sung by a castrato since a papal edict prevented women from appearing onstage in the Eternal City), Marthésia (or rather Marpesia, but old misspellings are deeply ingrained) in Destouches’ Marthésie, première reine des Amazones. And if Alceste is not quite a true Amazon, her name – from the Hellenic root alki/alko, conveying a sense of valour, courage and strength – does grant her an honourable place in the roll-call of Wonder Women of the Ancient World.
A handful of purely instrumental pieces are scattered throughout the album, evoking these mysterious horse-riding female warriors: Couperin’s L’Amazône and – a sign that during the 18th Century, geography was not much of an issue – Marin Marais’ L’Amériquaine; as well as Sinfonias from the different Amazonian operas.
Desandre, who intends to evolve slowly but surely from the baroque repertoire to the classical realm in a carefully laid-out career plan, explains her musical choices in a few words: “When I was a child, my heroines flew high above the rooftops, raced through green meadows, singing as they went, dreamt beneath starry skies, and galloped away on horseback with a freedom and courage that still fascinate me today. Amazone is a hymn to the women who have guided me and continually amazed me with their kindness, their loyalty, the magic of their artistry and the strength of their actions. Amazone is a message of idealism”.
William Christie as a harpsichord soloist, as well as Cecilia Bartoli and Véronique Gens in duetto with Desandre, guest-star on some of the tracks in this groundbreaking recording, where she is accompanied by her favourite ensemble Jupiter led by lutenist Thomas Dunford. On the other tracks the harpsichord, both continuo and solo, is played by none else than Jean Rondeau, himself a renowned instrumentalist in his own right.
When barely aged 20, Lea Desandre was awarded a place on William Christie’s Le Jardin des voix Academy before she gained the prestigious “Vocal Discovery” distinction at the Victoires de la Musique Classique Awards in 2017. A childhood fan of Natalie Dessay, she studied with Sara Mingardo and Véronique Gens; she can also look back on a dozen years as a ballet dancer which has greatly helped sculpt her stunning stage presence. Since then she has roamed the operatic and concertante planet singing major roles and recitals in Salzburg, Aix-en-Provence, London, Vienna, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin, Geneva, Sydney, Moscow or Shanghai, sharing the stage with Cecilia Bartoli, with William Christie (with whom she travelled half the globe on tour with Les Arts Florissants) and also with John Eliot Gardiner, Marc Minkowski, Jordi Savall and Leonardo García Alarcón, to name but a few.