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Charpentier, Gustave: Louise (1900)
Act 2: Aria, "Oh! moi, quand je suis dans la rue… Une voix mysterieuse" (Irma)

Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
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Aria Talk1/1/2009

Editor's Note: Aria Talk focuses not on the tried-and-true pieces you undoubtedly already know, but on somewhat off-the-beaten-track arias. The hope is that this music will prove a refreshing musical and interpretive change not only for you, the performer, but also for those hearing you in auditions.
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Any soprano singing "Depuis le jour" in auditions will be sabotaged by the piano reduction, which invariably fails to create the cushiony, sustaining effect of the orchestral accompaniment. So, for a soprano with the right full-bodied tone for "Depuis le jour," is there another aria from Louise? You bet there is — and it isn't sung by the heroine! The cameo role of Irma has little more to sing than a solo lasting less than three minutes. But this music, a waltz in two distinct sections, has a character and atmosphere all its own, and the right artist can produce an intoxicating effect with it.

Louise's second act takes place in a Parisian dressmaker's workroom. The seamstresses — all friends of Louise — chatter endlessly, with much talk about adventures in love. One girl asks the question, "Where does it come from, this force that seems constantly to attract us to men, who shatter our hearts?" She realizes that, with one look from The Right Man, a girl can simply forget her scruples. This inspires a burst of emotion from Irma. In her aria's first half, she sings of walking in the street feeling radiant because of men's admiring gazes (a few of the girls are babbling during this portion of the aria, but pulling Irma's portion out, for audition purposes, presents no musical problems). In the aria's second section (for which the other girls finally quiet down and pay close attention) Irma describes a mysterious voice that brings promises of joy — the voice of Paris itself!

The entire aria needs a lirico-spinto timbre with tremendous tonal bloom, matched by an ability to swing expansively into the broadest phrases and take all the jumps absolutely cleanly. An intimacy of expression comes over Irma when she starts the second half with the words "Une voix mysterieuse," but the voice again opens up excitingly when she mentions Paris. The aria's final building-up of intensity begins when Irma describes the "frisson délicieux" she feels, but after the final climactic A, she ends on a note of quiet, affecting sweetness, murmuring that she succumbs "aux désirs de tous les cœurs."

Score: Heugel
Complete recording: Lyliane Guitton (Sony Classics); Anne-Marie Dur (Erato)
To hear the aria, listen to: Yvonne Gall in compilation entitled "18 Divas Françaises" (Virgin France)
Timing: 2:40
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