Q & A: Julie Fuchs On Bel Canto & Her Second Solo Album ‘Mademoiselle’

By Francisco Salazar

The Bel Canto repertoire is perhaps one of the most extensive in the repertory. Throughout history, only three composers have dominated every major theater and only a fraction of their works have been shown. Thanks to recent discoveries, festivals and solo albums, the works of rare composers like Pacini, Raimondi, and Fioravanti, among others, have come to the forefront.

In Julie Fuchs’ second solo album “Mademoiselle” for Deutsche Grammophon, the French coloratura soprano takes audiences across a landscape of works from the more famed Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Rossini and Berlioz and those of the rarer composers. She presents arias from well-known operas like “La Fille du Régiment” and “Le Comte Ory” and juxtaposes them with world premiere recordings of arias from “La Regina di Cipro” and L’Orfano Russa,” among others.

In a recent interview, Fuchs spoke to OperaWire about the album, Bel Canto, recording rediscovered works, and growing as an artist.

OperaWire: What was the inspiration for your second album “Mademoiselle?” 

Julie Fuchs: The characters that I perform on stage are a great source of inspiration. I feel lucky to “get to know” these young heroines – often orphans – that actively pursue a fate other than the one that they seem to have been given. They are rebels, and I am inspired by their strength and determination.

Bel Canto composers have brought these characters to life musically in such a spectacular manner, and their work was another source of inspiration. The repertoire is vast, and I worked with a great team to help me construct an album that included some familiar repertoire, and some pieces that have never been recorded before. I was also inspired by finding these hidden treasures, and sharing them with all of you!

OW: How was the experience different from the first album you did with Deutsche Grammophon? What did you learn about your voice as you did this new album?

JF: I have grown a lot personally and professionally since my first album. I was able to approach this album knowing more about the process of recording, which certainly helped. For example, I learned how to pace myself better this time. I also focused on doing my best to keep a sense of spontaneity, and high energy as if I were performing live.

On a personal level, I was seven months pregnant during the recording, so I felt like I had a little partner with me all the time. I loved singing throughout my pregnancy, and this was my final project before maternity leave.

OW: Let’s talk about the repertoire. There are some world premiere recordings and unknown pieces that were recorded. How did you come across these works and what inspired you to perform these works?

JF: Yes, I was very happy to include these unknown pieces on this album. I worked with a wonderful musicologist, Yannis François, who is the founder of Editions Charybde & Scylia. He is my age, and passionate about this repertoire. My Deutsche Grammophon team was very receptive to the idea, and also provided support.

OW: Composers like Pacini, Fioravanti, and Raimondi come from the same period as Bellini, Rossini, and Donizetti. What do they have in common with the more well-known Bel canto composers and what are some of the differences?

JF: All of the composers on the album share the wonderful characteristics of this repertoire. There are spectacular cadenzas, ornaments, long lines, and this repertoire highlights the virtuosity of the voice. Emotions are always at the center of the musical gestures and that makes them a joy to sing from a musical and dramatic perspective.

Fioravanti’s “Io son la zingara” is unique in that it has a rather straight forward, simple – in the best terms – melody that reminds me of a bohemian song. Pacini kept to the more traditional schematics of an aria from this period.

When I sang the aria “Allor ch’è a mezzo la notte bruna,” for the first time, it was an amazing experience as it fit my voice like a glove. It is also fascinating to hear the beginnings of the music that would follow in his repertoire. I am also fascinated by the fact that you can hear aspects of early Verdi in his music, especially “La Traviata.”

I am also happy to have found Raimondi. This piece is short and sweet, and even in this short span of time, he exemplifies the integral aspects of Bel Canto repertoire.

OW:  There are some roles that you have performed already in this album like “La Fille du Régiment” and “Le Comte Ory.” Are there any from the album that you would like to perform or discover more of?

JF: Yes, I would love to perform several of the roles on stage, especially Catherine from “L’étoile du Nord.” As a French speaker, we are fortunate that we have Meyerbeer, which gives us the opportunity to perform this repertoire in my native language. Catherine is a fascinating character that is a combination of several other, more well-known, Belcanto characters…she has a mad scene at the end like Lucia, she is a women in a man’s world like Marie “La Fille du régiment,” and I am sure I would love playing her. Barbieri also made me want to discover more of the Spanish Bel Canto repertoire.

OW: This is mainly made up of Bel Canto works of the time. Why does Bel canto work so well for your voice?

JF: I have had the pleasure of working on quite a bit of Baroque music, which really helped me to prepare my vocal “toolbox” for this repertoire. I focused on developing the flexibility of my voice, working on ornamentation and breath. I feel very lucky that I am able to perform both Baroque and Bel Canto repertoire!

OW: The album has three different languages. When you sang in all three for the album did they create a different texture in your voice or a different approach and which do you think suits the Bel Canto style best?

JF: I was surprised to find that the languages did not change my approach or the feeling I had when I sang. For me, Bel Canto music is the language.

OW: Tell me about your collaboration with Enrique Mazzola and the Orchestre National de L’Île de France. What types of things did he add to your interpretations and how did he advise you as you recorded?

JF: Enrique Mazzola is a specialist in this repertoire, so he was able to advise me when I had any stylistic questions, but he also gave me a lot of freedom. He has a great relationship with the orchestra (he is their musical director), and the orchestra was very conscientious and sensitive during the recording. They were wonderful musical partners.

OW: Will you be adding any of the arias from the album to your concert repertoire? What’s next for you?

OW: Yes, I have been touring with Enrique Mazzola and the Orchestre National de L’Île de France, and we are performing principally the repertoire on the album. The tour continues this summer!

Next, I am making my role debut as Fiorilla in Rossini’s “Il Turco in Italia,” in a new production at Opernhaus Zürich. We are in the middle of rehearsals for our April 28th opening. I am very happy to add another Bel canto role to my repertoire. Next season, I will add more Bel Canto roles to my repertoire, in addition to singing Rameau, Mozart, Donizetti, Puccini, and Strauss. I love singing a diverse selection of roles.


InterviewsStage Spotlight