Two new recordings for Naïve's Vivaldi Edition have just been released by the Accademia Bizantina, conducted by Ottavio Dantone. These albums are the 59th and 60th in the series which aims to record the entire archive of Vivaldi's work – nearly 450 works – housed in the Italian National Library in Turin.
French contralto Delphine Galou is the soloist on both albums: Musica sacra per alto and Arie e cantate per contralto. Galou's first album with Accademia Bizantina, Agitata, won the Gramophone Award for Best Recital in 2018, and the new recordings are no less charming, moving, exciting and fascinating. I talked to her about these recordings and singing the Baroque repertoire.
First of all, congratulations on the glorious new discs. Two gems!
Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed recording them!
Your singing sounds very ‘easy'; no forcing.
That's the best compliment you could give me! I've been searching all my life for natural and healthy singing, working on real vowels, and precise articulation and pronunciation.
Did that come readily to you, or have you worked to make it appear so effortless?
I worked a lot – and still do – with a speech therapist because it's the same instrument and you learn so much observing the bridge between the spoken voice and singing. I was always hoarse when I was a child so I had to struggle a lot to find a healthy position for the voice that you now can hear!
Your lower register is very mellow yet when you approach the higher notes your voice can resemble some countertenors in tone and vibrato. Are you adapting your voice for this repertoire?
No, it's very natural! I try to adapt my voice to the repertoire but I always respect what feels good and healthy for me. I know by experience, for example, that I must not push it in too high a register; I can do it occasionally, but the centre of my voice is low and I must sing only contralto roles.
Why did you decide to specialise in the Baroque repertoire?
I didn't really decide; it just became obvious to me after a while. Being a contralto, the repertoire for me is almost exclusively Baroque music because I sing what the castrati used to sing. There are some later composers like Britten who are the exception, and I sang The Rape of Lucretia, for example, with great pleasure. But I adore the Baroque repertoire and wouldn't want to have a different voice so that I could sing something else! After years of singing as a mezzo when I started my career, and finding everything too high, I'm now home and content.
Why do you think there has been such a boom in this style in recent years?
I think Baroque music is very easily understandable and spontaneous. The rhythms can be almost “swing” and closer to popular, modern styles than the classical or romantic repertoire. The audience also like it more and more because the ensembles that perform it are getting better and better!
You have collaborated extensively with Accademia Bizantina and Ottavio Dantone; what makes them special?
I'm afraid I won't be completely impartial on this answer [she laughs], but before being Ottavio's wife, I worked with them a lot and was immediately touched by the quality, the musicality and the cohesion of this ensemble – together with its very demanding and erudite leader! Making music with them is magical and everything seems easy and natural. It surely contributed to my falling in love with its conductor!
Does being with Dantone, both in your personal and professional life, give you a special connection and understanding which helps with interpretation and performance?
Absolutely! I'm so lucky and grateful. We feel each other and are always connected, even if we are far away. So when we work, we understand each other perfectly, which helps to surpass the difficulties of the performance. We just enjoy being together and making music together with love.
So no negative aspects?
Well, it puts great pressure on me! [more laughter] Ottavio wants me to be the best so that nobody can say that I work with him just because I'm his wife. He's very demanding, and sometimes we have tough rehearsals at home, but we make fun of it afterwards, and I know that I improved myself a lot thanks to him.
How has performing this repertoire evolved over the last few decades?
The Baroque ensembles certainly didn't have the same knowledge of the Baroque language as they do now. Also, Baroque musicians are probably better now because there is more respect for this repertoire, with more people teaching it and learning it.
When preparing for a new disc, the arias are learnt and recorded, yet often you have never sung them in front of an audience. Do you feel that after a series of concerts that you have found something new? Do you sometimes wish you could re-record them?
Oh yes, that's true! Something definitely changes in your singing when you perform in front of an audience. I remember having recorded operas for the Naïve Vivaldi Edition after rehearsing them first in Italy, then going to Germany for performances, before coming back to Italy to record them. It's a luxury… but unfortunately, we don't always have these conditions. We must adapt and try to imagine an audience the other side of the microphone!
What are the differences between singing in rehearsals, the recording studio and the concert platform?
I love being on stage and rehearsing with a good stage director… when there is one! [she winks] You can be a real character and explore more sides of your personality; singing is just a way to tell stories and to express emotions, not an end in itself.
The recording studio requires, of course, more concentration on the voice but I like to look for drama anyway and to forget the pressure of the situation. You must give the listener the impression that he can imagine the scene.
The concert platform is a great way of making music and acting at the same time. I love the proximity of the audience and the contact with people at the end of the concert.
What do you like most about singing in front of an audience?
To watch people and try to see in their eyes if they're touched by what I want to communicate.
What's coming up next for Delphine Galou?
Holidays! We need them so much after this challenging season!
But before, we're doing a concert at the Festival de Musique Baroque de Beaune, a festival that we love… also because we met there! Then the next season will be full of concerts, a new recording of an opera for the Vivaldi Edition, a staged production of Alcina in Dresden and of l'Incoronazione di Poppea in Paris.
In bocca al lupo.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.