This is a stunning disc. A soprano in the mould of Natalie Dessay or Patricia Petibon, Sabine Devieilhe is blessed with a brilliant upper extension and eye-watering flexibility. While you’d expect these virtues in a lyric-coloratura, she also takes care to invest even the showiest of showpieces with intention – see her Bell Song, which manages to be both radiantly sung and interesting, a rare combination.
Mirages comes off the back of a disc dedicated to Rameau and a recording of Mozart arias, both enjoyable and highly accomplished. Yet I daresay this recording is an even greater achievement – let’s begin with the aforementioned Bell Song, which shows off her laser precision and seemingly endless breath. Devieilhe colours both the staccati and long lines with a duskiness that never feels faked for what is a slender, bright instrument, while her French is, as you’d expect, unimpeachable. Surprisingly, her trill might not be as easy or thrilling as one would like, but it’s more than solid, while François-Xavier Roth and his period instrument orchestra, Les Siècles, provide consummate support.
The most attractive offering on the disc is a coolly sensual reading of Mélisande’s tower aria (the conclusion of which blends seamlessly into the Bell Song, an inspired choice). Befitting Debussy’s simple text, Devieilhe’s delivery of the words is straightforward but supremely beguiling – she adopts a slightly more forward placement, letting the natural beauty of her tone shine forth, clear as water.
Approaching embarrassment of riches territory, she’s joined by the wonderful French mezzo Marianne Crebassa for Lakmé’s Flower Duet. The two manage to polish this mustiest of gems with an understatedness and blend that still allows their distinctive voices to impress. Along with soprano Jodie Devos, they give a short scene from Massenet’s Thaïs a mouthwatering rendition.
If it’s not yet obvious, woven throughout this recording is a distinct obsession with the imagined East – Delage’s Quatre Poémes Hindous are particularly memorable, with Les Siècles mightily impressive in its evocation of south Asian instruments. Devieilhe is no slouch when it comes to the song cycle either, more than matching their playing with phrasing that is often surprising and delightful.
Her rendition of Ophélie’s Mad Scene is gorgeously limpid and the more disturbing for it. Adopting a girlish sound that never feels overplayed, she finds a dramatic throughline that builds to a satisfying climax. Of a piece with the album, her technical assurance here is fearsome to behold.