Canadian mezzo-soprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux first made a name for herself in Naïve's admirable Vivaldi series, but she has also released albums of German and French repertoire. In this recital, she gathers an intriguing selection of scenes and arias from French opera, largely from the Romantic era, plus one late classical work. The album features a few very familiar pieces, such as "Habanera" from Carmen and "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila, and some that are very obscure, including excerpts from Halévy's Charles VI and André Wormser's Clytemnestre, but the majority are from the fringes of the mezzo-soprano repertory: selections from Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette and Les Troyens, Massenet's Hérodiade and Werther, Thomas' Mignon, and Cherubini's Médée. Lemieux has a warm, ample voice and the ability to deploy it with considerable force when called to, as in the music from Hérodiade and Les Troyens. She has an ability to spin out supple legato lines that is especially evident in Médée, Roméo et Juliette, and Samson et Dalila. Her expressive range is impressive, and she brings a focused dramatic sensibility to each of the roles. There's a hidden encore at the end of the last track, a delightful aria from Offenbach's La fille du tambour-major that demonstrates that Lemieux is as skilled at comedy as she is at the seductiveness, anguish, fury, or tenderness required by the other arias.
Orchestra National de France, led by Fabien Gabel, plays with a level of commitment and nuance beyond what is usually heard in ensembles accompanying vocal recitals, which can easily sound routine and perfunctory. Naïve's sound is clean, with a nicely ambient presence.