Please listen to my Masters Recital performance of “L’invitation au voyage” (2013) with Lucy Arner at the piano.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, /Luxe, calme et volupté. There all is order and beauty,/ Luxury, peace, and pleasure. These words are a recurring theme in Charles Baudelaire’s “L’invitation au voyage,” set to music by Henri Duparc. In the poem, Baudelaire describes Amsterdam, but his description could apply to any place the reader wishes.
I was born a francophile, the kid who read an adaptation of Les Misérables at the age of seven (granted, this version omitted topics such as prostitution, political unrest, disease, extreme poverty, suicide, and child abuse), who’s always loved cheese and good bread, always has had a voracious appetite for French art and history, and maybe still wants to just pack it up, move to France and buy a lavender farm. I could make soaps and teach music.
I studied Duparc’s “L’invitation au voyage” during my participation in “L’art du chant Français” — a music and language program situated in the Périgord (aka truffles) region of France. Glenn Morton, one of my vocal coaches at Mannes College, runs the three-week program. Housed in a Périgord gite, eight of us singers studied French musical style and poetry with tenor Michel Sénéchal, a friend and colleague of musicians such as Francis Poulenc, Régine Crespin, Nadia Boulanger. During his more than 60 years’ singing and teaching career, Michel also has directed the young artist studio of the Paris National Opera.
Professional accomplishments aside, Michel Sénéchal is one of the kindest, most generous and funniest people I’ve ever met. One evening at dinner, as I got up to get a piece of cake, (we always enjoyed dessert), Michel, also visiting the dessert table, pointed to one of the cakes, and whispered a tip, “C’est le meilleur.” (That’s the best one.) At evening’s end, he’d inevitably wish us, “Bonne nuit, mes filles. Je vous aime!” (Good night, my dears. I love you all.) Along with expert guidance, he brought joy, humor and support to every singer in the program
Singing Duparc’s “L’invitation au voyage” in France, I believed the words I sang– and in a sense, was living them — I had found the place that personified the poem. Singing to an audience with whom I could share those Baudelairean adventures and places, I felt a sense of completeness. It was a treat, too, to sing for an audience likely to appreciate all the nuances of the poem. True, I’d sung to other audiences in their own language, but something else about this occasion was different, as well: my love for this language, this culture, these people.