‘Petibon alone is captivating enough, so expressive and penetrating is her voice. Add intriguing repertoire into the mix and you have a treasure. The soprano here explores old Europe's fascination with foreign lands, performing Baroque works about adventure and discovery. Obscure Rameau, Handel and Purcell anchors an appealing and almost totally unfamiliar program including traditional songs in multiple languages. Backing her is La Cetra Baroque Orchestra, an ensemble like Petibon seemingly capable of anything.' Plain Dealer
In 1768 the young Spanish priest and adventurer Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón y Bujanda first set foot on Peruvian soil. The songs we hear today are the outcome of a long and wondrous history of different unions across space and time. Here, this history begins with ‘J'ai vu le loup', one of the cornerstones of modern popular music, which would not have sounded strange to the colonists nor, consequently, to the people they encountered. Through its improvisatory quality and harmonic and rhythmic language it says almost everything: this is the ‘joyful' root.
Another strain illustrates the very human need to confide and to dream that is summed up in Greensleeves. Legend has it that this famous traditional song was Henry VIII's complaint to Anne Boleyn, composed by the king himself. It makes use of a ground bass, the backbone of Baroque music, and an essential link between Europe and the Americas that is found in the romanesca, passamezzo and chaconne: what could cross frontiers better than an insistent repeated motif to the rhythm of a beating heart?
Pastoral love is another universal link. Along with the song Mon amy s'en est allé (printed in 1615 by Jacques Mangeant), Charpentier's Sans frayeur dans ce bois, on a chaconne ostinato bass frequently found on the western side of the Atlantic, explores a theme entirely bound up with the conquest of the New World, that of the thirst for adventure. With the character of Medea, Charpentier also gives us a timeless scene, that of the torment of love, of the anger that leads the sorceress to invoke the divinities of the Styx - that broad river of the underworld, the end of a journey of no return for so many explorers.
Purcell, also using a ground bass, gives us another version of the failure of conquest in his portrayal of the ill-fated love of Dido, queen of Carthage, for Aeneas, the Trojan hero who abandons her. Both of their destinies are bound up with nations on either side of a sea. In King Arthur, the same composer illustrates another aspect of the New World: the myth of the natural state that was so prized in the 18th century.
Rameau's later response to this subject was his Indes galantes, with its scene of the Great Peace-Pipe (in the entrée of ‘Les Sauvages'). Here we are in an American forest, after the Indians have lost a battle against the Franco-Spanish troops. Zima, the chief's daughter, rejects the advances of two European soldiers, and chooses instead the Indian Adario. All's well that ends well, in the peace that is restored between the ‘savages' and the colonizing armies. Here again there is an insistent rhythm, a dance that perfectly illustrates the idea of the New World. At the beginning of the same opéra-ballet, in another entrée entitled Le Turc généreux (‘The Noble Turk'), the French girl Émilie, a prisoner of the pasha Osman, who is in love with her, is caught up in a storm. The same thing happens to the heroine of the zarzuela Vendado es amor, no es ciego (‘Love is Blindfolded, Not Blind'), by the Spanish composer José de Nebra where the vocals in the aria ‘El bajel que no recela' are almost enough to make the listener seasick. Is this a storm at sea, or a storm in the heart?
This idea is never very far away, for example in No se enmendará jamás, one of the first Spanish secular cantatas, the work of none other than Handel. He wrote this piece in Rome in 1707, for Cardinal Ottoboni, who enjoyed nothing better than to lay down a challenge to one of the greatest masters of the art of song. Commissioned by Ottoboni, Handel tackled cantatas in Italian, Spanish and French. For the Spanish one, a guitar is essential, and the performers here provide a fine example of an introductory improvisation.