This album does not quite deliver what the fancy cover suggests -- and this is all for the better. To my mind, the cover suggests an entirely different content and genre -- pop/rock that is, maybe an early Kate Bush album? Certainly not a showcase album for a French soprano specializing in French Baroque repertoire?
But that is indeed the case here -- a showcase for a brilliant soprano whose repertory ranges from such modern songs as those by Bernstein and Dello Joio (included on this album) to pieces by Handel, Rameau and other Baroque composers. Moreover, this is a collection os "folies", or extravagancies, so the gaudy cover can perhaps be pardoned (but the fact remains that it could turn people away who might otherwise greatly enjoy this music).
What a wonder, then, that such a mishmash collection of very different pieces actually works! From the entirely delightful beginning of four sung recipes taken from a French cookbook and composed by Leonard Bernstein we move to the hauntingly beautiful "Mélodies passagères" by Samuel Barber (on poems by Rilke), and then on to the three Canadian Christmas carols, sung with an accompanying boy choir. "A jubilant song" is written for a choir and based on a poem by Walt Whitman.
The Baroque section consists of a secular cantata by Handel and an excerpt from Antonio Caldara's oratorio, La Passione di Gesù Cristo Signor Nostro. The latter must surely be counted among the most beautiful music of its kind ever set on disc. The oratorio (whose libretto is by Pietro Metastasio, that most famous of Baroque librettists), or at least the part of it reproduced here, does not recount the story of Christ's crucifixion, as its title would suggest, but rather expresses the lamenting feelings of two of Christ's disciples after the event has taken place; that is, Mary Magdalene and Peter. Here Patricia Petibon's voice is absolutely heavenly, entwining to a great effect with the darker contralto voice by Laura Polverelli.
For some listeners, the imaginative leap from the world of Calvary to that of Offenbach's operas required by the next song, "Couplets des baisers" ("kissing couplets") from Orphée aux enfers could be too much; but such is the nature of "best of" collections. True to its theme, the CD ends with "Air de la Folie" (or, Madness's aria) from Rameau's opera Platée, in which Petibon can express the astonishing full range of her voice, and she does that quite masterfully.
One must also mention the first-rate accompaniment Patricia Petibon has on this album. Susan Manoff's piano is featured in the first two song cycles, and in the Baroque pieces (plus Offenbach), the instrumental ensembles are Le Concert d'Astree conducted by Emmanuele Haim, Europa Galante led by Fabio Biondi, Orchestre de chambre de Grenoble led by Mark Minkowski, and Les Folies Francoises led by Patrick Cohen-Akenine. That list should almost be a recommendation in itself, though I primarily recommed this CD on the basis of Patricia Petibon's wonderful singing!