THE MUSIC: Marguerite's majestic tour-de-force scene "O beau pays" from Meyerbeer's "Les Huguenots" is one of the pinnacles of florid soprano French grand opera arias. It's structured in three major sections: the elegant pastoral opening aria, the middle section where she weaves long threads of roulades over two back-up singers (her ladies-in-waiting), and an exciting cabaletta with fireworks going off in every direction -- typically culminating in a long "stop everything" cadenza (always quite different in each rendition). The aria wants a singer with a noble bearing, a regal yet feminine tonal quality, pristine execution of the endless pyrotechnics, and exquisite beauty and ease through all of it.
THE SONGBIRD: Louise Lebrun offers all of these attributes in this live performance for a Radio France concert in 1976. She was born in Montreal in 1940 and studied at Ã‰cole Vincent-d'Indy with several teachers including Pierrette Alarie. She graduated in 1964 and was a winner in the 1965 CBC Talent Festival. Sadlers Wells in London contracted her for the 1964/65, and other European bookings followed until she landed at the New York City Opera, making her debut in 1970 as Gilda. She stayed with NYCO for three seasons singing a handful of performances of Konstanze, Susanna, Oscar, and Irme (to Carol Neblett's Louise). Then came a top festival trifecta: Queen of the Night at Glyndebourne, Santa Fe, and Salzburg (where in 1974 she replaced Edita Gruberova after just one performance; Lebrun sang the other five that season, I have no idea why). There was Juliette in New Orleans, Lucia in Mexico, Konstanze in Paris, and many bookings in opera, concerts, and recitals across the opera houses and concert halls in Canada.