A rising star in her native France, the mezzo-soprano Isabelle Druet is making her US orchestral debut with a work that she acknowledges may seem unusual.
Druet, whose voice has been given high praise by prominent conductor Leonard Slatkin, will sing works by impressionist composer Maurice Ravel starting Thursday night with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
One will be “Two Hebraic Melodies,” a relatively obscure Ravel piece based on a Jewish Kaddish prayer in Aramaic, the ancient language notably spoken by Jesus Christ.
Druet called the work “a bit peculiar,” but said that she first was drawn to it in her days at the Paris Conservatory.
“It moved me tremendously to see that a composer could grasp the spirit of the music that was deeply traditional but at the same time manage to bring in his own originality,” Druet said in an interview.
Druet will also sing in French one of Ravel’s better-known works, “Sheherazade,” as well as pieces by the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera.
Slatkin, who put together the program as music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, said that few of the musicians understood French — let alone Aramaic — but that they immediately related to Druet.
“She has the ability to transcend language. Even though you don’t understand the words, she conjures up all the colors and so many different fragrances,” Slatkin told AFP.
Slatkin, who has previously helped introduce stars including the violinist Joshua Bell, voiced confidence that Druet would enjoy a growing international reputation.
“From the first time I worked with Isabelle, I thought this was an extraordinary person, an extraordinary singer and an extraordinary musician,” he said.
In an effort to meet a wider audience, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is webcasting the concert series, which runs through Saturday.
Diverse artistic tastes
Druet, 35, started off in theater in the eastern French city of Besancon but won recognition while attending the Paris Conservatory for the warmth of her voice suited to coloratura singing.
In 2010, Druet won France’s Victoire award for promising young opera singers. She debuted at the Paris Opera a year later and has since been performing across Europe.
Bubbly and upbeat, Druet said that she was delighted to come to Detroit and spend her free time wandering the Motor City, which was notorious for its blight but has increasingly become a magnet for artists.
“It’s a bit the feel of Berlin, where the city came back to life through music and artists that were somewhat underground. There’s a spirit of openness toward artistic experimentation,” she said.
While Detroit marks her debut with a US orchestra, she has already performed at Carnegie Hall.
She has also completed a Ravel recording with the Orchestre National de Lyon — led as well by Slatkin –but Detroit marks her first live performance of the works with an orchestra.
With a piano, “there is a bond with the pianist and you’re freer in some ways,” she said.
“But with an orchestra, it’s all suddenly like a palette. The colors grow and it becomes incredibly rich. The emotions that one can express with an orchestra are spectacular.”
Druet remains active in theater and has voiced hope for branching out musically.
She said that she grew up with a love of world music, including singers from Africa and India, and remains a fan of electronica and trip-hop.
“At first, I found it strange just to be singing in a lyrical voice, as that’s not really my natural voice,” she said.
“I’ve learned the technique and I love my profession. But it’s true that I also want to keep singing from other repertoires.”