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Isolation Arias: Marie Lemaire

Marie Lemaire, Opera North’s Youth Company Manager was born in Belgium, and studied cultural anthropology before training as a classical singer. She still gives regular recitals and concerts in the UK and Europe, as a soloist or as part of small chamber ensembles.

“Music and opera have always had an important place in my life. Over the past few weeks staying at home, I have been listening to a wide range of music. If I had to make a small selection of isolation arias, here is what I would pick (in no specific order!)”

Listen to the Spotify playlist »

1. Handel, Giulio Cesare: ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’

Cleopatra finds herself imprisoned and laments losing both the battle with her brother Tolomeo and her beloved Cesare. I can’t think of a better isolation aria.

Every time I listen to it, I can still picture the set of the latest Opera North production designed by Leslie Travers. It was absolutely stunning!

2. ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ from the album Odetta at Carnegie Hall

I have been listening to this spiritual quite a lot over the past weeks. It is really about the African American experience of being stripped of a mother tongue and a motherland, but the line ‘I feel like a motherless child a long way from home’ particularly speaks to me at the moment, as I am self-isolating far from my whole family who are doing the same in Belgium.

3. Puccini, Tosca: ‘E Lucevan le Stelle’

This is another heartbreaking isolation aria and probably one of the best known opera arias of all time.

Cavaradossi is in prison, waiting to be executed. His last request is to write a letter to Tosca. He begins to write but is soon overwhelmed by memories of their lost love.

4. Poldowski: ‘L’heure exquise’

Here is a gorgeous French melodie in the tradition of composers such as Gabriel Fauré or Vincent d’Indy by a little-known female composer. Poldowski was the pseudonym of Lady Dean Paul, born Irène Régine Wieniawska. Originally from Belgium, she became firmly established in London in 1900 as a pianist and composer. ‘L’heure exquise’ (The exquisite hour) is based on a beautiful poem by Paul Verlaine. It starts like this:

La lune blanche (The white moon)
Luit dans les bois; (Gleams in the woods;)
De chaque branche (From every branch)
Part une voix (There comes a voice)
Sous la ramée… (Beneath the boughs…)

5. J S Bach, Magnificat: Opening Chorus & ‘Suscepit Israel’

Bach is one of my all-time favourite composers. His Magnificat brings such joy and beauty. I particularly love the opening chorus and the ‘Suscepit Israel’ trio.

6. Norah Jones: ‘Come away with me’

This very atmospheric song from Norah Jones’ debut album brings back a lot of happy memories for me.

It’s a bit like looking at an old photo album and remembering all the people I love and the great times we spent together.

7. Jacques Brel, L’Homme de la Mancha: ‘La quête’

Jacques Brel must be the most famous Belgian singer and songwriter.

In 1968, he wrote a French adaptation of the American musical Man of la Mancha, which tells the story of Don Quixote. The song ‘La quête’ is all about an impossible dream: the dream to reach the inaccessible star…

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