Like a number of top-notch French singers of the last two decades or so, baritone Francois Le Roux is relatively unknown in this country. In Europe he's starred in productions at the Paris Opera, Covent Garden, and other big houses, earning particular praise for his portrayals of Don Giovanni and of Pelleas in Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande (he recorded the role under Claudio Abbado's direction). But though he's appeared with opera companies in Los Angeles and Santa Fe, he has yet to sing at the Met or the Lyric. Chances of a major breakthrough here might be slim if a collection of songs by Charles Martin Loeffler (released last year by Gilles Perny) is any indication: Le Roux's voice sounds stretched and a bit wan in some of the more taxing selections, suggesting it could be slightly past its prime. Yet it retains a splendid resonance, which Le Roux complements with experienced, keenly observed line readings--as a recitalist he's probably at the height of his artistry. Not unexpectedly, he's made French art songs the core of his repertoire. His fondness for this music aside, it's a good career move, as the material rewards an ardent yet ironic suavity that many other singers can't quite achieve. For his belated local debut--part of the Cultural Center's "Vocal Journeys" series--Le Roux offers an all-French program covering the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Many of the pieces take their lyrics from Symbolist and post-Symbolist poems--four Paul Verlaine songs from Debussy's Fetes galantes I and II, selections from Poulenc's settings of Le bestiaire au cortege d'Orphee and Calligrammes by Apollinaire--and evoke a precious, mordant worldview. Saint-Saens's Victor Hugo songs are as elegant as Ravel's take on Don Quixote is wry; Gounod, Faure, and Duparc are the other featured composers. Le Roux will be accompanied by the young Belgian pianist Mikhail Hallak. Monday, August 18, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-346-3278.