|Charles François Gounod (1818 - 1893)
Recorded in 1911/1912
Opera in five acts
|François Ruhlmann, conductor|
by John Humbley
When Faust was first performed in 1859, the venue was Paris’s Théâtre-Lyrique. The work was politely received and ran to 57 performances, but the audiences were disconcerted by the unusual harmonies, simple diction, and new forms of melodic phrasing. Nevertheless, Faust was soon to tour the world. Its first showing outside France was at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels in 1861. The work reached Germany later the same year, followed by Italy and Russia in 1862, then London and New York in 1863. Surprisingly, it wasn't until 3 March 1869 that Faust was given its first performance at the Paris Opéra at the Salle Le Peletier. Christine Nilsson was Marguerite and this 1869 performance was the first time the Walpurgis Night ballet was included. Finally, Faust won the praise of the critics.
During this time, an opera house was under construction which would be the new home for the Paris Opéra. It had been originally commissioned at the behest of Napoleon III and in 1860 a competition for its design was launched. The building was to be known as the Palais Garnier, after the architect who designed it, Charles Garnier (1825—1898).
In 1875, the Paris opera moved to its newly constructed home, and the third act of Faust was announced as part of its opening gala. It actually missed being performed on that evening, owing to Christine Nilsson's refusal to appear on stage. Soon afterwards, however, on 30 May 1875, a charity gala for the orphans of the Franco-Prussian war enjoyed all of Act Three, and the Prison Scene and Trio of Act 5. It was a grand event: Miolan-Carvalho sang the role of Marguerite, which she had created 16 years previously, and the composer himself conducted. The first full-length Opéra production took place on 6 September 1875, and was even more lavish, featuring a different set designer for each act, thereby establishing a precedent for future special performances. If the Metropolitan Opera was sometimes called the Faustspielhaus, the epithet would have been even more appropriate for the Palais Garnier, where it notched up a record number of performances. Its 500th Faust performance was announced on 23 November 1887, with Jean de Reszke in the title role, but on recalculation it was found that the actual 500th had in fact been reached some three weeks earlier, with virtually the same cast. In 1893 a new production was presented just six months after Gounod’s death, with Albert Alvarez in the title role, with Rose Caron, Jean-François Delmas, Maurice Renaud, and Pauline Augussol. The 1000th performance in the house was duly celebrated on 28 July 1905 with Emile Scaremberg as Faust, Jane Lindsay as Marguerite, and Marguerite d’Elty as Siebel as on this complete Pathé recording. Such was the popularity of Faust that it was chosen to inaugurate the Opéra’s new management of Broussan and Messager in 1908. On that occasion, a third production was presented, again with each act having sets by different prestigious designers, and with new costumes and choreography. The following year the 50th anniversary of the creation of the opera was duly feted, with the popular Lucien Muratore in the title role and Zina Brozia as Marguerite; Jeanne Goulancourt sang Dame Marthe, as on this set.
When war broke out in 1914 the Palais Garnier was closed, but Parisians could not seem to survive without Faust, so it was put on at the Trocadéro in April 1915, before returning to the Opéra a year later. Its popularity continued in the years between the wars, reaching its 2000th performance at the Opéra in 1944. To celebrate the event, a gala was put on in which the roles changed from act to act, or even from scene to scene. It was a festival of the four Fausts – Georges Noré, who later recorded the role, Georges Jouatte, Edmond Rambaud, and Camille Rouquetty shared the part. The three Marguerites were Geori-Boué, who also recorded her role, Jeanne Ségala, and Germaine Hoerner, with no fewer than five Mephistos! This eclectic formula must have made a good impression, as it was taken up again for the centenary performance in 1959, again with three Marguerites (Ségala was still singing the role), three Fausts (Noré was also still singing), but only two Mephistos.
Throughout this entire period, Faust was the most frequently performed opera at the Palais Garnier: 1911 saw 26 performances with Samson et Dalila as runner up with 20, followed by Rigoletto with 16. During 1912, Faust was given 22 times as against 20 for Samson, and so on for the pre-World War One period. By the time the Palais Garnier was replaced by the new opera house at the Place de la Bastille, Faust had received 2,358 performances, more than twice as many as its nearest rival, Rigoletto.
Extracts from Faust were a staple for gala performances and other special events. Few could have been more prestigious than the benefit gala given on 14 January 1912 with the “Garden Scene” featuring Campredon, Muratore, and Delmas. The rest of the program consisted of fragments from the Il Barbiere di Siviglia, with Alice Verlet, Titta Ruffo, and André Gilly; the third act of Rigoletto, with Ruffo, Yvonne Gall; and several ballets. The New Year’s Day 1913 gala saw a performance of Faust, featuring the “young singers” Robert Lassalle, Robert Marvini, and Jeanne Campredon.
With the exception of the Belgian baritone Jean Noté, the cast assembled by Pathé for this recording was entirely French, which was also typical of the majority of Opéra performances at that time. The presence of a foreign star was, however, far from exceptional. The international star system had been making inroads into the heart of French opera from its very beginning, with the Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson, then Emma Eames in 1889, and Nellie Melba the following year. Geraldine Farrar was much admired, in 1905, as Marguerite, as well as in other roles. In 1908, Mary Garden ventured Marguerite, a role which she didn’t particularly enjoy portraying but which she had already sung in London and Brussels. Louise Edvina was heard as Marguerite during the First World War and Edith Mason immediately afterwards. Foreign male singers were less frequently heard in Faust – the first American to sing the role on the stage of the Palais Garnier was probably William Martin in 1927.
Over the years, the opera Faust has undergone many transformations. Gounod made his first alterations for the new Théâtre-Lyrique at the Châtelet in 1862. Additional modifications were made for the London performances, the most famous of which was the insertion of the second act baritone aria “Even bravest heart may swell” which was composed specifically for Charles Santley. On the home front, in 1869 at the Imperial Academy of Music in Paris, the half-hour long “Walpurgis Night” ballet was added to the beginning of the fifth act. By the early years of the 20th century, the version presented at the Opéra differed considerably from that used abroad, and this Opéra version was, by and large, the one used by Pathé for this recording.
How was Faust performed at the beginning of the 20th century on its home ground? This complete recording by Pathé comes closest of any historic performance to providing an answer to this question. The singers – with one notable exception – were closely associated with the roles at the Opéra, in several cases going back well into the 19th century. The conductor, François Ruhlmann, though relatively young at the time, was already a regular guest at the Opéra. Pathé also went to the trouble of devoting 56 sides to the recording, making sure that the performance would not be unduly hurried. Indeed, compared with individual Faust extracts recorded at the time, the tempi seem generally more relaxed. The singers are allowed to take their time and, for example, the “Jewel Song” is spread over two sides. There are places, nevertheless, where the tempi are faster than one might expect, as in the headlong “Veau d’or.”
The version presented by Pathé is typical of what would have been heard at the Opéra at the time. The most obvious difference from the “international” version is the omission of “Avant de quitter ces lieux,” the French translation of the previously mentioned aria “Even bravest heart may swell.” Although absent from the Palais Garnier version until Rolf Liebermann’s tenure in the 1970s, this aria has been regularly included in performances outside Paris and in concerts worldwide. For this reason, we have included a recording of the aria in our appendix, sung by the noted baritone Henri Albers. Another omission from the Pathé recording is Siebel’s Act Four aria, which had been added by Gounod in 1863 but had not been included in performances at the Opéra. One notable surprise in this recording is the inclusion of the opening scene of Act Four, which over the years has more often than not been omitted. Here, Marguerite tries to work at her spinning wheel, but can only think of Faust (Gounod’s equivalent to Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade”).
With one exception, the cast assembled by Pathé Frères for their complete Faust was not only typical of the Opéra roster of the time, it was among the best available in Paris. As the heroine, they chose the young soprano, Jeanne Campredon, who had made the role her own at the time of the recording. Pathé’s choice for Méphistophélès was André Gresse, who had been one of the foremost exponents of the role since 1901. Valentin was entrusted to the dependable and popular Belgian baritone, Jean Noté, who had been singing the part since 1896. Even the smaller parts were carefully cast: Marguerite d’Elty was a special Opéra favorite as Siebel, and Jeanne Goulancourt was a noted Dame Marthe. The glaring exception was the title role, which was entrusted to Léon Beyle, a highly regarded tenor who had switched allegiance from the Opéra to the Opéra-Comique early in his career, and had therefore not performed Faust in Paris. It should be remembered that in those days, the repertoires of the two Paris houses were mutually exclusive, and Faust was the strict prerogative of the Opéra. The choice of an Opéra-Comique tenor as the protagonist is all the more perplexing since Pathé currently had in their stable several tenors who had distinguished themselves in this role – they could have engaged the veteran Agustarello Affre or either of two young and promising tenors, Robert Lassalle or Charles Fontaine.
It is possible that Léon Beyle had sung Faust in his Lyon days and he had certainly previously recorded solo and concerted extracts from the opera, so there is no doubt that the role was within his ability.
It is significant that all of the singers on this recording were well known in France at the time and yet, except for Jean Noté, none of them figures in modern standard reference works: Singing on Record, the Record of Singing, or Die grossen Sänger. This present reissue thus attempts to provide some information on these unjustly neglected artists.
Jeanne Campredon (1884—19??) was born Jeanne Hagoun in the coastal Algerian city of Djidjelli. She came to Paris for her musical training and studied at the Conservatoire under the famous baritone Max Bouvet. She made her debut at the Paris Opéra on 13 March 1908 in the taxing role of the Queen in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, winning praise for her “brilliant voice and acting full of charm.” At the beginning of the 1909/1910 season she essayed Mathilde in Guillaume Tell, and “her pretty voice and secure vocalization won the audience over.” Later in the season she added the diverse roles of Ophélie in Hamlet, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Freia in the Opéra’s first performance of Das Rheingold. Marguerite in Faust was to become her own special role, which she sang for the first time on 25 August 1910 “to thunderous applause.” Following Opéra tradition, the first performance of each new year was Faust and on 2 January 1911 Campredon led the cast with Paul Franz, Marcel Journet, Marcelin Duclos, and Jeanne Goulancourt.
In 1912 Campredon married Dr. Paul Dardet but continued singing though rather less regularly in the last years of the First World War. In the 1920s she furthered her career at the Opéra, singing the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in 1923. There is no doubt that the crowning achievement of her quarter century at the Opéra was the French creation of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier in 1927. Campredon assumed the role of the Marschallin, with Germaine Lubin as Octavian, Jane Laval as Sophie, and Albert Huberty as Baron Ochs. She was still singing the role, together with most of the original cast, at least until 1935.
Her commitments at the Opéra were such that Campredon had little time to appear abroad, and these appearances were generally limited to North Africa, Monte Carlo, Geneva, and Luxemburg, though she also sang in Stockholm. In addition to the stage, she sang at many concerts in Paris and in the main provincial centers. When she retired in the mid-1930s, she devoted herself fully to the teaching activities she had taken up while still performing. Her most famous pupil was undoubtedly Leila Ben Sedira, who was also born in Algeria and who became one of the great coloratura sopranos at the Opéra-Comique.
Listening to her performance of Marguerite, it is easy to understand why she was so often cast in the role. Her strong but flexible voice provides the solution to the challenge that all Marguerites must tackle: how to combine the power needed for the Church Scene and Apotheosis with the lyricism required for the “Garden Scene,” and yet also deal effortlessly with the coloratura of the “Jewel Song.” Campredon certainly has the reserves of power needed – she seems to dominate the final trio. But her coloratura was also up to the mark and she negotiates the trills of the “Jewel Song” with aplomb.
Campredon’s recorded legacy is almost completely represented by this CD. Apart from this complete Faust, there appears to be only one other recording, César Franck’s trifle Le Mariage des roses.
Marguerite d’Elty (1880—19??) is thought to have launched her career in The Hague. Best known for her portrayals of soubrette and trouser roles, Marguerite d’Elty made her debut at the Opéra as Stefano in Roméo et Juliette in 1905, a role she performed there on many occasions, soon followed by Siebel in Faust. She also sang the Shepherd Boy in Tannhäuser in 1911. On leaving the Opéra, she sang in Nantes, Bordeaux, and Lyon.
Marguerite d’Elty’s performance in this complete set is a fitting souvenir of her distinguished career. Her Siebel is unashamedly feminine and decidedly soprano. She made very few other records, though her 1910 series for Pathé reflects her stage career quite closely. A later series for Disques Opéra features a broader repertoire, including some Mozart, but these are extremely poor recordings.
Jeanne Goulancourt’s career made a flying start in the shape of a series of performances as Ortrud in Lohengrin at the Opéra in 1901. This was probably the most important role of her career though in 1902 she took over the part of Dame Marthe, which, over the years, became closely associated with her. Very much a house singer, she took part in several creations at the Opéra, notably in d'Indy's L'Etranger, Fernand Le Borne's La Catalane, and Georges Hüe's Le Miracle, singing only minor roles. She was also one of the Flower Maidens in the Paris Opéra’s first performance of Wagner’s Parsifal in 1914.
While Dame Marthe is hardly the most flattering of mezzo roles, Goulancourt makes much of the opportunities and gives a plummy characterization of the role.
She seems to have made no solo recordings.
Léon Beyle (1871—1922) was originally from Lyon, and first studied singing at the local conservatory. He made his debut in 1897 at the Paris Opéra in the major role of Ottavio in Don Giovanni. For the 1898 season he moved to the Opéra-Comique, where he sang Wilhelm Meister in Mignon, launching him onto a 15-year career as one of the house’s leading tenors. His repertoire at the Opéra-Comique was vast, ranging from 18th century operas, Alceste and Iphigénie en Tauride, which were being revived at the time, to traditional French 19th century works such as Carmen, Lakmé, and Les Contes d'Hoffmann. Also included in his repertoire were the usual Puccini and Mascagni favorites sung in French, and he even sang Erik in Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer. He was closely associated with such contemporary operas as Richepin’s Miarka and Bruneau’s Le Rêve. He also participated in a number of creations, notably Erlanger’s Aphrodite, Rabaud’s Fille de Roland, and Lazzari’s hair-raising La Lépreuse, not to mention first French performances of Tosca and Snegourotchka. Beyle was a noted Massenet interpreter and was chosen for the 1903 revival of Werther with Jeanne Marié de l’Isle. As long as he remained at the Opéra-Comique, this role was his virtual property.
Léon Beyle’s stage repertoire is well represented on the many recordings he made, principally for the French Gramophone Company between 1904 and 1913. These include 18th and 19th century repertoire, plus selections from some of the roles he created, including Aphrodite, and La Fille de Roland. His partnership with Jeanne Marié de l’Isle is also well documented on disc, in Werther and more extensively still in Carmen. Other records of his, featuring operetta and popular songs, appeared under the pseudonym Stendhal, a nod to the 19th century novelist, whose real name was also Beyle.
Listening to his performance here, it is hard to imagine that Beyle was not a regular interpreter of Faust. Yet it seems certain that, at least in Paris, he never sang the role. He is unquestionably fluent in his part, though some of his earlier recordings find him in fresher voice.
André Gresse (1868—1937) was born in Lyon, the son of the famous basse noble Léon Gresse (1845—1900), who was a pillar of the Opéra until his death. André went to the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied singing with Taskin and Melchissédec. His first stage performance was at the Opéra-Comique in 1896 as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni. He remained there for several seasons, creating roles in Massenet’s Sapho and Erlanger’s Juif polonaise. In 1901 he moved to the Opéra where his first role was Saint-Bris in Les Huguenots, and it was not long before he sang Méphistophélès, a role which he was to make his own. He also sang Méphistophélès in Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust. During his career at the Opéra, Gresse participated in several important French premieres: Osmin in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, King Marc in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and Titurel in Wagner’s Parsifal. The high point of his career may well have been the creation of Sancho Pança in Massenet’s Don Quichotte, sung opposite Feodor Chaliapin at Monte Carlo in 1910. On retirement, Gresse taught singing at the Paris Conservatoire.
Although Léon Gresse left us no recordings, the son made a considerable number between 1902 and 1912, mostly for French Gramophone. They include solos and concerted numbers from Faust, which would make an interesting comparison with this complete version. He also made solos for Pathé and later for Pathé’s sister-company, Idéal.
Jean Noté (1859—1922) is still something of a legend in his native Belgium. His hometown, Tournai, has a street and a concert hall named after him. His voice is said to have been discovered while he was doing military service. He was asked to sing at the Fête de Sainte-Barbe and was heard by Adolphe Samuel, the director of the Ghent Conservatorium who was able to exempt him from further service. Noté studied music there for four years, but did not wait to graduate before singing, and appeared in Tournai in song and operatic excerpts. After graduation, he sang first in Ghent, and then in various other Belgian and French opera houses before making his debut in 1887 at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, where he was to remain for six seasons. The central point of his career was at the Paris Opéra, beginning in 1893, where he sang myriad roles. Of all the singers on this recording Noté is the one who sang most often outside Belgium and France, with appearances in London, Berlin, and New York. He appeared at the Metropolitan during its 1908—1909 season: Rigoletto to Alda’s Gilda, and Comte des Grieux to Farrar’s Manon.
Opera was undoubtedly Noté’s first and foremost activity, but he was also a much appreciated concert artist. Massenet is said to have composed his oratorio Eve for Noté’s “ringing voice.” He also sang many popular and patriotic songs, the latter during and after the First World War. He is said to have sung the Brabançonne and the Marseillaise on the steps of the Opéra for the Armistice of 11 November 1918.
Jean Noté left a large legacy of records, including a sizable number for French Gramophone between 1902 and 1912. He also made records for Odéon, APGA (often claimed to be his best), Pathé, Parlophone, and finally for the Belgian company Chantal. The recordings give a good coverage of his major roles, and include several examples of creator performances, one of the best being the now forgotten Georges Hüe's Le Roi de Paris.
Noté’s singing tends to be disparaged by English-speaking critics and collectors. He is often criticized for his “powerful but brutal and booming voice” as well as a “frankly provincial style.” Yet, contemporary critics in France and Belgium were fulsome in their praise. Could it be that non-French listeners have an expectation of how a French singer should sound, and they appreciate what they hear according to this expectation? Thus, elegant singers such as Plançon and Clément are praised, whereas those who do not correspond to this preconception, Fanny Heldy and Solange Delmas, for example, are rejected.
François Ruhlmann (1868—1948) was born in Belgium and began his career in the major Belgian cities. He was engaged at the Opéra-Comique in 1905, and conducted his first work at the Opéra in 1911 (Massenet’s Thérèse) but did not become a regular conductor there until 1916. His first assignment was Thaîs, and in subsequent years, he virtually took over the entire house repertoire. From 1940 until 1946, he was the Musical Director and in 1944, he was at the helm for the lavish 2000th performance of Faust. On retirement, Ruhlmann was replaced by his near contemporary, Henri Büsser, known to posterity not only as a composer but also as the conductor of the 1931 complete recording of Faust featuring César Vezzani and Marcel Journet.
As a bonus appendix to this 1912 Pathé recording of Gounod’s Faust, we have chosen a group of Faust excerpt recordings that will help to complete the picture of Paris interpretations of the various roles at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Since many recordings were made of singers who had sung in Faust on the stage of the Palais Garnier, the selection given here is very much a personal choice. A further CD could easily be devoted to such noted interpreters as Albert Alvarez, Hector Dupeyron, or Albert Vaguet in the title role; Alice Verlet or Yvonne Gall as Marguerite; Marius Chambon or René Fournets as Méphistophélès; and many others. Most of the recordings chosen for this program are, in fact, sonically superior to the 1912 Pathé recording and we hope will provide enjoyable listening.
Augustrello Affre, one of the chief 19th century exponents of Faust, is here heard in a portion of the “Love Duet” from Act Three as well as the “Final Trio.” The role of Faust in the early 20th century is represented by two very notable tenors, Lucien Muratore and Emile Scaramberg. Lucien Muratore, the most popular of the Opéra tenors of the period, is heard in a short extract from Act I, taken from an extremely rare disc on the APGA label. He also takes part in the ”Duel Trio” recording from Act Four. We have selected Emile Scaramberg’s recording of “Salut! Demeure,” which although abridged, is one of the finest versions ever recorded. Pointing to the future, Maurice Dutreix, a now underrated tenor who was just beginning his career at the time of the complete Pathé recording, is heard in another excerpt from the first act. Marguerite proved more difficult to cast. Rather than presenting well-known recordings of the “Jewel Song” by Eames, Melba, or Farrar, we have selected a soprano of American origin, who went under the name of Julia or Jane Lindsay and who had been a noted Marguerite from her first season. Antoinette Lute-Brun, another Opéra Marguerite, sings the "Il m'aime!" excerpt from the close of Act Three. Our chosen soprano for the “Final Trio” is Marcelle Demougeot, best known in dramatic roles, but who had interpreted Marguerite early in her career. As Méphistophélès one could hardly come closer to the composer’s wishes than Pol Plançon, but since his recordings are readily available on compact disc, we have opted for Jean-François Delmas, the reigning Opéra bass-baritone for over 30 years. The role of Valentin is hardly a rewarding one, especially shorn as it was at the Opéra of the second act invocation, “Avant de quitter.” We have selected a particularly rare Pathé cylinder of Léon Melchissédec, one of the 19th century’s most important baritones, singing a bit of Valentin’s death. We also hear a noted Valentin from a later period, Henri Dangès, singing in the ”Duel Trio” with Lucien Muratore and Hippolyte Belhomme. Finally, we have included “Avant de quitter” sung by Henri Albers of the Opéra-Comique, from one of his very rare Odeon discs. As Siebel, we have selected Pauline Agussol, a noted exponent of the role, and her recording of “Faites-lui mes aveux” harks back to the 19th century with many personal touches.
Pathé Opera Series volume 6:
In 1911 the Pathé Company began an ambitious project to record complete operas in French. This series includes eleven complete operas and preserves the unique French style of singing, a tradition that is sadly lost today. Our sixth installment of the Pathé series is Gounod’s Faust. It has a stellar cast including Léon Beyle, André Gresse, and Jean Noté. The role of Marguerite is beautifully sung by Jeanne Campredon who had an important career in Paris, but made no other recordings. This is the first complete recording of Faust sung in French.