The Complete Recordings of Marie Delna and Selected Recordings of Jeanne Marié De’Lisle

52056-2 (2 CDs)  | $ 36.00


The Complete Recordings of Marie Delna and Selected Recordings of Jeanne Marié De’Lisle
At the turn of the last century, two of the greatest contraltos were Marie Delna and Jean Marié De’Lisle. Delna (1875-1932) had an expressive and striking voice with an immediacy and intensity that has rarely been duplicated. She debuted as Dido in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, she took part in the Paris premieres of Bruneau’s L’Attaque du Moulin and Massenet’s Werther, and premiered Godard’s La Vivandière. She recorded for Pathé and Edison (the latter more flattering to her voice). Jean Marié De’Lisle (1872-1926) recorded for G&T and Odeon between 1904 and 1906 resulting in nearly 100 records, many of which are lost today. She studied with her aunt Célestine Galli-Marié (the creator of Carmen and Mignon) and made her debut at the Opéra-Comique in 1896. Marié De’Lisle sang in the world premiere of Charpentier’s Louise, had a huge success as Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther, and succeeded her aunt as one of the great Carmens at the Opéra-Comique.
CD 1 (79:39)

Complete published recordings

London, 1903
1. LE PROPHÈTE: Ah, mon fils (Meyerbeer) 2:34
2. CARMEN: Près des remparts de Séville [Séguedille] (Bizet) 2:02
3. CARMEN: L’amour est un oiseau rebelle [Habanera] (Bizet) 2:23
Paris, 1903–1904
4. CARMEN: En vain pour éviter [Air des cartes] (Bizet) 2:26
5. LA VIVANDIÈRE: Viens avec nous, petit (Godard) 2:02
6. WERTHER: Va, laisse couler mes larmes (Massenet) 2:28
7. LES TROYENS À CARTHAGE: Chers Tyriens, tant de nobles travaux (Berlioz) 2:24
8. JOCELYN: Cachés dans cet asile [Berceuse] (Godard) 2:26
9. Les enfants (Massenet) 2:25
10. La Vierge à la crèche (Clérice) 2:29
  Accompanied by the composer
Paris, 1905
11. LE PROPHÈTE: A la voix de ta mère (Meyerbeer) 3:17
  With Albert Alvarez, tenor
12. LA FAVORITE: Leonor…Viens, je cède éperdu (Donizetti) 3:17
  With Albert Alvarez, tenor
Paris, 1907
13. ORPHÉE ET EURYDICE: J’ai perdu mon Eurydice (Gluck) 2:39
14. LA FAVORITE: O mon Fernand (Donizetti) 3:20
15. WERTHER: Je vous écris de ma petite chambre [Air des lettres] (Massenet) 3:10
16. SAMSON ET DALILA: Printemps qui commence (Saint-Saëns) 3:15
  4877 (‘Groove skip’ in Pathé master cylinder)  
17. SAMSON ET DALILA: Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix (Saint-Saëns) 3:17
18. LA VIVANDIÈRE: Liberté, rayonnant aux cieux, écoute ma prière ardente (Godard) 2:48
19. L’ATTAQUE DU MOULIN: Ah, la guerre, l’horrible guerre (Bruneau) 2:18
20. MIARKA: Soleil qui flambes, soleil d’or rouge (Georges) 1:39
21. CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA: Vous le savez, ma mère (Mascagni) 3:12
22. O sole mio (di Capua) 3:11
Edison Cylinders
New York, 1910
23. ORFEO ED EURIDICE: Che farò senza Euridice? (Gluck) 3:55
  BA 28135 Take 2  
24. LA FAVORITA: O mio Fernando (Donizetti) 4:09
  40023 Take 2  
25. LE PROPHÈTE: Ah, mon fils (Meyerbeer) 4:17
  BA 28126 Take 1  
26. SAMSON ET DALILA: Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix (Saint-Saëns) 4:20
  BA 28151 Take 2  
27. LA GIOCONDA: Voce di donna (Ponchielli) 3:41
  40029 Take 1  
CD 2 (79:48)

Edison Diamond Discs

London, 1913
1. LE PROPHÈTE: Ah, mon fils (Meyerbeer) 4:40
  (2762-A) 83019  
2. SAMSON ET DALILA: Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix (Saint-Saëns) 4:53
  (2766-B) 83024  
3. JOCELYN: Cachés dans cet asile [Berceuse] (Godard) 4:47
  (2763-A) 83036  
Pathé Paris, 1918
4. Carillon de guerre (Rohand) 3:40
  (2418) 3139  
5. Espérance (Rohand) 3:24
  (2420) 3139  

Selected recordings

French Odeon 1905 and Gramophone Company 1904–1906
6. LES DRAGONS DE VILLARS: Espoir charmant! (Maillart) 3:00
  Odeon ca. 1905; (33243-6) 33243  
7. MIGNON: Connais-tu le pays? (Thomas) 2:53
  Odeon ca. 1905; (33240-6) 33240  
8. MIGNON: Je connais un pauvre enfant [Styrienne] (Thomas) 3:03
  G&T 1905; (4941o) 33570  
9. MIGNON: Je suis heureuse (Thomas) 3:25
  With Leon Beyle, tenor
G&T 1906; (6146o) 34172
10. MIGNON: O vierge Marie [Prière] (Thomas) 2:26
  G&T 1906; (6014o) 33830  
11. CARMEN: L’amour est un oiseau rebelle [Habanera] (Bizet) 3:11
  Odeon ca. 1905; (33207-6) 33207  
12. CARMEN: Près des remparts de Séville [Séguedille] (Bizet) 1:45
  G&T 1904; (2983F) 33437     
13. CARMEN: Les tringles des sistres [Chanson bohème] (Bizet) 2:55
  Odeon ca. 1905; (33242-7) 33242  
14. CARMEN: Je vais danser en votre honneur (Bizet) 3:20
  G&T 1904; (3288F) 33445  
15. CARMEN: En vain pour éviter [Air des cartes] (Bizet) 3:12
  G&T 1906; (6015O) Issued only on Zonophone X-83079X  
16. CARMEN: Si tu m’aimes, Carmen (Bizet) 2:44
  With Hector Dufranne, baritone
G&T 1905; (5086o) 34147
17. CARMEN: C’est toi, c’est moi [Fragment from act 4 duet] (Bizet) 3:24
  With Leon Beyle, tenor
G&T 1904; (3969F) 34126
18. WERTHER: Vous avez dit vrai (Massenet) 3:02
  G&T 1904; (3287F) 33444  
19. WERTHER: Va, laisse couler mes larmes (Massenet) 2:40
  G&T 1905; (4928o) 33564  
20. LA DAMNATION DE FAUST: Autrefois un roi de Thulé (Berlioz) 3:08
  G&T 1906; (6125o) Issued only on Zonophone X-83164  
21. Sérénade (Gounod) 3:07
  G&T 1905; (5147o) Issued only on Zonophone X-83050  
22. Les enfants (Massenet) 3:19
  G&T 1905; (9083u) 33586  
23. Si mes vers avaient des ailes (Hahn) 2:10
  G&T 1906; (6149o) Issued only on Zonophone X-83178  
24. L’anneau d’argent (Chaminade) 2:26
  G&T 1905; (5041o) Issued only on Zonophone X-83048         
25. Crépuscule triste (Giordano) 3:02
  G&T 1906; (6124o) Issued only on Zonophone X-83047X  

CD 1:
Accompaniments: Tracks [1–12] accompanied by piano; Tracks [13–27] accompanied by orchestra
Languages: French [1–21, 25–26]; Italian [22–24, 27]

CD 2:
Accompaniments: Tracks [1–3, 8–10, 15–16, 19–25] accompanied by orchestra; Tracks [4–7, 11–14, 17–18] accompanied by piano
Languages: All sung in French


Producer: Ward Marston

Audio Conservation: Ward Marston

Audio Assistance: J. Richard Harris

Photographs: Girvice Archer and Charles Mintzer

Liner Notes: Vincent Giroud, © 2008

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi

Marston would like to thank Lawrence F. Holdridge, John Humbley, Jean-Charles Lefebvre, Peter Lack, Nicole Rodriguez, and Richard Warren for their help in the production of this CD release.

The following selections are re-recorded from copies in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Laurence C. Witten II in the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings, Yale University Library:
CD 1: [23, 26], CD 2: [8, 10, 14, 15–18, 21–25]


The life of Marie Delna is surrounded with so many legends that truth cannot easily be separated from fiction. Her real name was Marie Ledant, of which her stage name, proposed by Léon Carvalho, is a near-anagram. She was born in the Marais section of Paris on 3 August 1875 to a working-class family. Her mother died when she was 15 months old. Her father was physically handicapped. Marie was first raised by her maternal grandmother who was remarried to a Belgian stonecutter, in Longjumeau, the city Adolphe Adam’s Postillon has put on the operatic landscape. From 1881 on, Marie lived with her paternal grandparents, who ran a small restaurant, the Café du Panorama, next to the Rive-Gauche train station of Meudon, the Parisian suburb where Rodin had his atelier. Contrary to later rumors depicting her as a semi-illiterate waitress, she received a conventional education at a convent school. That she possessed an exceptional voice cannot have remained a secret for long. An habitué of the restaurant, the Montpellier-born landscape painter Eugène Baudouin, persuaded Marie’s grandmother to let her study singing. Through the intercession of his friend Paul Ferrier, the librettist of Louis Varney’s Les mousquetaires au couvent, she was accepted as a pro bono student of Rosine Laborde, one of the famous teachers of the day who also trained Emma Calvé. Launched at Laborde’s public auditions, first in the soprano repertory, Delna was also heard at various private concerts in Paris, accompanied by Chabrier among others. She was soon recruited by Carvalho for the Opéra-Comique performing in the old Théâtre-Lyrique building on the place du Châtelet following the 1887 fire of the Salle Favart where, in June 1892, she made a sensational stage debut, before her 17th birthday, as Dido in Les Troyens à Carthage. Massenet chose her as the first French Charlotte in Werther, in which she partnered Guillaume Ibos in January 1893. In November 1893, she was the old servant Marcelline in Alfred Bruneau’s L’attaque du Moulin, which became one her major roles. In April 1894, she sang the role of Quickly in the first French Falstaff, supervised by Verdi, who pronounced her “unique”. In April 1895, Delna was Marion—her other major role—in Benjamin Godard’s posthumous military opera La vivandière. In 1896, she added the role of Orphée in the Berlioz-Viardot version of Gluck’s opera, and in the same year, she sang Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Victor Maurel and Edmond Clément as her co-stars. Other parts she sang during her first Opéra-Comique years were the African servant Néala in Massé’s Paul et Virginie, Éros in Ambroise Thomas’s Psyché, and Jeanne in the Paris premiere of Lalo’s La Jacquerie, a role created by Blanche Deschamps-Jéhin at Monte Carlo earlier in the same year.

Having taken part in the Covent Garden premiere of L’attaque du moulin in 1894 with Henri Albers and Zina de Nuovina, Delna made her Italian debut at the Teatro Lirico in Milan in 1897. The following year, she left the Opéra-Comique for the Opéra, where she appeared in Meyerbeer’s Le prophète opposite Albert Alvarez, in the Paris premiere of Berlioz’s La prise de Troie with Maurice Renaud as her Chorèbe, in Donizetti’s La favorite, and in Saint Saëns’s Samson et Dalila. Her last role there was as Queen Guinèvre in Victorin Joncières’s Lancelot. Yet she does not seem to have enjoyed the working atmosphere of the Palais Garnier and was happy to return to the Salle Favart in 1900, when she reprised Orphée and, in October of that year, sang her first Carmen with Adolphe Maréchal and Hector Dufranne. Along with Orphée, Carmen was the part she sang most often during the remainder of her career. In April 1901, she was Marianne in Bruneau’s L’ouragan, a part tailored for her and probably one of her greatest artistic creations. Zola and Bruneau also had her in mind for the part of Madeleine in L’enfant roi, but was eventually premiered by Claire Friché in 1905. Also in 1901, she repeated her Quickly at the revival of Falstaff in Verdi’s memory and sang the witch in Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel. Her new role the following season was Margared in the revival of Le roi d’Ys, with Léon Beyle and Julia Guiraudon.

In 1903, while singing Carmen at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Delna was courted by a rich Belgian admirer, the marquis Prier de Saône, an industrialist. She married him, putting a temporary end to her career. She returned to the stage three years later for a gala performance of La vivandière and a few concerts, before being signed by the Isola brothers for more Vivandières and new productions of Orphée and L’attaque du moulin with a new scene composed for her, at the Théâtre-Lyrique de la Gaîté in 1907–1908. The following season, still at the Gaîté, she sang Fidès in Le prophète, again with Alvarez, and Léonore in La favorite. On 29 January 1910, she made her Met début as Gluck’s Orfeo under Toscanini, with Johanna Gadski as her Euridice. She was to have appeared in Le prophète, La favorite, Werther, and even as La Cieca in La Gioconda, a role new to her, but various obstacles intervened: Caruso was unavailable for La favorite; Slezak sang Le prophète only in German; Farrar refused to relinquish any of her Charlottes; and La Gioconda was scheduled on the same day as another of Delna’s appearances. A second performance of Orfeo turned to near-disaster over tempi disagreements with Arturo Toscanini. She did, however, premiere L’attaque du moulin, not in the old Met but at the New Theater at 61st Street and Central Park West, with Clément as Dominique and Dinh Gilly as the miller Merlier, but the work itself got mixed reviews. When the Met came to Paris in May of the same year, an article in Gil Blas, evidently inspired by her, denounced the Italian artistic direction for their treatment of French singers and the French repertory, and the opening performance of Aida with Destinn, Homer, and Caruso was disrupted by protesters, though it ended in triumph for Toscanini and his singers. This mini-scandal dashed Delna’s hopes for a return to the United States. Her career resumed only sporadically afterwards: more performances of the Bruneau opera at the Gaîté in 1910, the impressive character role of the old Tilli in Silvio Lazzari’s La lépreuse in 1912, and further performances in Brussels. During the war, she appeared at various concerts and benefit performances, including three of act 3 of L’ouragan at the Palais Garnier in 1916. Also in 1916, she appeared in the soprano role of Toinette (premiered in 1907 by Friché) in Xavier Leroux’s Le chemineau.

By the end of the war, Delna’s career was virtually over. She made occasional appearances on the concert and even cabaret stage and had her operetta début in Léo Puget’s Maurin des Maures at the Folies-Dramatiques in 1925. Financial difficulties forced her to move out of her luxurious “Villa Delna” in Montmorency into a small house in the less prosperous Villemomble. Having separated from her husband, she supported herself by teaching and was also helped by a benefit organized for her in 1928 at the initiative of Albert Carré and the journal Comœdia. Her death in 1932, following a brief illness, was not free of controversy: while the press expressed dismay at her dying in a hospital for the poor, it appears that the specialists who treated her had simply arranged for her to be where they had their residency. She was first buried in Thiais but her remains were moved to the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris the following year.


Delna made her first recordings in the London Pathé studios in 1903, the year of her marriage and retirement from the stage, temporarily as it turned out, at the age of 28. By the time she made her last ones, in 1918, she was only 43, but her operatic career was nearly over. Vocally, she was captured at her peak by Edison in March 1910, perhaps thanks to under-employment at the Met that winter, with only nine appearances in more than two months.

Generally described as a contralto, Delna was rather, as Louis Schneider has perceptively argued, a mezzo-soprano in the 19th century sense, in the tradition of Maria Malibran and Pauline Viardot. Delna had a large voice, the size of which is apparent in these recordings, and a range of three octaves, for which we only have her testimony and that of her contemporaries. Trained by her teacher to become a soprano, she could hit a top D and did sing a low D in public (in the orchestral version of Schubert’s Tod und das Mädchen). The color, warmth, evenness of her timbre, and the eloquence of her delivery are also much in evidence in her recorded legacy.

Fidès, one of the most taxing parts of the mezzo repertory, was ideally suited to her voice and reportedly impulsive stage temperament. Of her three recordings of “Ah, mon fils,” both the Edison cylinder and 1913 Diamond disc must rank among the most impressive ever made of the aria, the voice gleaming seamlessly throughout its range with ringing, organ-like tones. The abridged version of the Prison Scene duet with Albert Alvarez, her partner at the Opéra in 1898 and at the Gaîté-Lyrique ten years later, is sung by both parties with admirable firmness.

Next to Emma Calvé, Delna was the most celebrated Carmen of her generation. The three extracts she recorded are all from her early Pathé sessions with piano accompaniment. A more serious, less flirtatious Bohemian than her rival, she does particular justice to the doom-laden “Air des cartes.”

Delna’s recording of Dido’s entrance aria in Les Troyens à Carthage, gives us the opportunity to hear an extract of her debut role in which she dazzled the Opéra-Comique audiences that included Sarah Bernhardt and Marietta Alboni; Delna’s vocal radiance and interpretive authority are both much in evidence here. Léon Glaize’s contemporary portrait of Delna as Dido is preserved at the Bibliothèque-musée de l’Opéra. Other than Félia Litvinne’s recording of the same aria, no other recordings were made until 1929 when Georgette Frozier Marrot recorded it for French HMV. In fact, this great opera was almost totally neglected during the early years of recording.

The two extracts from Werther, recorded three years apart, are invaluable testimonies of an interpretation for which Delna was coached by Massenet himself over several months. The role of Charlotte is not attached to any particular vocal type—the first edition specifies “1re chanteuse d’opéra”—and had been premiered in Vienna by Marie Renard, who sang both mezzo and light soprano parts. Incidentally, she was the first Viennese Manon, opposite Ernest Van Dyck. Delna’s recordings of both Werther arias have been aptly described by Lord Harewood as showing her exemplary “instrumental-like control.” (The “Air des lettres” is cruelly shorn of its middle section due to the time constraints of the recording.) Massenet’s “Les enfants” (1882), one of his most celebrated songs, on a text by Georges Boyer, the librettist of Le portrait de Manon, shows how effectively Delna could lighten her tone.

The part of Marion in La vivandière was written with Delna’s voice in mind, even though Godard died while the work was in rehearsal with the orchestration being completed by Paul Vidal. Henri Cain’s libretto, set during the French Revolution, had everything to appeal to the nervously nationalistic audiences of the Dreyfus Affair years. Delna’s recruiting song, “Viens avec nous, petit” (also known as the “Chanson patriotique,” with its characteristic snatches from La Marseillaise) is interrupted after the first verse by spontaneous applause from the studio audience. The grander “Hymne à la liberté,” which closes the work, shows her higher register to great advantage. The “Berceuse” from Godard’s 1888 opera Jocelyn, an adaptation by Victor Capoul and Armand Silvestre of Lamartine’s popular verse novel on a the life of a priest, soon acquired a popularity of its own. Of Delna’s two recordings, the 1904 Pathé is a fine example of her legato and breath control; the 1913 Edison more relaxed and tonally opulent.

La favorite remained a staple of the repertory of French opera theaters until the First World War. Delna’s appealing interpretation is preserved both in French, with the act 3 aria and the end of the act 4 duet again with the admirable Alvarez, and in Italian from the American Edison sessions, imbued with a touching femininity and capped with an exciting cabaletta.

Another souvenir of Delna’s American experience is the extract from Gluck’s Orphée, which she recorded first in French in 1907, and a second time, defiantly, for Edison, three weeks after her fiasco with Toscanini. One can see at once how her very personal tempi (the final verse almost twice as fast as the first) could have come into conflict with Toscanini’s stricter vision; yet there is much to admire in the tonal stability and dignity of utterance. The same qualities are present in the extract from Bruneau’s L’attaque du moulin, the passage at the end of act 1 where Marcelline, at the declaration of war, launches into an impassioned denunciation of warfare to a text largely written by Zola himself.

While Orfeo and Marcelline were parts particularly associated with Delna, she did not sing in Alexandre Georges’s Miarka (premiered in 1905 when she was in retirement), though the gipsy theme of Jean Richepin’s libretto calls Carmen to mind; nor did she appear in Cavalleria rusticana, but the popularity of the work amply justified her recording “Voi lo sapete” (in French). In Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, which Delna learned and rehearsed for the Met but never sang, she displays her magnificent contralto in a way that would surely have brought the house down.

With her beautiful timbre and even projection, Delna was a natural Dalila and the two arias are among her most treasured, the three versions of “Mon cœur” different and admirable in their own way, her seductive lower tones used to particularly magical effect on the 1913 Edison disc.

Like most operatic stars of her day, Delna was impressive in semi-character music. Clérice’s “Vierge à la crèche,” a song on a poem by Alphonse Daudet, premiered by the tenor Albert Vaguet, and in which she is accompanied by the Argentine composer, is done with taste and charm, while “O sole mio” has irresistible vocal allure. Similarly, it would be a pity to ignore the two war songs by the obscure Rohand. “Espérance,” in particular, her last recording, is remarkable both for her undiminished expressive powers and the eerie, quasi-androgynous color of her chest tones.

Nothing can console us for the absence of mementos of Delna’s Quickly and Zerlina (to which one could add L’ouragan and Le roi d’Ys). Yet, such as it is, her recorded output conveys much of the magnetic vocal presence of a legendary artist.

I wish to thank Jean-Christophe Branger and Jean-Charles Lefebvre for the information they kindly made available to me and I am grateful to Lise Puaux for giving me access to the archive of her grandfather Alfred Bruneau.


Jeanne Marié de l’Isle (1872–1926) was born Jeanne Beugnon in Paris. While her father’s family came from the Morvan, her maternal grandfather was the famous double-bass player turned singer Félix-Mécène Marié de l’Isle (1811–1879), the original Tonio in La fille du régiment (1840), who later sang the baritone repertory and became a voice teacher. Félix-Mécène Marié de l’Isle had four daughters: Jeanne’s mother, and three well-known singers. One of Jeanne’s aunts was Paola Marié, who triumphed as Clairette in La fille de Madame Angot at its Paris premiere in 1872, a work initially staged in Brussels; another aunt was Irma Marié, a notable operetta singer who premiered Lecocq’s Fleur de thé; and the third and most famous aunt was Célestine Galli-Marié (1840–1905), the first Mignon and Carmen.

Jeanne took voice lessons with Maurice Jacquet, who arranged her stage debut in 1896 at Versailles in the role of Rose Friquet in Aimé Maillart’s then highly popular Les dragons de Villars. This led Léon Carvalho, who was in the audience, to hire her for the Opéra-Comique, then still housed in the former Théâtre-Lyrique building on the Place du Châtelet. Jeanne Marié de l’Isle made her debut as Malika in Lakmé with the American-soprano, Marie Van Zandt, who had previously created the role of Lakmé. Other small parts that she sang during her early years at the Comique include Annette in Camille Erlanger’s Kermaria (the composer’s first work) and Divonne in Massenet’s Sapho—both roles having been premiered by Charlotte Wyns. She also sang Daphnis in Henri Busser’s one-act Daphnis et Chloé, Teria in Reynaldo Hahn’s Polynesian opera L’île du rêve, premiered in 1898, and in the following year, Dorothée in the opening production of Massenet’s Cendrillon. Marié de l’Isle sang Mercédès to Georgette Leblanc’s Carmen for the opening of the rebuilt Salle Favart in December 1898 and she took on the main role a few weeks later under Albert Carré, the new Opéra-Comique director. Coached by her aunt Célestine, the creator of Carmen, a fact which makes her recordings of special interest, Marié de l’Isle quickly established herself as a leading exponent of the part. “She makes an incredible effect,” according to Henri de Curzon, “precisely because she is not aiming for one. She is simple, true, consistently under her character’s skin.” She sang it for the last time at the Salle Favart in 1913, with César Vezzani as José and Nelly Martyl as Micaëla. Thanks also to Galli-Marié’s coaching, she was also a highly successful Mignon. Her most important role, however, was Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther, which she first sang for the 1903 revival, with Léon Beyle as Werther and Marguerite Carré as Sophie. Ten years after the Paris premiere, this new cast finally established the work’s masterpiece status. Massenet himself (as he usually did) acknowledged his debt towards this outstanding group of singers. In November 1903 Marié de l’Isle sang Charlotte opposite Ernest Van Dyck, who had created the role of Werther in Vienna in 1892. She sang it with Beyle again in 1905 and 1906, with Edmond Clément in 1908, and, one last time at the Opéra-Comique, with Jean Marny in 1917. Marié de l’Isle was also a noted Santuzza, succeeding Zina de Nuovina in the part at the Salle Favart and sharing the honors with Claire Friché as the Santuzza of the decade—with Beyle as her Turridu in 1908. Still at the Opéra-Comique, having premiered the part of Camille in Louise in 1900, she sang the heroine’s Mother when Aline Vallandri reprised Mary Garden’s role in 1908. The appealing cast also included Thomas Salignac and Lucien Fugère. She also appeared as Massenet’s Marie-Magdeleine (in its staged version), as Serpina in Pergolesi’s La serva padrona, as Taven in Gounod’s Mireille, as Jacqueline in his delightful Le médecin malgré lui, and in small roles in Hahn’s La Carmélite and Méhul’s Joseph. She was a frequent guest in provincial opera houses, appearing (presumably) in her three great roles (Carmen, Mignon, and Charlotte) in Bordeaux, Lyons, and Marseilles, as well as in spa theaters, which all had short opera seasons (Aix-les-Bains, Biarritz, Dieppe, Royan, and Vichy). She did not sing much outside the French borders, but she did appear at the Monnaie in Brussels in 1904, at Ghent, at Bilbao, and as far away as Bucharest and Sofia in 1910. As of 1905, she was on the faculty of the Conservatoire populaire de Mimi Pinson, founded in 1901 and sponsored by Charpentier, with a view to providing free musical tuition to young working-class women. The last testimony we have of her career is a 1917 concert celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Le Havre. She sang Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s “O amor, ô bonitas,” Michel-Richard Delalande’s “Panis angelicus,” and an unidentified piece by Heinrich Schütz. Her driver’s licence, preserved at the Paris Opera library, gives her last address as Voiron, near Grenoble. Though she never achieved the sensational fame of a Delna, she deserves to be remembered as one of the glories of French singing in the early years of the 20th century.


Marié de l’Isle’s recorded legacy includes substantial highlights from the three operas she is especially associated with: Carmen, Mignon, and Werther.The Carmen highlights are particularly generous: “Habanera,” “Séguedille,” “Chanson bohème;” two large extracts from the act 2 Duet, beginning with Carmen’s “Dance Song;” and the “Card Scene,” duettino with Escamillo, and first half of the final duet. Marié de l’Isle is ideally partnered by Léon Beyle’s clear-voiced, classic José (a lyric rather than fort tenor) and Hector Dufranne’s Escamillo. The most fascinating, indeed tantalizing feature of Marié de l’Isle’s Carmen recordings is, of course, the glimpse they provide on what may have been the vocal and interpretive style of the part’s creator, her aunt and coach Galli-Marié. Their value is even greater if one recalls, as the Bizet scholar Hervé Lacombe, among others, has recently pointed out, that Galli-Marié, far from being a “passive” interpreter, contributed to fashioning the role in collaboration with Bizet and his librettists. Marié de l’Isle has a light mezzo voice, free at the top; lacking the rich, contralto lower register of a Delna, she has to resort to chest coloring below the staff, though, by the standards of the time, she does not abuse it. What is particularly impressive about her interpretation, apart from the perfect execution of vocal ornamentation (including occasional interpolated grace notes), is the lightness of touch and lack of affectation. No tragic femme fatale, she brings to the role, instead, unusual touches of youthfulness and charm, particularly apparent in the Dance—perhaps, one wonders, to her own castanet accompaniment. She “speaks” the role, never shouts it, and for once, Bizet’s expressive direction for the “Card Scene,” “simplement et très également,” is taken literally. To a greater extent than Delna and Mérentié, she is the quintessential opéra-comique Carmen.

The same virtues are apparent in the Mignon extracts, which one would like to think are also a reflection of what Galli-Marié may have sounded like in 1866. “Connais-tu le pays” is never oversung, and features an exquisite filé E-flat on “bleu.” Thomas’s abundant indications of dynamics (p, pp) and expression (dolce, sempre dolce) are scrupulously observed. In the act 2 “Styrienne” sung in its longer, coloratura version, she always favors the higher options, though going no higher than B-natural, and nicely conveys the contrasts in mood. The act 3 prayer is done simply and movingly, also eschewing the lower options and ending on a middle B. In these three solos, as well as in the two duets with Dufranne as a warm, sympathetic Lothario, we never lose the sense that Mignon is, after all, an adolescent girl.

Marié’s Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther is equally authoritative. Her soft singing and delicate unaffected diction heard here in the Larmes aria and the abbreviated passages from the “Clair de lune” make us regret all the more that she did not record even an excerpt from the Letter Scene. On the other hand, she did record three other Werther extracts, which would be fascinating to hear if they could be located: a duet with Beyle from the “Clair de lune”, a solo from the opening of act 3, and another duet with Beyle beginning at Werther’s entrance.

Marié also recorded six extracts from Aimé Maillart’s Les dragons de Villars, her stage debut role: four solos and one duet each with Léon Beyle and Hector Dufranne. Other operatic extracts that she recorded are: Marie-Magdeleine’s opening aria; the shepherd’s aria from Mireille, a role she probably sang, since it was usually given to the same singer as Taven at the Opéra-Comique; “D’amour l’ardente flamme” and the Roi de Thule romance from Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust; and the Pandolfe-Cendrillon duet in Massenet’s fairy-tale opera in whose premiere she appeared as one of the mean sisters. In addition, Marié de l’Isle recorded songs by Schubert, Gounod, Fauré, Chaminade, Massenet, Hahn, Tosti, and Giordano, all sung to orchestral accompaniment. Among the songs, which are all treasurable, a special mention can be made of Chaminade’s “L’anneau d’argent,” in which Marié sensitively conveys the tender feelings expressed in the poem by Rosemonde Gérard, wife of Edmond Rostand and a celebrated poétesse at the time; and of Gounod’s perennially popular Sérénade, on words from act 1 of Victor Hugo’s Marie Tudor, in which the effortless execution of the ornaments reminds us, once more, that Jeanne Marié de l’Isle belonged to a tradition that went back to the golden age of the Opéra-Comique.

Vincent Giroud, © 2008