CD 1 (78:29)
L’ÉTOILE DU NORD
|1.||Enfants de l’Ukraine||2:01|
|Hector Dufranne as Gritzenko; 1907; G&T (6569o) 3-32688|
|2.||Veille sur eux toujours [Prière et barcarolle]||3:26|
|Lise Landouzy as Catherine; 1911; ODEON (Xp 5531-2) 56230|
|(No recordings from this act exist)|
|3.||Pour fuir son souvenir … Ô jours heureux||4:45|
|Paul Payan as Pierre; ca. 1910; EDISON FOUR-MINUTE CYLINDER (17083) 17083|
|4.||La, la, la, air chéri! (La, la, la, aria cara!)||4:16|
|No extant recording of the aria sung in French.|
Luisa Tetrazzini as Catherine; 26 September 1913; HMV (Ho522af) 2-053094
|5.||La, la, la, air chéri! [Cadenza only]||2:08|
|Ellen Beach Yaw as Catherine; 18 March 1899; BERLINER (1657) 33105|
LE PARDON DE PLOËRMEL (also known as DINORAH)
|6.||Bellah! ma chèvre chérie! ... Dors, petite, dors tranquille (Bellah, capretta adorata … Sì carina, caprettina)||3:35|
|No extant recording sung in French.|
Giuseppina Huguet as Dinorah; 1906; G&T (627c) 053082
|7.||Je suis chez moi … Dieu nous donne à chacun en partage (Sto in casa alfin … Dava il cielo a ciascuno in retaggio)||5:43|
|No extant recording sung in French.|
Gaetano Pini-Corsi as Corentin (Corentino);1906; ODEON (Xm 744/5) 37407/8
|8.||Ô puissante magie||2:53|
|Gabriel Soulacroix as Hoël; July 1900; G&T (1097G) 32674|
|9.||Ô puissante magie … Enfin l’heure est venue … De l’or, de l’or||6:01|
|Henri Albers as Hoël; mid-1912; PATHÉ (0792/0792 bis) 29 cm paper label disc 022|
|10.||Dites-moi, dites vite … Depuis lors, quand la nuit gagne (Ditemi, buona gente ... Da quel di che a lei narrata)||4:15|
|No extant recording sung in French.|
Carolina Lazzari as the Goatherd; 1917; EDISON DIAMOND DISC (6646-B) 82567
|11.||Ombre légère qui suis mes pas [Valse de l’ombre]||4:34|
|Jane Mérey as Dinorah; December 1904; PATHÉ (2002/2002 bis, |
transfer number 22841R and 19121BC) 29 cm etched label disc 2002/2002 bis
|12.||Ombre légère qui suis mes pas [Valse de l’ombre]||2:04|
|Cécile Merguillier as Dinorah; early 1905; PATHÉ (3640, |
transfer number 16577BC) 29 cm etched label disc 3640
|13.||Ombre légère qui suis mes pas [Valse de l’ombre]||3:33|
|Gabrielle Ritter-Ciampi as Dinorah; late 1924; PATHÉ (0077) 29 cm paper label disc 0453|
|14.||Ah! que j’ai froid! Ah! que j’ai peur! (Ah! che tremor! Ah! che terror!)||2:27|
|No extant recording sung in French.|
Gaetano Pini-Corsi as Corentin (Corentino); 1906; ODEON (Xm740) 37401
|15.||En chasse, en chasse, piqueurs adroits! [Chant du chasseur]||3:07|
|Hippolyte Belhomme as Le chasseur; early 1908; |
PATHÉ (0383, transfer number 28109G) 29 cm etched label disc 0383
|16.||Les blés sont bons à faucher [Chant du faucheur]||2:54|
|César Vezzani as Le faucheur; ca. 1912-1913; ODEON (XP 5971) X.111482|
|17.||Ah! mon remords te venge||2:12|
|Max Bouvet as Hoël; March 1903; PATHÉ (2593, |
transfer number 10534) black wax cylinder 2593
|18.||Ah! mon remords te venge||3:15|
|Daniel Vigneau as Hoël; 1907; G&T (7281o) 2-32707|
|19.||Adieu, mon doux rivage||3:51|
|Berthe Auguez de Montalant as Inès; 24 March 1909; GRAMOPHONE (0930v) 033105|
|20.||Dieu, que le monde révère||3:18|
|Paul Payan as Don Pédro, Eugène Fréville as Don Diégo, |
Bernard Boussagol as the Grand Inquisitor, and chorus as Évêques;
23 December 1910; GRAMOPHONE (16193u) 34707
|21.||J’ai vu, nobles seigneurs (Ho veduto, o signori)||2:48|
|No extant recording sung in French.|
Antonio Aramburo as Vasco; 1901; ARAMBURO CONCERT CYLINDER 1
|22.||Oui, fallût-il perdre la vie … D’impie et de rebelle [Act 1 Finale]||5:24|
|Agustarello Affre as Vasco, Eugène Fréville as Don Alvar, Lucien Rigaux as Don Pédro, |
Henri Lequien as Don Diégo, and Armand Narçon as the Grand Inquisitor;
1908; ODEON (xP 4355/4455) 97061/97141
CD 2 (70:58)
|1.||Sur mes genoux [Air du sommeil]||2:42|
|Félia Litvinne as Sélika; 1912; ODEON (XP5161) X.56226|
|2.||Sur mes genoux … Ah! je succombe, hélas! (Wie immer voll Unruh sein Schlaf … Er schlummert fest. Weh mir!) [Schlummerlied]||7:09|
|Sabine Kalter as Sélika; 13 April 1923; |
ODEON (XXB 6854-II/XXB 6855) Rxx 80151/80152
|3.||Fille des rois … Quand l’amour m’entraîne||4:19|
|Louis Lestelly as Nélusko; 14 January 1914; HMV (02890 1/2v) 032305|
|4.||En vain leur impuissante rage … Combien tu m’es chère||7:19|
|Marie Lafargue as Sélika and Léon Beyle as Vasco; 5 December 1912; |
HMV (02612v/02613v) 034179/80
|5.||Moi seule il m’aime … Dans les soupirs de la ramure [Septet]||5:32|
|Lise Landouzy as Inès, Amélie Talexis as Sélika, Gaston Dubois as Vasco, |
with Tina Dubois-Lauger as Anna, Georges Régis as Don Alvar, Lucien Rigaux as Nélusko,
and Étienne Billot as Don Pédro; 1907; ODEON (XP 3642/43) 56132/56148
|6.||Debout, matelots! [Quatuor des matelots]||2:49|
|Gaston de Poumayrac, Louis Nansen, Henri Dangès, and Hippolyte Belhomme; |
mid-1909; PATHÉ (0838, transfer number 43738GR) 29 cm etched label disc 0838
|7.||Ô grand saint Dominique||4:26|
|Berthe Auguez de Montalant as Inès with chorus; 2 December 1908; HMV (0867v) 033078|
|Pierre Gailhard as Nélusko; December 1904; FONOTIPIA (XPh 517) 39093|
|9.||Adamastor, roi des vagues profondes||3:15|
|Léon Melchissédec as Nélusko; 1907; APGA (1625) 1625|
|10.||Adamastor, roi des vagues profondes||3:43|
|Hector Dufranne as Nélusko and chorus; 1907 G&T (6611p) 032056|
|11.||Je viens à vous malgré ma haine (Io vengo a voi, malgrado l’odio)||3:39|
|No extant recording sung in French.|
Gino Martinez-Patti as Vasco and Cesare Preve as Don Pédro; 1905; G&T (552c) 054066
|12.||Pays merveilleux … Ô paradis!||3:25|
|Léon Escalaïs as Vasco; 1905; FONOTOPIA (XPh 491) 39426|
|13.||Conduisez-moi vers ce navire||3:09|
|Agustarello Affre as Vasco; 1906; ODEON (XP 2475) 36672|
|14.||L’avoir tant adorée … Écrase-moi, tonnerre!||4:07|
|Louis Lestelly as Nélusko; 18 April 1916; GRAMOPHONE (393af) 032325|
|15.||Brama! Wichnou! Shiva! [Invocation du Grand Brahmine]||3:25|
|Pierre d’Assy as Le Grand Brahmine and chorus; |
1909; GRAMOPHONE (0926v) 032153
|16.||Jamais nulle mortelle … Ô transports, ô douce extase … Ô ma Sélika||7:43|
|Marie Lafargue as Sélika and Léon Beyle as Vasco; |
18 December 1912; GRAMOPHONE (02614v/02633v) 034181/82
|17.||Remparts de gaze [Chœur dansé]||2:47|
|Antoinette Laute-Brun as Inès and chorus as maidens; 1905; G&T (4564o) 34681|
CD 3 (79:46)
|1.||D’ici je vois la mer … Ô temple magnifique … La haine m’abandonne||8:22|
|Odette Carlyle as Sélika; 3 July 1911; HMV (01962v/01963v) 033123/24|
Supplementary Meyerbeer recordings of particular interest
L’ÉTOILE DU NORD
|2.||Veille sur eux toujours (Ognor sovr’essi vigile ... Vascel sulla tua sponda) [Prière et barcarolle]||2:11|
|Rosalia Chalia as Catherine; 1900; U.S. ZONOPHONE (9136) 9136|
|3.||Pour fuir son souvenir … Ô jours heureux||3:45|
|Pol Plançon as Pierre; 14 April 1908; VICTOR (C-6111-2) 85124|
|4.||La, la, la, air chéri! [La, la, la, aria cara!]||4:24|
|Yvonne de Tréville as Catherine; 1916; EDISON TONE TEST (4717-A) 80374|
LE PARDON DE PLOËRMEL (also known as DINORAH)
|5.||Ombre légère qui suis mes pas (Ombra leggiera non te n’andar) [Valse de l’ombre]||5:36|
|Elvira de Hidalgo as Dinorah; 20 and 22 March 1924; COLUMBIA (AX 378/386) L 1580|
|6.||Ombre légère qui suis mes pas (Du leichter Schatten) [Schattentanz]||4:28|
|Margarethe Siems as Dinorah; 1903 G&T (238y) 043029|
|7.||En chasse, en chasse, piqueurs adroits! [Chant du chasseur]||3:20|
|Juste Nivette as Le chasseur; 1908; ODEON (XP 3884) 60645|
|8.||Ah! mon remords te venge (Sei vendicata assai)||4:31|
|Mario Ancona as Hoël; 20 March 1908; VICTOR (C-6044) 88169|
|9.||Sur mes genoux … Ah! je succombe, hélas!||3:42|
|Rosa Ponselle as Sélika; 14 January 1925; VICTOR (C-31710-2) unissued on 78 r.p.m. format|
|10.||Fille des rois||1:56|
|Gabriel Soulacroix as Nélusko; 1904; Dutreih (150002) 21 cm etched label disc D-002|
|11.||Combien tu m’es chère||2:45|
|Amélie Talexis as Sélika and Gaston Dubois as Vasco; 1907; ODEON (XP 3711) 60493|
|12.||Ô grand saint Dominique||3:44|
|Antoinette Laute-Brun as Inès; 1905; G&T (4505 o) 34675|
|13.||Hola, matelots ... Adamastor, roi des vagues profondes (All’erta marinar ... Adamastor, re dell’acqua profonde)||3:10|
|Ricardo Stracciari as Nélusko; 23 March 1925; ENGLISH COLUMBIA (AX962) D 14651|
|14.||Pays merveilleux … Ô paradis … Conduisez-moi vers ce navire||4:23|
|Paul Dangély as Vasco; 1910; EDISON CYLINDER 27097|
|15.||Pays merveilleux … Ô paradis … Conduisez-moi vers ce navire||4:47|
|Léon Beyle as Vasco; 1905; G&T (4500o) 34673|
|16.||Two fragments from Ô paradis!||2:46|
|a. Ô paradis, sorti de l’onde …|
|b. Salut! Monde nouveau …|
|Jean de Reszke as Vasco; 15 March 1901;|
MAPLESON CYLINDER originally issued on IRCC 183-B
|17.||Two fragments from Sélika/Vasco Duet||3:32|
|a. Vasco: Ô transports|
|b. Sélika: Sois ma femme!|
|Lucienne Bréval as Sélika and Jean de Reszke as Vasco; 15 March 1901;|
MAPLESON CYLINDER originally issued on IRCC 183-B
|18.||Ô transports, ô douce extase||2:25|
|Amélie Talexis as Sélika and Gaston Dubois as Vasco; 1907; ODEON (XP 3713) 60496|
|19.||D’ici je vois la mer … Ô temple magnifique … La haine m’abandonne||7:00|
|Barbara Kemp as Sélika; 1917; ODEON (xxb 6348/6349) XX76598/99|
|20.||Ô riante couleur … Quels célestes accords! (O ridente color … Quai celesti concenti!)||3:00|
|Celestina Boninsegna as Sélika; 1905; G&T (7324 1/2b) 53418|
Producers: Ward Marston and Scott Kessler
Audio conservation: Ward Marston
Audio assistance: J. Richard Harris, Aaron Z Snyder, and Christian Zwarg
Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi
The scope of Meyerbeer in Paris is such that it not only required the assistance of many specialized collectors and scholars, it also required substantial funding. Therefore, Marston would like to thank the Pauls Foundation and the estate of John Stratton, under the guidance of its Trustee, Stephen Clarke for their substantial contributions, which have subsidized the cost of this set.
Photographs: Marston would like to thank Girvice Archer, Gregor Benko, Luc Bourrousse, Harold Bruder, Rudi van den Bulck, Ramonia Fasio, the estate of Roger Gross, Lewis M. Hall, R. W. Hornbeck, Charles Mintzer, John Pennino, André Tubeuf, Robert Tuggle, Peter van der Waal, and Richard A. Williams for their help in providing photos for our booklet. Marston would also like to thank and recognize the Metropolitan Opera Archives for providing the photo of Pol Plançon on page 39 and for the photo of Rosa Ponselle on page 40.
Original recordings: Marston would like to thank the following for making their record collections available for the production of this CD release: Alain Bacquet, The Estate of Richard Bebb with help from Alan Bilgora and Owen Williams; Gregor Benko; William Breslin; Lewis Hall; Lawrence F. Holdridge; John Humbley; Peter Lack; and Larry Lustig.
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: Track 21
CD 2: Track 10
CD 3: Tracks 12 and 14
Research: Marston would like to extend special thanks to Luc Bourrousse, Vincent Giroud, and Robert Letellier, for sharing their knowledge, research, and time.
Marston would like to thank Christian Zwarg for providing discographic help with Odeon and Pathé recordings and Rudi van den Bulck.
L’ÉTOILE DU NORD
The international triumph of Le prophète, following its Paris Opéra premiere on 16 April 1849, represented the apex of Meyerbeer’s career. By July 1851 Le prophète had reached its hundredth performance at the Opéra and had been staged in a dozen French provincial theaters and throughout the world, rivaling Robert le diable and Les Huguenots in popularity. For Meyerbeer to then embark on an opéra-comique project rather than a new grand opéra might seem to have been a step backward, especially since the long projected L’Africaine was being eagerly awaited by theater directors. L’Africaine, however, was still in the planning stage, whereas writing an opéra-comique was a dream Meyerbeer had long cherished. As early as 1815 he had expressed his desire to compose a work for the Théâtre Feydeau, the Opéra-Comique’s home until 1829, and it will be recalled that Robert le diable was initially planned for this theater. As an opera-goer Meyerbeer divided his time equally between the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique–and, after 1851, the Théâtre-Lyrique, which also performed works with spoken dialogues, a form he genuinely admired. His diaries are full of praise for his contemporaries Adolphe Adam, Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, and Fromental Halévy, who in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s were the leading contributors to the “quintessentially French genre”–to borrow Théophile Gautier’s famous phrase. Meyerbeer was equally impressed by the younger composers, Ambroise Thomas, Félicien David, and Victor Massé whose Galathée he enjoyed in 1852, and Les noces de Jeannette even more in 1853. If overshadowed to a large extent by the fame of his grands opéras, Meyerbeer’s two contributions to the opéra-comique tradition (L’étoile du nord and Le pardon de Ploërmel) are highly individual; in terms of importance, they rival those subsequently made by Gounod, Bizet, Offenbach, and Massenet.
To be sure, L’étoile du nord was not an entirely original work. It was based on Ein Feldlager in Schliesen, the two-act Singspiel Meyerbeer had composed for the opening of the new Berlin opera house in 1844; Meyerbeer revised Feldlager for Vienna three years later as Vielka, starring Jenny Lind in the title role. Neither version was published since Meyerbeer considered both to be works intended for specific occasions. In the end, only six numbers from Feldlager found their way into L’étoile du nord, all in Act 2. Eugène Scribe, who had secretly provided the scenario for Feldlager, though Ludwig Rellstab alone was officially credited, was once again pressed into service. The subject he and Meyerbeer retained for their new work was Peter the Great’s courtship of his second wife, the Latvian-born Catherina Skowronka, who succeeded him on the throne of Russia. This was not a new subject in French opéra-comique. It had previously been treated by André-Modeste Grétry, whose Pierre le Grand was premiered at the Salle Favart in 1790, and by Adam, whose Pierre et Catherine was, in early 1829, one of the last works premiered at the Théâtre Feydeau. Scribe freely combined various events from Peter’s life: his courtship of Catherine in 1705-1707, his incognito visit to Karelia to learn about shipbuilding, and his victorious military campaigns against the Swedes between 1708 and 1718. In addition to Peter and Catherine, two other historical characters are featured in the opera: Peter’s close friend and ally Aleksander Danilovich Menshikov, who is the principal tenor, and General Sheremetev, who makes only a brief appearance in Act 2. Like Danilowitz, as he is restyled in Scribe’s libretto, Menshikov had reportedly begun his career as a pastry vendor. Scribe, however, tactfully refrains from hinting at the widely rumored involvement between Menshikov and the future empress. In any event, what eventually worried the French censors in the choice of a Russian subject was the rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries, which were at war within a month following the premiere of L’étoile du nord. Fortunately Meyerbeer could count on Napoleon III’s protection and no obstacles were raised.
The first two acts of L’étoile du nord, with their pronounced military flavor, belong to the popular tradition brilliantly launched by Donizetti in 1840 with La fille du régiment. L’étoile du nord’s initial titles, La cantinière or La vivandière, suggest, in fact, a different story line from the one Scribe and Meyerbeer eventually adopted, with Catherine a boisterous character à la Donizetti’s Marie. In its definitive shape, and with its beautifully evocative title, L’étoile du nord, for its occasional high spirits and happy denouement, is filled with melancholy, bordering at times, on tragedy. At the end of Act 1, Catherine sacrifices herself for her brother’s sake and leaves their village, taking his place as a soldier, just as he is getting married; in Act 2, she barely escapes being shot for insubordination; in Act 3, she recovers her sanity only through shock therapy, in a manner reminiscent of Donizetti’s Linda and of Act 4 of Flotow’s Martha. As an opéra-comique, L’étoile du nord belongs to the semi-character tradition pioneered by Hérold, and later by Halévy, in contrast to the buffo or fantasy type represented by Auber and Adam. The presence of melodramas–spoken text delivered over a musical background–at key moments in the score reinforces this kinship with Halévy, one of the first French composers to introduce them into nineteenth-century opéra-comique. First used by Monsigny in his opéra-comique Le déserteur (1769), the device was made into an autonomous genre by Rousseau in Pygmalion (1770), and Georg Anton Benda (Ariadne auf Naxos, 1774), getting a foothold in both Singspiel and opéra-comique, though, in France at least, it fell into disuse after the end of the eighteenth century.
L’étoile du nord was premiered with great success at the Salle Favart on 16 February 1854 in the presence of the emperor and empress. According to the published recollections of the music critic Johannès Weber, then Meyerbeer’s secretary, it boasted one of the strongest casts Meyerbeer ever had at his disposal. Catherine was sung by Caroline Duprez (1832-1875), daughter and pupil of the famous tenor Gilbert Duprez. When Delphine Ugalde, then the leading female star of the Opéra-Comique, took over from her in September 1855, Meyerbeer noted that “in the Tent Scene, she surpassed Madame Duprez in energy and vocal effect, but in everything else, and in intellectual grasp, Demoiselle Duprez takes the lead.” Peter was the buffo bass Charles-Amable Battaille (1822-1872), who had previously created the title-role of Adam’s Le toréador and the part of Falstaff in Thomas’s Le songe d’une nuit d’été. When Jean-Baptiste Faure, then at the beginning of his brilliant career, succeeded him in the role, Meyerbeer transposed it upward. “He has a wonderfully beautiful voice, sings very well, but drags out the tempi and is not much of an actor. In short, I prefer Battaille,” he noted in his diary. Danilowitz was sung by the veteran Ernest Mocker (1811-1895), who also had been in the original cast of Le toréador.
L’étoile du nord was performed a hundred times at the Opéra-Comique within a year. International premieres followed at a speedy rhythm: Stuttgart in September 1854, Brussels in December 1854, Amsterdam in February 1855, New Orleans in April 1855. For the Dresden premiere, in February 1855, Meyerbeer expanded the role of Danilowitz for Josef Tichatschek (the original Tannhaüser). For the Covent Garden Italian-language premiere, in July 1855, he wrote sung recitatives to replace the spoken dialogues; at these performances the renowned bass Luigi Lablache made one of his last appearances, in the cameo role of the Cossack Gritzenko. In January 1856, L’étoile du nord was staged in Saint Petersburg, the ban on stage presentation of Russian monarchs being lifted for the occasion. The portrayal of a drunken Peter the Great in Act 2 appalled Russian audiences and the musical establishment, notably an indignant Glinka, who otherwise enjoyed cordial relations with the German composer.
Despite its initial success, L’étoile du nord had a shorter stage career than any of Meyerbeer’s major works. In Paris, it disappeared from the Opéra-Comique repertory in 1887. Elsewhere, it survived largely because of Patti, who sang it in many theaters, among which was her 1883 performance at the New York Academy of Music, with the baritone Jacques-Philippe-Eugène Durat as Pierre. It was later revived in the 1930s for Clara Clairbert.
LE PARDON DE PLOËRMEL
Though L’étoile du nord was highly successful and generally admired, it was not without detractors, even in France. For example, when Offenbach announced his operetta competition in 1856 he singled out L’étoile du nord as an example of a contamination of opéra-comique by grand opéra, a comment which greatly offended the notoriously thin-skinned Meyerbeer. Whether one agrees with Offenbach’s assessment or not, his criticism certainly is less applicable to Meyerbeer’s second opéra-comique project, Le pardon de Ploërmel, whose few characters and pastoral settings are in marked contrast with the historical framework of L’étoile du nord. Yet the almost tragic character of the work, which is completely lacking in comical elements, reinforces Meyerbeer’s preference for opéra-comique with a serious subject over the buffo genre, which Offenbach favored.
Le pardon de Ploërmel marked an exceptional interruption in Meyerbeer’s partnership with Scribe, when in May 1854, the composer was approached by Jules Barbier (1825-1901), whose collaboration with Michel Carré (1819-1872) had begun in 1852 with the writing of the libretto for Massé’s Galathée. Barbier proposed a one-act opera based on Breton folklore. Uncertain about the direction L’Africaine would take, Meyerbeer was sufficiently attracted by Barbier’s offer to work with an entirely new team. Scribe, when he found out, threatened to withdraw not just L’Africaine, but also the libretto of Judith, a project that Meyerbeer had begun, but which never went beyond the drafting stage. Meanwhile, Émile Perrin, the Opéra-Comique director, coaxed Meyerbeer into expanding the scope of the Barbier-Carré project into three acts; the composer, in turn, enlisting the input of the German playwright Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer to help get the libretto into shape, a process he closely supervised.
The subject of the new work was drawn from two tales by the Breton writer Émile Souvestre (1806-1854), which had been published in the Revue des deux mondes in January and July 1850. The first, “La chasse aux trésors,” set not in Brittany but in Maine, tells about a superstitious treasure-obsessed tinker named Claude, who convinces his pal Jean-Marie to accompany him on his quest, using the latter’s idiot sister Marthe as a decoy. Hardly have they reached the supposed location of the treasure when she is killed by an avalanche of stones. The second tale, “Le kacouss de l’armor,” is another story of superstition centering on a disreputable old character who is murdered by his adoptive son, Beuzec-le-Noir, a foundling rescued from a shipwreck. (A “kacouss” is a pariah of sorts, while Armor is the Latin name for Brittany.) The satanic Beuzec, who sets the kacouss’s house ablaze after stabbing him, tries to seduce a local girl, Dinorah, though to what extent she has been responsive is left vague in the story. At the end, as the captive Beuzec is carted away, he and Dinorah exchange one final glance while a religious procession is going on.
The opera’s original title, Le chercheur de trésors, was then changed to Dinorah, and changed again to Le pardon de Notre-Dame d’Auray, a reference to Brittany’s most famous Marian pilgrimage. After this was vetoed by the censors, who objected to the mention of the Virgin, Barbier and Carré moved the setting to the small city of Ploërmel, located about twenty-five miles from Auray. The libretto focuses on the three well-characterized figures of Dinorah, Hoël, and Corentin. Whereas Souvestre’s Dinorah is a sane, vivacious Breton girl, Meyerbeer’s character constantly hovers on the brink of madness, like Claude’s idiot sister in “La chasse aux trésors”. Like Catherine in L’étoile du nord, Dinorah revives through shock therapy, and the Marian pilgrimage or “Pardon,” which links the past with the present, cancels as a bad dream the year during which she was abandoned by her lover. Hoël, while derived from both Claude and Beuzec, is a much more sympathetic figure, though he retains their driven and crazed personality. There is no suggestion of a devilish nature, yet the vocal lines at times uncannily recall Bertram in Robert le diable. As for the simple-minded, superstitious, gullible Corentin, he is based on Jean-Marie in “La chasse aux trésors.” With his buffo elements, the role recalls Raimbaud in Robert le diable. The other, episodic characters–goatherd, reaper, and huntsman–though essentially decorative, do contribute to the work’s haunting atmosphere.
Those who know the opera only through its flashiest number, “Ombre légère,” which is actually part of a much longer scena, have a limited, distorted notion of what remains one of Meyerbeer’s strongest, freshest, most enchanting scores. Beginning with the overture, interrupted by the chorus in the manner of Rossini’s Ermione, the orchestral writing is full of felicitous, original touches, in a pastoral style not generally associated with the composer. Tailored for the voice of Jean-Baptiste Faure, by then the Opéra-Comique primo uomo assoluto, the part of Hoël highlighted his vocal gifts, with brilliant top notes, florid passages, and a trill in “Ô puissante magie.” For Dinorah, Meyerbeer long hesitated between Marie Cabel, the Belgian soprano who had triumphed in Thomas’s Le panier fleuri and Auber’s Manon Lescaut, and Caroline Miolan-Carvalho, who had delighted him in Massé’s Les noces de Jeannette. After long hesitations, and despite reservations about both singers, he finally settled for the latter, but she couldn’t be released from her husband’s Théâtre-Lyrique, so Cabel remained the only choice. Meyerbeer created for her one of the finest coloratura soprano parts of the second half of the nineteenth century, comparable to Ophélie in Thomas’s Hamlet, the four women in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, and Delibes’s Lakmé. As for Corentin, premiered by the tenor Sainte-Foy (born Charles-Louis Pubereaux, 1817-1877), it is a typical, but unusually extended trial (i.e. buffo tenor) part.
Like that of L’étoile du nord, the premiere of Le pardon de Ploërmel at the Opéra-Comique on 4 April 1859, a little more than two weeks after that of Gounod’s Faust, was a major musical and theatrical event. At Meyerbeer’s insistence, the lavish staging included real water at the end of Act 2, and Parisian audiences were enthusiastic. For the Covent Garden premiere in July 1859, with Miolan-Carvalho and Francesco Graziani, the opera was given in an Italian translation, with recitatives supplied by Meyerbeer to replace the spoken dialogues, as was customary when an opéra-comique was performed abroad in a language other than French. Although Meyerbeer had composed these recitatives to the original French text, he nonetheless intended them to be used solely in translation. This sung-through version was entitled Dinorah–a title appropriately used for the first complete recording made by Opera Rara in 1979. (This recording is sung in French, but with the spoken dialogues replaced by Meyerbeer’s original recitatives sung in French.) In the year of its premiere, the work, either as Dinorah or Le pardon de Ploërmel, was heard in Coburg, The Hague, and Brussels. The Geneva premiere took place in January 1860, followed, in the same year, by those in Saint Petersburg and Prague, both in February, while Budapest and Linz presented the work in November. The North-American premiere, in New Orleans, in March 1861, featured the seventeen-year old Adelina Patti, who remained closely associated with the part for several decades. Le pardon de Ploërmel was regularly given at the Opéra-Comique until 1886. On 28 September of that year it received its 180th performance with a cast that included Cécile Merguillier as Dinorah and Max Bouvet as Hoël, both of whom can be heard here in their respective roles. The Metropolitan Opera premiere took place in Chicago in 1891, sung in Italian, with Marie Van Zandt as Dinorah, Antonio Magini-Coletti as Hoël, and Enrico Giannini-Grifoni as Corentin. By the early 1900s, Le pardon de Ploërmel had become a relative rarity. In London, when Maria Galvany sang Dinorah at the Drury Lane Theatre in June 1909 with Oreste Mieli as Hoël, it had not been heard in decades. In 1908, New Yorkers were treated to Luisa Tetrazzini’s Dinorah by Oscar Hammerstein’s company, under Cleofonte Campanini, with Francesco Daddi as Corentin and Mario Ancona as Hoël. The opera was last revived at the Opéra-Comique in March 1912 with Marianne Nicot-Vauchelet (whose Manon earned Massenet’s praise), Henri Albers as Hoël, Maurice Capitaine as Corentin, and as the Reaper the twenty-six-year-old César Vezzani. The Chicago Opera gave its premiere of Dinorah on 16 November 1917 featuring the sensational Amelita Galli-Curci in the title-role, with Giaccomo Rimini as Corentin, Gustave Huberdeau as Hoël, and the relatively unknown contralto Carolina Lazzari as the goat herder. Her aria from Act 2, recorded by Edison at around this time, can be heard here. In 1925 Dinorah received a new Met production with Galli-Curci, supported by Giuseppe De Luca as Hoël, and Armand Tokatyan as Corentin, but it was dropped from the repertory after three performances.
The long genesis of Meyerbeer’s last opera has already been summarized in the first volume of this series. Planned as early as 1837 as a vehicle for Marie-Cornélie Falcon, who had triumphed as Valentine in Les Huguenots in the previous year, L’Africaine was shelved in 1838 when vocal problems forced Falcon to leave the stage at the age of twenty-six. In 1843, by which time he had drafted most of Le prophète, Meyerbeer completed the short score of the first version of L’Africaine. In this initial form, Scribe’s libretto took as its hero a seventeenth-century Spanish naval officer named Fernand, who, following an explosion and the taking over of his ship by African pirates, found himself on the Niger river in the kingdom of his own African slave Sélika. The end of the opera, in this initial version, corresponded more or less to the version we know. Meyerbeer, however, dropped the project when Léon Pillet, the Opéra director, insisted on his mistress Rosine Stoltz, whom Meyerbeer disliked, being cast in the principal role. Meyerbeer also had doubts about the artistic worth of the opera compared to Le prophète, which was thus given priority.
When Scribe and Meyerbeer once again turned their attention to L’Africaine in the fall of 1850, they decided to move the action of the opera back to the early sixteenth century and to give it a more glamorous hero in the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. This, however, required that the African setting be changed to India. The libretto was accordingly recast, though the last three acts remained similar to the earlier version. Meyerbeer’s attention then became monopolized by his two opéras-comiques during most of the 1850s, though in August 1856 he promised Royer and Vaëz, the Opéra directors, that L’Africaine would go into rehearsal the following year. He, in fact, realized that Vasco de Gama, as the opera was now called–though still known to the expectant public as L’Africaine–needed considerable work. Meyerbeer first had to placate Scribe, still smarting from being passed over in favor of Barbier and Carré. Only after the premiere of Le pardon de Ploërmel were Meyerbeer and his collaborator able to resume their work on L’Africaine, and they were still fully engaged in it when Scribe died in February 1861. Revisions continued, with the help of Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer, and in December 1862, the work was again promised to the Opéra for the following fall. Casting uncertainties, however, caused further delays. Hesitant at first, Meyerbeer finally settled on the Belgian Marie Sasse as Sélika. After hearing the young Christine Nilsson as Gilda, he considered her as Inès, but in the end the part was given to Marie Battu. When Meyerbeer died in May 1864, following a brief illness, the orchestration was more or less completed but the opera had not received its definitive shape.
Having been appointed by Minna Meyerbeer to oversee the preparations for the premiere, the Belgian musicologist François-Joseph Fétis decided to revert to the initial title, which had reached celebrity status. This necessitated tricky adjustments between the Indian-based story of Vasco and the supposedly African setting of Sélika’s mysterious island, which, though never named, was now supposed to be Madagascar, even though some appalling inconsistencies were never ironed out. A team of revisers was assembled by Mme Scribe (Germain Delavigne, Marie-François-Joseph Mahérault, and Mélesville), with additional input from Camille du Locle, son-in-law of the Opéra director and future co-librettist of Don Carlos. The many editorial decisions made by Fétis have been detailed by John H. Roberts in his 1977 dissertation, The Genesis of Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, and also summarized by him in Chapter 12 of David Charlton’s Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, published in 2003. Since then, Acts 1-4 of Meyerbeer’s full-score manuscript, formerly in Berlin, has come to light in the Jagellonian University Library in Krakow, while the Beinecke Library at Yale has acquired the newly discovered complete short score of the 1843 version.
It would be unfair to blame Fétis on his editorial work, which had to be accomplished in haste before the April 1865 premiere. The work’s enormous length–four and a half hours of music–made cuts inevitable. That some fine music was cut from the score, while more pedestrian pages remained, was often due, in Roberts’s words, to “the vanity of singers who insisted on retaining a certain quota of opportunities to shine.” Some modifications, such as the moving of an arioso for Nélusko from Act 3 to Act 5, were even made behind Fétis’s back. The long-term result, in a manner reminiscent of Les contes d’Hoffmann, another posthumously premiered opera, was the publication and dissemination of a text that departs, significantly at times, from what can be established as Meyerbeer’s intentions, most glaringly, perhaps, in the repositioning and rewording of the aria now universally known as “Ô paradis.” To be sure, it is impossible to know what final shape the work would have taken if Meyerbeer had lived to see it into production, given his well-known habit of revising his operas throughout the rehearsal period. But the fact remains that only once a modern critical edition of L’Africaine appears will it be possible to assess the work on its own merits. (As this booklet is going to press, a new version, prepared by Jürgen Schläder, was being launched in Chemnitz in 2013.)
Despite these difficulties and its undeniable unevenness, L’Africaine, as it stands, is nevertheless an impressive work, with musical beauties altogether worthy of its great predecessors. The three leading characters are strongly delineated, though the fourth, Inès, is distinctly less so. Vasco is Meyerbeer’s most heroic tenor role, at least until Act 5, where he casts a rather undignified figure when dismissed by Sélika. At the 1865 premiere, the role was sung by the Parma-born Emilio Naudin (1822/3-1890), Minna Meyerbeer’s choice. Naudin’s previous repertory, interestingly, consisted mostly of lyrical parts (Elvino, Edgardo, Fernando)–though he did subsequently sing the title-role of Don Carlos at the London premiere. Sélika, perhaps Meyerbeer’s most appealing female role, justly compared to Berlioz’s Dido or Wagner’s Isolde, was sung, as planned, by Marie Sasse, who had sung Elisabeth in the Paris premiere of Tannhaüser, and the future Élisabeth de Valois in Don Carlos. Called Yoriko until after Meyerbeer’s death, Nélusko is no less striking as a character, with elements recalling Bertram and Marcel–and Hoël as well. Tailored for Jean-Baptiste Faure, the role is the only one that retains a measure of florid writing, notably in the Act 3 “Adamastor ballad,” the text of which was inspired by an episode in Canto 5 of Luís de Camões’s great epic The Lusiad.
Following its sensational Paris premiere on 28 April 1865, in the emperor’s presence, L’Africaine was quickly staged around the world. London saw it in July of the same year, followed by Madrid in October, Bologna, Berlin, Antwerp, and The Hague in November, and New York in December. It was mounted in Saint Petersburg in January 1866, in Vienna in February 1866, in Sydney in April 1866, and in Lemberg (now Lviv, in the Ukraine) in December 1866. By 1870 it had been seen in Havana, Geneva, Stockholm, Prague, Naples, Algiers, Istanbul, Graz, Montevideo, Alexandria, New Orleans, Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Malta, Rio de Janeiro, and Warsaw.
By the time Charles Garnier’s new opera house opened in 1875, L’Africaine had been performed in Paris 225 times. It was first staged at Garnier in December 1877, with the great Gabrielle Krauss as Sélika, with Marius Salomon as Vasco, and Jean Lassalle as Nélusko. It was regularly revived until 1902. Among the Vascos heard in Paris were Edmond Vergnet (1878), Léon Escalaïs (1885, with his wife Maria Lureau-Escalaïs as Inès), Julian Gayarré (1886), Jean de Reszke (1888), Guillaume Ibos (1892), and Étienne Gibert (1893). Famous Sélikas included Joséphine de Reszke (1878), Marthe Duvivier (1883), Félia Litvinne (1889), and Caroline Fiérens (1890). Léon Melchissédec sang Nélusko in 1883 and Maurice Renaud succeeded him in 1891. Pol Plançon, the Admiral in 1883, was the Don Pédro in 1888. The 484th and final performance took place in November 1892 with Lucienne Bréval (who had made her debut in the same role ten years before) as Sélika, Agustarello Affre as Vasco, Jean Noté as Nélusko, and André Gresse as the High Priest. The Isola brothers mounted L’Africaine at the Gaîté-Lyrique in 1910, with Litvinne, Affre, and Noté; the last staged performance took place in the same theater in January 1918, with Mathilde Comes (Sélika), Guy Cazenave (Vasco), Raymond Boulogne (Nélusko), and Albert Huberty as Don Pédro.
In London, a notable production took place at the Royal Italian Opera in 1878 with Mrs. Mantilla as Sélika, Gayarré as Vasco, and Francesco Graziani as Nélusko. The Metropolitan Opera premiere, in German, took place in 1888, with Anton Seidl conducting a cast, which included Fanny Moran-Olden (Sélika), Sophie Traubmann (Inès), Julius Perotti (Vasco), and Adolf Robinson (Nélusko). The 1891 revival, under Walter Damrosch, with Antonia Mielke as Sélika and Andreas Dippel as Vasco, was also in German. The following year, Jean de Reszke appeared as Vasco, a part in which he was particularly admired and sang regularly in the house, usually with his brother Édouard as Don Pédro. His Sélikas were Lilian Nordica, Litvinne, and Bréval in 1901 (in French), and his Néluskos included Lassalle, while Plançon was regularly heard as both the Inquisitor and the High Priest. In 1895, Nordica sang Sélika to Tamagno’s Vasco. In 1900 the Vasco was Pierre Cornubert and the Nélusko Antonio Scotti. As in Paris (with the notable exception of Fidès Devriès in 1872), the Inèses were generally of a lesser caliber, save for Suzanne Adams in 1901, when the Don Pédro was Marcel Journet. In 1907, Caruso sang his first Vasco (in Italian) opposite Olive Fremstad as Sélika, Marie Rappold as Inès, and Riccardo Stracciari as Nélusko. The next Met revival occurred in 1923, with Rosa Ponselle as Sélika, Beniamino Gigli as Vasco, Queena Mario as Inès, Giuseppe Danise as Nélusko, Adamo Didur as Don Pédro, and Leon Rothier doubling as the Inquisitor and the High Priest; the conductor was Artur Bodanzky. Ponselle and Gigli repeated their parts in the following five years. In 1929 Elisabeth Rethberg took over as Sélika, with Tullio Serafin conducting (and Pinza as the Inquisitor and High Priest). In the final revival, in 1933, still under Serafin, Giovanni Martinelli succeeded Gigli, while Ponselle returned as Sélika; Armando Borgioli was Nélusko, Virgilio Lazzari made his debut as Pédro, and Rothier reprised his two bass roles.
Meyerbeer’s reputation was arguably at its nadir in 1950–ironically, just as a denazified Bayreuth Festival was about to reopen under Wieland Wagner’s inspired artistic leadership. Since then, revivals of Meyerbeer’s works, recordings, major editorial projects, and scholarly work have fortunately gone a long way towards restoring a more positive view of his achievements and standing in music history. The staging of Gli Ugonotti at La Scala in 1962, with a cast headed by Franco Corelli, Joan Sutherland, Giulietta Simionato, and Nicolai Ghiaurov, proved that in the hands of the right singers the work could still impress and dazzle; similarly, if with a slightly less stellar cast, Richard Bonynge’s fine and almost uncut 1969 recording has allowed several new generations to discover Les Huguenots in its original language. Renata Scotto and Boris Christoff starred in the first modern revival of Robert le diable at the 1968 Maggio musicale in Florence, where, four years later, the young Riccardo Muti conducted L’Africaine, with the equally young Jessye Norman as Sélika; like the Scala Ugonotti, both performances were in Italian. In the United States, San Francisco showed the way in 1972 with L’Africaine in French, with Placido Domingo and Shirley Verrett; the Met followed suit in 1977 with Le prophète, with the great Marilyn Horne splendidly heading the cast. London resurrected L’étoile du nord at the Camden Festival in 1975 and Paris belatedly made amends with Robert le diable in 1985, with Alain Vanzo, June Anderson, and Samuel Ramey sharing the honors. Even Le pardon de Ploërmel was treated to modern stagings, notably at Trieste in 1983 (in Italian) and at Compiègne in 2002 (in French). While the number of major new productions has somehow declined in the past decade, progress has been made in other directions. The biography and personality of Meyerbeer are now better known thanks to the publication of his diaries and correspondence edited by Heinz and Gudrun Becker, the eight-volume edition was published between 1959 and 2007. Invaluable for non-German speakers, the British Meyerbeer scholar Robert Ignatius Letellier has made the diaries available in a richly annotated translation, which came out between 1999 and 2004, while a small selection of the correspondence was published in 1991 under the title A Life in Letters, translated by Mark Violette. Both are indispensable. Letellier’s The Operas of Giacomo Meyerbeer (2006) and An Introduction to the Dramatic works of Giacomo Meyerbeer (2008) have become essential reading for anyone interested in the composer. The complete libretti have been made available in a bilingual edition, with English versions by Richard Arsenty. No less importantly, a badly needed critical edition of Meyerbeer works, headed by the German musicologist Matthias Brzoska, was launched, in 2007, with the publication of Le prophète.
Despite these encouraging signs, Meyerbeer’s rightful place in the repertory has not yet been secured. In fact, the number of new productions of his works in the past decade has declined compared to the previous three. If one tries to account for this “tacit boycott,” to borrow Letellier’s phrase, one explanation could be the general neglect grand opéra is receiving, compared, say, to Baroque opera. This lack of favor might, in Meyerbeer’s case, be compounded by theatrical factors: unlike Vivaldi’s, Handel’s, or arguably even Wagner’s operas, Meyerbeer’s works, as recent cases have shown, suffer miserably when subjected to modern production styles, which stray from his instructions. To be sure, this disaffection has not affected Don Carlos–which could claim to be the greatest of all grands opéras–but significantly, it is almost never staged in French, the language in which Verdi wrote and revised it. A more convincing explanation might be that, these days, Meyerbeer is simply too difficult to cast, and too financially risky for opera producers to undertake. It’s not that Valentine is more difficult to sing than Norma, or Jean de Leyde than Tannhaüser, but great dramatic voices are now in very short supply. With performance emphasis shifting, it is rare to hear even a well-cast Trovatore or Aida, let alone Norma or Tannhaüser, whereas operas by Monteverdi, Rameau, Offenbach, or even Britten are today often done to perfection. This is all the more reason why recorded testimonies by singers for whom Meyerbeer was still part of the living repertory need to be preserved and studied.
(c) Vincent Giroud, 2013
MEYERBEER’S LATE MYSTERIOUS OPERAS
The late works of great composers are always special or striking in some unusual way. They often represent a composer’s last reflections on themes considered throughout his life, and bring a new twist or development in his formal apprehension of his art.
Meyerbeer’s late operas are typical in both these thematic and stylistic senses. As a composer born into an eighteenth-century heritage, he always worked with a strong sense of genre. As a German Jew and lifelong wanderer for his art, the issues of identity, belonging, homeland, true values, and freedom were always defining aspects of his worldview–from his very first opera about the Biblical tale of Jephtha and the daughter who is nearly sacrificed to an intransigent religious principle. His famous “Italian Journey” had confirmed him as a skilled and original practitioner of bel canto melodramma. His Italian operas, working with increasing boldness within the formal code established by Rossini, all depicted variations on the themes of wandering, exile, loss of identity, and freedom, and the eventual euphoric advent of illumination, restitution, and reintegration. When Meyerbeer moved to Paris, he continued this pattern of working within recognized generic topoi, while reshaping and recasting their parameters all the time. The patterns of grand-opéra initially established by Auber and Rossini found their most famous expression in Robert le diable and Les Huguenots. And always, from his first visit to Paris in 1814, Meyerbeer had cherished the ideal of writing in that quintessential French form, the opéra-comique.
With the onset of Meyerbeer’s ature years, even after the huge success of Le prophète (1849), he was determined to realize this lifelong dream, and the operas L’étoile du nord and Le pardon de Ploërmel were the result. No two works could be more different in style; the first, a brilliant “military” opera, the second a gentle pastoral–both tuning into traditions that had been established at the Opéra-Comique from its very inception in the eighteenth century. Both traditions lived on as defining thematic concepts in some of the most famous operas of this genre, often combined within a single scenario– as in Adam’s Le chalet, or Donizetti’s La fille du régiment.
In the first of Meyerbeer’s opéras-comiques, the story of Peter the Great’s attachment for the Livonian peasant girl Catherine, is turned into a fable of romantic love and dream fulfillment. The plot concerns the philosophical clash between romance and realism, as ways of looking at life and the world. Is the world governed by providence–with great forces surging through the universe shaping our destiny? This is implicit in the title, where the Star of the North becomes a symbol of Catherine’s glorious future as savior of the tsar and crowned empress. Or is the world governed by other powers–of individual personality and politics, where human nature and the decisions and deeds of men determine our futures? Catherine, fortified by her dying mother’s prediction, embodies the former; Peter, with his violent temperament and vocation as ruler, represents the latter. Both characters must endure the loss of their integrity and identity before they can be set free to become their proper selves. Catherine must disguise herself as a man and become a soldier to help her brother; later she is further and definitively lost in the depths of madness, which becomes the vector of alienation. And only when Peter is able to learn humility through the helplessness of public betrayal and his private remorse over Catherine is he truly empowered from within to effect the recovery of the lost past that will restore Catherine to her senses and proper self, and enable him at last to embrace transforming love.
The two thematic worlds are reflected in the overlapping spheres of romance and realism–the Karelian village with its dreams, games, and weddings, and the Russian military camp with its harsh behavior, profligacy, sexual debauchery, cruelty, conspiracy, and betrayal. Meyerbeer’s use of the thematic topoi, the beautiful extended and gentle theme of the star, and the proud and pompous series of marches in Act 2, each capture a particular world. The composer also worked within the traditions of the house and the genre. The heroine was sung by the brilliant high soprano Caroline Duprez, in a role type reserved for the première chanteuse légère (the principal light/high singer) while Peter was assumed by the great bass Charles-Amable Battaille, the premier basse chantante (the principal lyric bass). The tenor was reserved for the smaller character roles (Danilowitz, Georges): the singers Meyerbeer worked with were Ernest Mocker and Pierre-Victor Jourdan. They were what in opéra-comique were known as the premier comique, or Laruette and Trial roles–after the famous singer-composer impersonators of the eighteenth century. Jean-Louis Laruette (1731-1792) and Antoine Trial (1736-1795) were highly successful singers at the Opéra_Comique who became known for their dramatic rather than vocal excellence; they popularized comic tenor roles (fathers, bankers etc.) which became known generically by their surnames.
Le pardon de Ploërmel (or Dinorah) also assumes the mantle of Romantic tradition within the conventions of the opéra-comique. The seemingly slight story is of a young girl roaming the woods dementedly with her goat, thinking that she has been betrayed by her fiancé Hoël, while he is seeking a lost buried treasure to restore their fortunes. It is really a parable of redemption, a conflict between faith and superstition. The former is a guarantor of wholeness and healing, integration, and light; the latter the fermentor of disintegration and illness, isolation, and darkness. As long as the realm of superstition, symbolized by the legendary cursed buried treasure, holds the hero in its demonic enthrallment, he is oblivious to his true calling in love. Dinorah will remain locked in her private world of remoteness, dreams and moonlight, her real self lost in madness. Only when she nearly dies in the collapsed bridge, is the shocked Hoël able to emerge from his obsessive world of delusion, and in trying to save her, enter the cleansing waters of renewal and regeneration. They are both restored to their true selves, and able to be married on the day of the pilgrimage of grace to Our Lady of the Pardon–the real patron of their lives, and the unseen benefactress of the opera.
Once again the composer used the conventions of the genres of Romantic opera to underscore a work of astonishing thematic polarities and symbolic complexity, with the leading couple again cognizant of the great vocal talents of the day, and assigned to the silvery virtuoso soprano Marie Cabel and the resonant lyric baritone of Jean-Baptiste Faure. The tenor role was given the character type of the opéra-comique Laruette, the sniffling coward–the bumpkin Corentin, whose character was realized with masterly comic and lyric skill by the legendary house tenor Sainte-Foy (Charles-Louis Pubereaux).
Dinorah’s madness becomes a correlative of her lost identity, and dance rhythms and coloratura the vector of her fey otherworldliness. This is supremely and enduringly embodied in her “shadow song,” in which she dances in the moonlit realm of fantasy and dreams, in a variant on the “mad scene” and the “danse de l’ombre”–the white ballet of ghosts and demons, cyphers for the subconscious world where personal, social, and sexual restraints and expectations are abandoned–recurrent genres of the Romantic opera and ballet. Hoël’s great “treasure aria” is a virtuoso variant on the vengeance aria, and an exploration of this anti-hero’s spiritual obsession. By contrast, his beautiful romance as he carries the rescued Dinorah in his arms is a suave bel canto poem of serenity and restoration.
Meyerbeer’s swansong, L’Africaine, notoriously took twenty-five years and two versions to complete. The second version was actually written in a relatively short period in his very last years. Like the two preceding and slighter works, it is rich in its integrated symbolic fictional world. The opera helped to establish the vogue for Orientalism, which itself was a byproduct of resurgent European colonialism during the mid-nineteenth century.
The story of Vasco da Gama’s route to India around Africa (1498) is envisaged as grand historical opera in the tradition of Spontini’s Fernand Cortez, but it is much more than this. By deriving inspiration from the sixteenth-century Portuguese national epic, Camoens’s Os Lusiads, Scribe and Meyerbeer turned to a world of mythological implication. The story of Vasco and his relationship with his Portuguese beloved Inès, and the mysterious foreign queen Sélika, becomes a parabolic discourse between the old world of fixed Medieval values and the new world of Renaissance exploration and discovery. The certainties of the first two acts in Lisbon cross the symbolic transitional divide during the ocean voyage of the third act, with its betrayal and tempest, reef and shipwreck (embodied in Nélusko’s famous “Adamastor ballad”). They enter into a wonderful but frightening world of novelty in the India of Acts 4 and 5. This new world is fragrant and exciting, but uncertain and potentially deadly in its many hidden dangers and poisons. Vasco is entranced but also mindful to make it his own in the spirit of swashbuckling colonial enterprise. He will become a victim of this dangerous engulfing new world unless he is saved from it. This happens through the self-sacrificing love of Sélika who offers her life so that Vasco and Inès can escape back to their heroic old world certainties. Sélika breathes in the fatal poisons of her own milieu (the venomous flowers of the manchineel tree), losing herself, her identity, her life, in order to gain something altogether more exalted and transcendent in her final translation and transfiguration.
Meyerbeer wrote some of his most beautiful music for this last work, a work of farewell, characterized by radiant lyricism and melodic richness. The music has a particular unity of sound and gesture, with all kinds of subtle harmonic details creating an integrated auditory world–like recurrent falling fifths for Sélika’s sorrow; Vasco’s enriched lines characterized by rising fourths and sixths, and a gravitation to high A; the diabolical noble savage Nélusko with his distinct sound associations of unison lower strings and bassoons, and variants of the melodic form of the minor scale. The sustained contrast between the old world of Portugal and the exotic new world of the east, the flowing melos of the musical texture, the homogeneity of melodic inspiration and instrumentation, give the work a unique quality.
The roles of all four main characters are written in the refulgence of the bel canto tradition in which Meyerbeer had for so long been schooled. When coupled with the heroic traditions of grand opera, the singing makes for an intensity of lyric expression. The dramatic depth and roundedness of Sélika’s dusky tessitura (specified in the score as a forte chanteuse, a strong or dramatic soprano) was realized by Marie Sass, especially in her exotic lullaby and final love-death. She worked in the tradition that had been established by the legendary dramatic soprano, Marie-Cornélie Falcon, the creator of Rachel in La Juive and Valentine in Les Huguenots, whose famous timbre and impersonations lent her name to a whole type of role. The clear bright soprano of Inès (described as the première chanteuse légère, the principal light/high soprano) was perfectly expressed by Marie Battu, particularly in her Ballad of the Tagus, the motivic song of farewell. Her voice type had been established by another star of the Opéra during the 1830s, Julie Dorus-Gras, who had created Alice in Robert le diable and Queen Marguerite de Valois in Les Huguenots. The burnished, ringing tenor part of Vasco (described as fort ténor, or strong/robust tenor) was undertaken by Emilio Naudin who, combining French and Italian techniques, was entrusted with one of the ultimate tests of sustained legato and portamento in the famous apostrophe to the new world, “Ô Paradis” (most perfectly realized by Caruso in his almost mythic recording). The battle lines between these schools of tenor technique had been famously drawn by the legendary Adolphe Nourrit and Louis-Gilbert Dupez respectively. Meyerbeer had written the titles role in Robert le diable and Raoul in Les Huguenots for Nourrit, but after the latter’s tragic death from depression at his rival’s triumphs, the great composers of bel canto had to adapt their style to the new fashions in vocal production. Neither Meyerbeer nor Rossini ever cared for Duprez’s style, and Meyerbeer later wrote the difficult role of the Prophet for Gustave Roger, the fort premier ténor (the powerful principal tenor) of the Opéra-Comique. When the composer died, the search was still on for a tenor who could impersonate Vasco according to Meyerbeer’s expectations. Naudin’s fusion of the two schools was not to everyone’s taste, although he was admired by Tchaikovsky when he later appeared in Russia in French roles. This type has best been realized in our days by Nicolai Gedda and Alfredo Kraus.
The variety of Nélusko’s (indicated as Baryton) various arias–of homage, vengeance, demonic balladry, and self-sacrifice–were perfect for the rich tones and dramatic instincts of the famous Jean-Baptiste Faure, whose resplendent voice and technique were admired by both Meyerbeer and Auber, and whose magisterial interpretations encouraged renewed interest in the baritone voice.
Meyerbeer’s last three operas capture so much of the composer’s life and concerns, and in their lyrical apprehension, give us insight into many aspects of the history of song.
© Robert Ignatius Letellier, 2013
AFFRE, AGUSTARELLO [te] (Saint-Chinian, 1858 — Cagnes sur Mer, 1931)_Affre studied at the Toulouse conservatory with tenor Joseph Dufrêne and at the Paris Conservatory with Edmond Duvernoy. First prizes in singing and opéra in 1889 opened the doors of the Paris Opéra to him, where he made his debut in 1890 as Edgard in Lucie de Lammermoor with Nellie Melba. After the customary three years (in which he sang both leads and comprimario parts), he tried his luck in the provinces, singing in Lyon (1893-1895) and Marseille before returning to the Opéra in 1897. Of particularly unprepossessing appearance and not much of an actor, Affre finally succeeded in making a career, both on stage and before the recording horn, out of sheer reliability. He settled into the fruitful routine of ensuring the everyday performances at the Paris Opéra, guesting in the main provincial theaters and summer resorts, occasionally appearing at the Monnaie in Brussels (1900), Liège, and Spa, leaving creations and prestigious revivals to Alvarez, Vaguet, or Muratore. The only creations in which he had a lead part were the Opéra premieres of Reyer’s La statue and Mozart’s L’enlèvement au sérail (both 1903 and probably intended for Vaguet in the first place) and the first French performance of Hirschmann’s Hernani in 1909 at the Gaîté-Lyrique, a distinctly second-tier theater, whose roster he joined in 1908 after leaving the Opéra. In this later part of his career he also sang at the Kursaal in Oostende, in London, Havana, San Francisco, Mexico, and New Orleans, where he was director of the company for the 1913-1914 season. In 1915 he began giving singing lessons in Paris, while still appearing in concert until 1920. His numerous recordings for Zonophone, G & T, Columbia, Pathé (including the first complete recording of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette), and Odeon, display a clear and bright voice whose edgy quality might not have been so apparent in the theater, and which was often, in his time, referred to as that of a haute-contre, providing a tantalizing glimpse into the sound and technique of a bygone era – exemplified by Adolphe Nourrits, and hence of the early Meyerbeer operas.
ALBERS, HENRI [ba] (Amsterdam, 1866 — Paris, 1926)_The Dutch baritone Henri Albers began his career as an actor, joined a vaudeville group, and appeared regularly in operettas. Here his fine baritone voice was soon discovered by the director of the Dutch Opera who immediately engaged him for his new opera company. There Albers made his debut in 1886 as Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust. He quickly became a favorite of the Dutch public singing roles such as Escamillo in Carmen, both Saint-Bris and Nevers in Les Huguenots, Rigoletto, and Germont in La traviata. In 1891 Albers became the first baritone of the opera in Antwerp. There, Jules Massenet heard him sing and was so impressed that he advised Albers to go to Paris for further study with the great baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure. In 1894 Albers was engaged at Bordeaux, and also made his debut at Covent Garden. In 1896 Monte Carlo heard him in Guillaume Tell, Les pêcheurs de perles, Traviata, and Il barbiere di Siviglia, the last two opposite Adelina Patti. The following year, Albers crossed the Atlantic touring North America with Emma Calvé, Nellie Melba, and the de Reszkes. He was engaged by Paris’s Opéra-Comique in 1899, which would remain his artistic home for the rest of his career. Albers died of food poisoning. Albers specialized in the heavier baritone roles, as well as those usually sung by basses, such as Nilakantha in Lakmé. One of his star roles was Hamlet in Thomas’s opera, which he sang all over the world. Though the Opéra-Comique was his principal home for over a quarter century, Albers sang periodically at the Monnaie in Brussels and at the Opéra in Paris, notably in Tannhäuser, Thaïs, and Thérèse. He had one of the most beautiful baritone voices of his time, heroic in timbre, and great facility in coloratura. He made some very rare discs for G&T, seven sides for Odeon, and a large number of cylinders and discs for Pathé. He recorded extracts from his own wide-ranging stage repertoire, in both French and Dutch, and also a large number of song titles, ranging from the popular to the patriotic, passing through Schumann and Tchaikovsky (in French) on the way. Albers is also well represented in Pathé’s Le théâtre chez soi series, appearing in complete recordings of La favorite, Carmen, Roméo et Juliette, La traviata, and Les frères Danilo, an opera written especially for Pathé by Jean Nouguès.
ANCONA, MARIO [ba] (Livorno, 1860 — Florence, 1931)_Ancona first studied art and then began a career in business. His love of music, however, led to amateur study and performance. His official training began in Milan in 1888 with Giuseppe Cima. Ancona was deemed ready for a debut in 1890, which took place in Trieste as Scindia in Massenet’s Roi de Lahore. His second engagement was as Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana, in which he replaced the role’s creator, Guadenzio Salassa. By the end of the year he reached La Scala, appearing in Massenet’s Le Cid. He was to have created Silvio in Pagliacci in 1892, but he withdrew from the cast shortly before the premiere. He later took on the role of Tonio in various first performances of the opera, including Covent Garden and the Metropolitan, two houses in which he was frequently heard during the 1890s. He was also successful in Warsaw, Paris, and throughout Italy. His return to America in 1906 was with Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera. In 1913 and 1914, Ancona appeared with the Boston Opera, singing his familiar repertoire, which included Rigoletto, Barnaba, Iago, Marcello, and Tonio, and adding Rafaele in Wolf-Ferrari’s I gioielli della Madonna. His final operatic season was with the Chicago Opera, 1915—1916. Ancona’s earliest records were made in London and Milan for G&T. These were followed by a group of Pathé cylinders and discs in 1905 and Edison cylinders in 1907. His final recordings were made in the U. S. for Victor.
ARAMBURO, ANTONIO [te] (Erla, Spain, 1839 — Montevideo, 1912)_Aramburo was one of the earliest born singers to make records. He first studied singing in Madrid with the famous Spanish pedagogue Antonio Cordero, and continued his studies in Italy. His made his debut in 1869 at the Teatro Carcano, Milan, in Pacini’s Saffò. His other early role was Pollione in Bellini’s Norma. During the 1872-1873 season, he appeared at the Liceo in Barcelona singing Manrico in Il trovatore. His London debut took place in 1873 at Drury Lane as Fernando in La favorita, followed by appearances in Il trovatore and Norma. The following year he sang the entire season at the Teatro de la Ópera, Buenos Aires: La favorita, Norma, Lucia, Il Guarany, La Juive, Il trovatore, and I Lombardi. He sang at the Paris Opéra in 1875 as Edgardo in Lucia. The following years took him to Moscow, Barcelona, Paris, Naples, and Havana. He made his La Scala debut in 1879 as Radamès in Aida. For the next twenty years he continued to sing principally in Italy and Spain. Aramburo was married to American soprano Ada Adini, but this only lasted for a few years. Egotistical and temperamental, Aramburo was notorious for cancelling performances at the last minute for no reason. In the late 1890s he moved to Montevideo where he established a singing school and became popular as a teacher. In 1901, he founded his own recording company, making a group of cylinder recordings, which were sold locally. Few of these cylinders have ever surfaced, and then only in one or two copies each. He died in Montevideo on 17 November 1912. For more information on this largely undocumented tenor, see The Record Collector Vol. 43 N° 4 with addenda, including a Tom Kaufman chronology in Vol. 44 N° 4.
D’ASSY, PIERRE [bs] (Liege, 1868 — Lyon, 1910)_Born Pierre-Joseph Bordet on 18 August 1868, in Liège, d’Assy (a gentrified spelling of his mother’s maiden name) first studied at the conservatory of his native town. There, D’Assy made his debut in 1895 as the Evil Spirit in the local premiere of Schumann’s Faust Scenes. He then studied with tenor Gabriel Gandubert in Paris. After a brief stint at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris, he was engaged for the 1897—1898 season at the Lyon Opéra where he sang a number of small parts in works ranging from Mireille to Aida and Lohengrin. The following season found him in The Hague, after which he began his association with the Théâtre de La Monnaie in Brussels, lasting until 1907. There he sang in Aida, Louise, Mignon, Tannhäuser, Walkyrie, and Albeniz’s Pepita Jimenez. He also created the part of Môrik in the French version of Jan Blockx’s De Bruid der Zee (La fiancée de la mer) in 1902 and the same year married the interpreter of the title role, soprano Jeanne Paquot (1868—1959). They both were engaged by the Paris Opéra in 1907, where he made his debut on 9 August as Hunding in La Walkyrie and later appeared as Marcel in Les Huguenots. The couple was in Lyon for the 1909-1910 season when Pierre d’Assy died suddenly at the height of his career on 7 March 1910.
AUGUEZ DE MONTALANT, BERTHE [so] (Baltimore, 1865 — Nice, 1937)_After the death of her father, Berthe de Montalant left America for Paris. There she studied music with Armand Chevé before moving to Bordeaux and becoming a student of Marie Gautier at the École Sainte-Cécile, where she earned a first prize for singing in 1885. After a failed stage debut as a contralto in Marseille (Azucena in Trovatore and Léonor in La favorite), she returned to Paris where she was signed by Charles Lamoureux; her singing Mendelssohn’s music in performances of Racine’s Athalie at the Odéon in October 1888 was a decided success. The same year, an engagement in Lille, again as a contralto, came to nothing when the theater closed after a few weeks of activity, and she settled for a concert career, singing with Lamoureux, Colonne, and about every concert society in Paris. She appeared in most French cities as well as abroad (Colonne notably took her to Saint Petersburg and Moscow in 1890) until her retirement in 1929. A perfect master of a very long tessitura encompassing both the soprano and contralto ranges, she had an extensive repertoire of oratorios, songs, Lieder, and opera arias, which her nearly fifty sides for French Gramophone nicely document. She died in Nice in early 1937. In 1892, Mlle Berthe de Montalant had become Mme Auguez de Montalant by marrying fellow concert singer Numa Auguez (1847—1903), a baritone who early in his career had sung comprimario parts at the Paris Opéra. This led to some posthumous confusion, as a few recent biographical sources conflated her career with that of Mathilde Auguez (1868-1955), a relative of her husband with a light soprano voice who spent a few seasons at the Opéra-Comique before marrying dramatist Henri Lavedan. Berthe Auguez de Montalant’s only appearance at the Opéra-Comique was as Léonore in Fidelio for three performances in April and May 1899.
BELHOMME, HIPPOLYTE [bs] (Paris, 1854 — Nice, 1923)_Born in Paris on 2 December 1854, Hippolyte-Adolphe Belhomme studied at the Paris Conservatory with Boulanger and Ponchard, taking second prizes for singing and for opéra-comique. He made his debut at the Salle Favart on 11 November 1879 as Baskir in David’s Lalla-Rouck. He ended his career at the same house in 1921, although he didn’t stay with the company for the entire time: he first left in 1886 for seasons in Lyon then Marseille, returned in 1891, left again ten years later for the Monnaie in Brussels, remained there until 1907, then was back again at the Comique until the end of his career. His repertoire included Vulcain in Philémon et Baucis, Nilakantha, Basile, Max in Le chalet, Escamillo, Lothario, Frère Laurent, Falstaff in Le songe d’une nuit d’été, the Devil in Grisélidis, and the huntsman in Le pardon de Ploërmel, whose aria he was regularly asked to encore. He also sang heavier roles such as Méphistophélès, Jonas in Patrie, the King in Aida, Osmin in L’enlèvement au sérail, which he sang at the 1902 Monnaie premiere, Kothner in Meistersinger, and Balthazar in La favorite. While he took part in countless creations of short-lived works by Lajarte, Maréchal, Lacôme, Paladilhe, and Lecocq, he also sang in a few more lasting ones by Offenbach, Massenet, Bruneau, Charpentier, Wagner, Verdi, and Puccini. Belhomme was known to be a fine actor and was a favorite with the public. The undefatigable singer recorded a large group of cylinders and discs for Pathé, including choruses brought down to assorted solo voices, and a lesser number of sides for G&T and Odeon.
BEYLE, LÉON [te] (Lyon, 1871 — Lyon, 1922)_Born Augustin Beyle, he first studied singing at the Lyon 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 into a fifteen-year career as one of the house’s leading tenors. His repertoire at the Opéra-Comique was vast, ranging from eighteenth-century operas, Alceste and Iphigénie en Tauride, which were being revived at the time, to traditional French nineteenth-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. Beyle sang his last performances at the Comique during the 1919-1920 season, retiring because of poor health. He taught singing in Paris with his wife for a time, but died in Lyon on 17 July 1922 of complications from surgery. Léon Beyle’s stage repertoire is well represented on the many recordings he made for the French Gramophone Company and Pathé between 1904 and 1913. These include eighteenth- and nineteenth-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 Carmen. Other records of his, featuring operetta and popular songs, appeared under the pseudonym Stendhal, a nod to the nineteenth century novelist, whose real name was also Beyle.
BILLOT, ÉTIENNE [bs] (Béziers, 1879 — Marseille, 1962)_Étienne-François-Alphonse Billot studied at the Paris Conservatory with Edmond Vergnet, earning a first prize in singing at the 1902 examination. He made his debut at the Opéra-Comique as Nilakantha in September 1903, and joined the company. He took part in a few premieres such as Massenet’s Le jongleur de Notre Dame (le moine peintre, 1904) and Widor’s Les pêcheurs de Saint-Jean (1905). He left the Comique in 1908 for La Monnaie, where he remained until 1914. There, he sang more important roles, from the Wanderer in Siegfried to Gurnemanz. After making his Monte Carlo debut in 1915, and serving in the war, he settled in Marseille, dividing his time between the opera there and guest appearances in Lyon, Nice, and Toulouse with summer appearances at Aix-les-Bains. His repertoire ran from Mozart’s Figaro to Wotan and from Rossini’s Basilio to both Berlioz’s and Gounod’s Méphistophélèses, gradually evolving towards higher-lying parts such as Marcello in La bohème and the high priest in Samson et Dalila, which he sang in Monte Carlo in 1943. He recorded for Odeon, first during his days at the Comique, mostly in ensembles, and then a group of recordings for the same company during the late 1920s.
BONINSEGNA, CELESTINA [so] (Reggio Emilia, Italy, 1877 — Milan, 1947)_Celestina Boninsegna’s parents were convinced of her vocal aptitude and provided the opportunity for studies at Liceo Rossini in Pesaro with Virginia Boccabadati. Her official debut was at Bari as Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust. In 1899 in Piacenza, she took part in Goldmark’s Queen of Sheba followed by Elsa in Lohengrin. In 1901 she sang Rosaura in the first Rome performance of Mascagni’s Le maschere. Through the following decade she appeared in many of the world’s principal opera houses, including Covent Garden, La Scala, and the Metropolitan, where she made her debut in 1906 with Caruso in Aida. Her New York appearances were limited, reviewers preferring the “icy” yet elegant Emma Eames to the “slavish demeanor” and “ample form swathed in chocolate-colored underwear” of Boninsegna’s presentation. She had much greater success with the Boston Opera, adding in addition to her two Met roles, Aida and Santuzza, the parts of Leonora (Il trovatore), Gioconda, Valentine (Les Huguenots), and Tosca. Her acting skills were not favorably compared to her contemporaries such as Bellincioni, Burzio, Storchio, and Destinn. Boninsegna’s voice was rich and resonant that was well suited to Verdi heroines. She was contracted for a series of Columbia and Edison records. The Columbias joined her earlier Italian Gramophone and Pathé recordings as operatic best sellers, but only one of her Edison sides was issued, despite the Edisons being technically superior. Some Pathé and further Gramophone records were made of Boninsegna in the later ’teens as her career came to a close. She retired from the stage in 1921 and spent the next two decades teaching singing. She later resided in the Verdi Casa di riposo in Milan.
BOUSSAGOL, BERNARD [bs] (Toulouse, 1863 — 1929)_Born Bernard-Jean Boussagol, he sang in the chorus of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire from 1892 until 1914. He was made an honorary member of the Société in 1919 and from 1921—1924, he appeared as a singer with the church of Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin, Paris.
BOUVET, MAX [bs] (La Rochelle, 1854 — Paris, 1943)_A rather forgotten singer nowadays, Max (short for Nicolas-Maximilien) Bouvet, born on 3 December 1854 at La Rochelle, more than held his own at a time when competition was fierce. Like Lassalle and Renaud, his stay at the Paris Conservatory was brief, and he left without any prizes. Like Renaud and Fugère, Bouvet’s first steps were on music-hall stages. His operatic debut took place in Liège in 1877, after which he sang in Antwerp, Geneva, and went to Barcelona with Célestine Galli-Marié. His great break came in the early 1880s with the successive creations of Varney’s Fanfan-la-Tulipe (1882) and Bernicat / Messager’s François les bas-bleus (1883), then a winning debut at the Opéra-Comique in the notorious house premiere of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (1884). From this time on, the Opéra-Comique would remain his main headquarters, though he spent successful seasons at La Monnaie, Brussels (1889-1891); the Teatro Lirico, Milan (1897-1898); Lisbon’s Teatro de São Carlos (1904-1905); Covent Garden (1891, 1894); and was a regular at Monte Carlo from 1895 onward. His repertory spanned music-hall and operetta to Wotan and the Dutchman, while the number of important creations in which he took a significant part is impressive. To name but a few, he was entrusted with lead roles in Le roi malgré lui (1887), Le roi d’Ys (1889), Esclarmonde (1889), Salammbô (1890), and L’attaque du moulin (1893). He appeared in the French premieres of Werther (1893) and La Navarraise (1895) as well as in countless local or house premieres, from La traviata (1886) and Le vaisseau fantôme (1897) at the Opéra-Comique to Le pardon de Ploërmel (1889) and Siegfried (1891) in Brussels. He was highly esteemed as Don Giovanni, and in older opéra-comique works like Richard Cœur-de-lion or Monsigny’s Le déserteur. Bouvet taught at the Paris Conservatory between 1905 and 1911 when he resigned, putting an end to his career. Among his pupils were Irma Ackté Tervani, Marie Campredon, Yvonne Gall, Ketty Lapeyrette, Alice Raveau, and Robert Couzinou. Bouvet died in 1943. He recorded fourteen cylinders for the Pathé Company, most of which were also available in disc format. A friend of the luministe Belgian painter Émile Claus, Bouvet himself was an amateur painter and left quite a number of paintings.
BRÉVAL, LUCIENNE [so] (near Zurich, 1869 — Paris, 1935)_Born Bertha Agnes Lisette Schilling, Lucienne Bréval studied at the Lausanne and Geneva conservatories, obtaining a first prize in piano at the latter in 1887. In Paris, she studied with Victor Warot and Louis-Henri Obin, and in 1889 won a second prize in singing and a first prize in opéra. She made her Paris Opéra debut in 1892 as Sélika in L’Africaine. Her other pre-1900 Palais Garnier roles included Salammbô, the Walkyrie Brünnhilde (Paris premiere), Yamina in Augusta Holmès’s La montagne noire (world premiere), Venus, Aida, Brunhilda in Guiraud’s Frédégonde, Marguerite in La damnation de Faust, Valentine in Les Huguenots, Eva in Die Meistersinger (Paris premiere), Brunehild in Sigurd, Dolorès in Paladilhe’s Patrie!, and Chimène in Le Cid. In 1901 she made her Opéra-Comique debut as Grisélidis for the world premiere of Massenet’s opera, and returned as Iphigénie in Iphigénie en Aulide, Carmen, and in the world premiere of Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth. Meanwhile, at the Palais Garnier, she premiered Séphora in Erlanger’s Le fils de l’étoile, Ariane in Massenet’s Ariane, and Bacchus, and Février’s Monna Vanna; she also appeared as Catherine in Saint-Saëns’s Henry VIII, Vita in the local premiere of d’Indy’s L’étranger, Phèdre in Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, Guilhen in d’Indy’s Fervaal, and finally, Brünnhilde in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. She was the first Salomé in Mariotte’s opera in 1910 at the Gaîté and the first Paris Kundry in Parsifal in 1914. She appeared as Sélika and Valentine at Covent Garden, and made her Met debut in 1901 in Le Cid, with the de Reszke brothers. Her other roles at the Met were Sélika, Valentine, Salammbô in the local premiere, and Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. At Monte Carlo, she sang in Isidore de Lara’s Amy Robsart, and in 1913, she premiered Fauré’s Pénélope. Although Lucienne Bréval made no commercial recordings, her voice can be heard faintly on two primitive Mapelson cylinders recorded during performances of L’Africaine and Le Cid at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1901.
CARLYLE, ODETTE [so] (Lyon, 1880? — ?)_Although her birthplace is usually cited as Lyon, no family of the name Carlyle appears in that city’s registers. Therefore, it must for now be assumed that Carlyle is a pseudonym. In any case, she studied first in Lyon, presumably her native city, and then with Berthe Kohl and actor Fernand Depas in Paris, where she also received advice from Delaquerrière and Saléza. After appearing successfully in concerts beginning in 1905, she created the role of Portia in Henri de Saussine’s musical comedy Le marchand de Venise in Paris at the private theater of Louis Mors, on 28 January 1907. She then was signed by La Monnaie in Brussels for the 1907-1908 season and made her debut there in October 1907 as Venus in Tannhäuser. The following year, she made her Paris Opéra debut in the same part, and began a rather loose association with the house, the seniority system preventing her from singing more than a few performances of Venus, Aida, Sieglinde, Phénice in Gluck’s Armide, or the First Norn in Le crépuscule des Dieux. She seems to have covered the role of Kundry, but never actually sang the part in the house. Her only participation in a world premiere at the Palais Garnier took place in 1910, when she personified an oak tree in Augustin Savard’s La forêt. She may have been given this small part because the composer had been the director of the Lyon Conservatory and championed Carlyle when she was a student. A car accident in 1911 further stalled her career, which never really took flight. After spending some time studying in Italy, she is said to have toured Canada with Edmond Clément and to have sung La Gioconda and La fanciulla del West in Chicago. She spent the war, like most of her colleagues, singing in patriotic concerts in France. By the early twenties, she had resumed her work at the Opéra, appearing now and then as Sieglinde and guesting in the provinces, notably in Lyon and Bordeaux, usually in the same role. Although she sang occasionally until 1933, by the 1930s Carlyle seems to have essentially retired. She survived World War II, and was still teaching in Paris in 1948. No information has been found concerning her death. Carlyle recorded a small number of sides for the Gramophone Company in 1910 and 1911, including arias from Freischütz, Auber’s Haydée, Reyer’s Sigurd and Salammbô, Massenet’s Hérodiade, and the final duet from Aida, with tenor Georges Granal. She also recorded a few operetta numbers under the name “Mlle Karl”.
CHALIA, ROSALIA [so] (Havana 1863 — Havana 1948)_Rosalia Chalia was born into a prominent Havana family and grew up in the city of Santiago de Cuba. By the time she was eight, she was singing operatic arias and classical songs. In 1877 her father, an admiral in the Cuban navy, was asked to act as official host to General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. On that occasion young Rosalia sang for the recently retired American president and the cream of Cuban society. It is said that Chalia continued her education at a convent in Cadiz, Spain, and that subsequently she took up singing more seriously, working with “several famous European teachers.” She came to New York for further vocal lessons with the Cuban composer and singing teacher Emilio Agramonte (1844—1918). She made her professional debut as Aida in Philadelphia in 1894, a last minute anonymous replacement for an ailing soprano. That same year she appeared as Aida in New York, then went to Italy as a member of the company of Milan’s Teatro Lirico, where she scored a success in the title role in the premiere of Gellio Coronado’s opera Claudia. Returning to New York in 1896, she organized a Chickering Hall concert to benefit the cause of Cuban independence, and the following year organized another benefit appearing with Emilio de Gogorza and Dante del Papa in New York’s Weber Hall. She joined Colonel Mapleson’s company, singing the role of Maddalena in the United States premiere performances of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, and was warmly praised by critics in Boston and Philadelphia. She kept up a busy concert schedule: on 15 November 1897 at a reception at New York’s Arion Society honoring the Belgium violinist Eugene Ysaÿe and French pianist Raoul Pugno, Chalia participated with the two artists in the premiere of Bruno Oscar Klein’s Sonata for Violin, Soprano, and Piano–the first such work ever composed. At the same venue on 13 December, Chalia sang in the American premiere of Massenet’s Le portrait de Manon. On 17 December, Chalia made her debut at the Metropolitan as Santuzza on a double bill that also featured Gounod’s Philémon et Baucis with Plançon and Salignac. She was not re-engaged though she did sing with the company one more time–the title role in Aida on tour in Philadelphia in 1902. Later in the 1898—1899 season Chalia toured the United States for eighteen weeks with the Damrosch-Ellis Opera Company, alternating leading roles with Nellie Melba, Zélie de Lussan, and Johanna Gadski. Later in 1899, she formed her own opera company, the “Gran Compania de Opera Italiana Empresa Rosalia Chalia”, and from 1900 to 1908 she toured Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, and Puerto Rico with her company. From 1908 through 1916 she appeared in the United States as well as Central and South America, both with her own company and as a guest artist. Her final performances were in Cuba in 1916, after which she married her second husband, Pedro Ulloa. The couple lived in the Harlem section of Manhattan, where in 1917 she started a teaching studio. In addition to teaching, Chalia continued to sing regularly in a series of veladas – weekly musicales – which she began in 1913. As late as March 1943, at one of her last veladas, Chalia at age seventy-nine gave her celebrated interpretation of Santuzza in a complete performance of Cavalleria. In March and April 1945, Chalia was rediscovered in her own country, where long, illustrated articles about her appeared in the Cuban papers. A bill was introduced into the Cuban senate and she was offered inducements to return to Cuba, including a small pension to make her final years more comfortable. She and her husband arrived in Havana on 5 August 1946, an emotion-laden occasion for everyone. She was awarded the Order of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, and on 16 November 1948, one day before her 85th birthday. Chalia is now remembered as the first great vocalist to make recordings. Her records show her extremely flexible voice, its supple timbre, and her huge range. She negotiates coloratura passages with breathtaking agility and beauty. Between 1897 and 1899 Chalia recorded 116 Bettini cylinders. In 1900/1901 Chalia recorded for both the Zonophone and the Eldridge Johnson Improved/Victor Monarch labels: forty-four issued seven- and nine-inch Zonophones, thirty-eight seven- and ten-inch Victors, with much duplication of repertoire. She made nineteen sides for Victor in 1912, and shortly thereafter she made eleven sides of Spanish songs for American Columbia.
DANGELY, PAUL [te] (unknown)_The career of fort ténor Paul Dangely probably began quietly during the last decade of the nineteenth century, maybe in music halls where the young singer could try out his voice in undemanding repertoire. A few years later (of which he most likely spent three doing his compulsory military service) he was ready for more substantive fare, and was engaged for the 1907-1908 season at the Théâtre des Arts in Rouen, singing La Juive, L’Africaine, La favorite, Samson et Dalila, Hélion in De Lara’s Messaline, as well as the beginner parts of Nicias in Thaïs and Laërte in Hamlet. Marguerite d’Alvarez, who made her stage debut during the same season alongside Dangely’s Samson, devotes a few lines of her autobiography to him. She describes him (misspelled as Danjelli) as “a wonderful singer”. “He was of the people,” she states, “and taught me to eat garlic which, he swore, was with red wine the secret of the richness of the great voices of the world.” From Rouen he went to the Théâtre Royal Français in The Hague, where he was quite a success as Samson, Eléazar, and Faust, then sang in Nantes (including a rather unlikely Ottavio in Don Juan), Alger, Marseille, Toulon, and several spring and summer resorts before reaching Paris, where he joined the Gaîté-Lyrique roster for the 1913-1914 season. This was spent mainly singing Jean in Hérodiade alongside Zina Brozia, after which Dangely joined the 100th régiment d’infanterie territoriale and seems to have served until late 1917. The following year he was back at the Gaîté-Lyrique in his usual, and by then mostly old-fashioned, repertoire (La muette de Portici, La Juive, Le prophète, and L’Africaine). He made only a handful of appearances in 1920 and seems to have put an end to his career in the early twenties (though he was still listed in the Annuaire des artistes, maybe as a teacher, until 1929, at which date he disappears altogether from the listings). Dangely, whose repertoire also included Cavalleria rusticana, Aida, Le Cid, Sigurd, and Tannhäuser, recorded four-minute Edison wax cylinders and a number of discs for the Aérophone company.
DANGÈS, HENRI [ba] (Lyon, 1872 — Paris, 1958)_Born Benoît-Joseph Guillermin, Dangès studied music at the Lyon and Paris conservatories. He made his debut at the Opéra-Comique on 11 November 1898 in Le maître de chapelle (Barnabé). There, he created the role of the Premier Philosophe in Charpentier’s Louise on 2 February 1900. During his tenure at the Opéra-Comique, he added many other roles including Brétigny, Escamillo, and Alcindoro. He was then engaged by the Théâtre de la Gaîté-Lyrique where he took part in the revivals of Hérold’s Zampa and Thomas’s Le songe d’une nuit d’été . Dengès made his Paris Opéra debut on 27 January 1908 as Valentin in Faust and added Nevers (Les Huguenots) to his repertoire. He performed many other roles at the Paris Opéra through 1912. He sang at many other major French houses, as well as Monte Carlo, Cairo, Amsterdam, and Boston, where he was briefly a member of that company. Dangès’s colorful and powerful voice, with his impeccable diction, sometimes brings to mind the voice of the great Maurice Renaud. He recorded principally for French Gramophone and Pathé.
DUBOIS, GASTON [te] (L’Île-Saint-Denis, 1873 — ?)_Dubois studied at the Paris Conservatory with Duvernoy, graduated in 1901, and was accordingly signed by the Paris Opéra, where he made his debut on 28 February 1902 as Vasco de Gama in L’Africaine. He remained until 1911, creating the Hillemacher brothers’ Orsola (1902), singing Nicias, Ottavio, Siegmund, and Narraboth in the house premiere of Salome (1910), Walther in Les maîtres chanteurs, Jonas in Le prophète, and some lesser roles. In 1911 he transferred to the Opéra-Comique for one season (singing Des Grieux, Don José, Werther, Hoffmann, and Erik in Le vaisseau fantôme), after which he was back at the Opéra. He remained there until 1930, gradually assuming character roles such as Torquemada in the house premiere of L’heure espagnole (1921) and Goro in Butterfly, and taking part in several creations including Stravinsky’s Renard (1922) with the Ballets Russes. Dubois guested at the Gaîté-Lyrique (Bruneau’s L’attaque du moulin, 1907 and 1919), in Rouen (Tannhäuser, 1913), Bordeaux (La Walkyrie, 1921), Vichy (Gwendoline, 1921), Nice, Barcelona (Monna Vanna, 1920), and, together with his wife mezzo Tina Dubois-Lauger, had a long relationship with the Monte Carlo Opera, where among other roles he sang Daoud in the first French-language performance of Strauss’s Hélène d’Égypte (1930). Gaston Dubois recorded cylinders for Edison, and discs for Odeon, Gramophone, Homophone, Le Merveilleux, Le Super-Disque, Néron, Apollon, Eden, and Opéra.
DUBOIS-LAUGER, TINA [ms]_Born Ernestine-Marie Lauger, the mezzo married tenor Gaston Dubois before making a successful Paris Opéra debut as Venus in Tannhäuser on 21 January 1910. While occasionally guesting in the provinces, she remained with the house for twenty years, singing a number of comprimaria parts and the usual duègnes (Marthe, Gertrude, Albine, Giovanna), but also Brangæne, Herodias, and a few soprano parts such as Crobyle in Thaïs or Hilda in Sigurd. Together with her husband, she was a regular at Monte Carlo, where she took part in the premiere of L’enfant et les sortilèges (1925) as la chatte (Gaston was la théière). They sang there every year between 1924 and 1933, returning in 1936 and making a charming last appearance as Annina and Valzacchi in March 1939. The pair settled in Nice, where they were still teaching in the late 1940s.
DUFRANNE, HECTOR [bs] (Mons, Belgium, 1870 — Paris, 1951)_Remembered now for being the first Golaud in Pelléas et Mélisande, Belgian bass-baritone Hector Dufranne, born Hector-Robert Dufrasne, had his earliest success in 1895, while still studying singing and acting at the Brussels Conservatory, as Alberich in student performances of L’or du Rhin (Das Rheingold.) He made his debut in 1896 as Valentin in Faust at La Monnaie, where he spent three seasons, after which he made the customary Covent Garden appearances in 1897 and 1898, returning there again in 1914 to sing Golaud in Pelléas. He was signed by the Opéra-Comique in Paris, making his first appearance there in June 1900 as Thoas in Iphigénie en Tauride. He remained with the house until 1908, taking part in numerous creations besides Pelléas in 1902, notably Massenet’s Grisélidis in 1901, the French premiere of Tosca in 1903, Messager’s Fortunio, and Leroux’s Le chemineau, both in 1907. He also sang Escamillo, Nilakantha, the Dutchman, and the Father in Louise. He made his Paris Opéra debut in May 1909 in Monna Vanna, also singing Jokanaan for the house premiere of Salome, and appeared until 1913 as Kurwenal, Athanaël, and Wolfram. In 1908, Dufranne joined the Manhattan Opera Company. His New York debut took place in February 1908 as Golaud in the American premiere of Pelléas; besides his usual roles in Carmen, Louise, Samson et Dalila, and Salome, during the following seasons he sang in the American premieres of Massenet’s Le jongleur de Notre Dame (1908), Blockx’ Princesse d’auberge, and Massenet’s Sapho (both in 1909), and Grisélidis in 1910. Andreas Dippel signed him in 1910 for the Metropolitan but Dippel went to manage the Chicago Grand Opera Company, and took Dufranne with him to Chicago. Dufranne remained in Chicago between 1910 and 1922 with interruptions in 1914-1915 and 1918-1919. He appeared there in a wide array of works, including the 1921 world premiere of Prokofiev’s L’amour des trois oranges. During these years, he also honored additional contracts with La Monnaie in 1913-1914, and the Opéra-Comique in 1914-1915. Returning to Europe in 1922, he took on an extremely busy concert schedule, and by June 1926 was back at the Opéra-Comique for a revival of Pelléas with Mary Garden. He remained on the roster there until 1933, and sang until at least 1938, when he appeared as Golaud in Vichy. Among his other creations were Massenet’s Thérèse (Monte Carlo, 1907), Herbert’s Natoma (Philadelphia, 1911), and Falla’s Les tréteaux de Maître Pierre (given its first scenic performance in the Polignac salons in 1923, and later staged at the Opéra-Comique in 1928). Dufranne began recording in 1904 for G&T, continuing with that company for five years, and made a group of U.S. Columbia discs while at the Manhattan Opera. His final discs were French Columbias recorded between 1927 and 1931. He can be heard in a 1927 Columbia recording of scenes from Pelléas, conducted by Georges Truc, preserving his famed Golaud. He also sang the part of Don Iñigo Gomez in the 1929 Columbia recording of Ravel’s L’heure Espagnole, conducted by Truc, and supervised by the composer.
ESCALAÏS, LÉON [te] (Cuxac d’Aude, 1859 — Cuxac d’Aude, 1942)_Escalaïs began his musical studies at the Toulouse Conservatory winning first prizes in singing, opéra, and music theory. He continued his training at the Paris Conservatory, and on 11 December 1881, while a student, he sang the title role in a production of Act 3 of Tannhäuser at the Théâtre del Cirque d’Hiver. His Paris Opéra debut was as Arnold in Guillaume Tell on 12 October 1883, just three months after graduating from the Conservatory, where he had won first prize in song and second prize in opéra. His next role there was Eléazar in La Juive, and in 1884 he sang Raoul in Les Huguenots and the title role in Robert le diable, opposite his fellow-Conservatory graduate and soon-to be-wife, Marie-Antoinette Lureau, who sang the part of Alice. He created the role of Lusignan in Paul Véronge de la Nux’s Zaïre on 28 May 1890, and on 16 March 1891, he sang Zarastra in Massenet’s Le Mage. He left the Paris Opéra in 1892 after a falling out with the management, and then sang at the major French provincial houses, Marseille being chief among them. He made an important debut at the Teatro de São Carlos in December 1905, again singing Eléazar. He returned to the Paris Opéra during the 1907—1908 season, where he sang Arnold in Guillaume Tell and Radames in Aida. During the 1909—1910 season, Escalaïs performed numerous roles at the French Opera House at New Orleans to ecstatic acclaim, marking the opera house’s fiftieth anniversary as well as his own fiftieth birthday. Escalaïs retired from the stage in 1912, devoting himself to teaching in Paris. During the Second World War he returned to Cuxac d’Aude. He was a well-loved figure in the opera world whose voice will be remembered for its trumpet-like brilliance and stunning high notes. He recorded exclusively for Fonotipia.
FRÉVILLE, EUGÈNE [te] (Bassing, 1864 — ?)_Born Christophe Eugène Filocque, he was a chorus member of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire from 1902 until his retirement in 1914. He was also a chorister at the Paris Opéra.
GAILHARD, PEDRO [bs] (Toulouse, 1848 — Paris, 1918)_A master of the picturesque, whether as a singer or during his long directorship of the Paris Opéra, Gailhard – his given name being Pierre rather than the Southern variant he adopted for most of his life – studied first in his native city of Toulouse and then at the Paris Conservatory with Charles Duvernoy, Charles Couderc, and Charles Ponchard. In 1867 he shared a first prize for singing with Victor Maurel and earned first prizes for opéra and opéra-comique, which led to his engagement at the Salle Favart. He made his debut in December 1867 as Falstaff in Thomas’s Le songe d’une nuit d’été. Four years later, he debuted at the Opéra as Méphistophélès in Gounod’s opera, a striking incarnation he would bring to Covent Garden in 1879. In Paris he was admired as Leporello, Saint-Bris in Les Huguenots, and Gaspard in Der Freischütz. Gailhard’s premiers included Offenbach’s Vert-Vert (Opéra-Comique, 1869) and Thomas’s Francesca da Rimini (Opéra, 1882). In London, where he appeared from 1879 until 1883, Gailhard sang Assur in Semiramide, Marcel in Les Huguenots, Peter in L’étoile du nord, the title role in Boito’s Mefistofele, and Osmin in The abduction from the seraglio. It is doubtful that he ever sang the role of Nélusko on stage. From 1885 until 1892, Gailhard served as co-director of the Paris Opéra with Jean-Eugène Ritt, and from 1893 until 1899, he continued in the same capacity with Eugène Bertrand. In 1899, Gailhard became the Opéra’s sole director until 1906. Gailhard’s voice can be heard on four Fonotipia sides recorded in Paris in 1905.
DE HIDALGO, ELVIRA [so] (Valderrobres, Spain, 1891 — Milan, 1980)_Remembered today as the teacher and inspiration of Maria Callas, Elvira de Hidalgo was a highly-regarded coloratura soprano with an international career. She was born in Valderrobres, Spain and received her principal vocal training from Melchiorre Vidal, who had also taught Maria Barrientos, Graziella Pareto, Rosina Storchio, Fernando Valero, and Francesco Viñas. At the age of sixteen, she made her debut at the San Carlo in Naples as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia, a role she would sing throughout the operatic world. She soon was singing in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Prague, and in 1910 she made her Metropolitan debut in her favorite role of Rosina. There she also sang Gilda in Rigoletto and Amina in La sonnambula. She again sang Rosina for her 1916 debut at La Scala, and appeared the following year at the Teatro Colón in her usual roles of Rosina and Gilda, with the addition of Violetta in Traviata. In 1924 she appeared at Covent Garden as Gilda, and sang in Lakmé and Barbiere at the Chicago Opera. She returned to the Metropolitan in the 1924-1925 season, and in 1926 toured the U.S. singing in Barbiere with the great Feodor Chaliapin. Moving to Athens in the 1930s, de Hidalgo taught at the Athens Conservatory. In the fall of 1939, the sixteen-year old Maria Callas enrolled there and de Hidalgo became her teacher, nurturing and encouraging her prodigious talent. De Hidalgo died in Milan at the age of eighty-eight, outliving her illustrious pupil by over two years. Her earliest recordings were made for Columbia around 1908, followed by a group of Fonotipias in 1909. She recorded eight sides for English Columbia in 1925, and finally a group of Spanish songs recorded by Columbia in Athens during the 1930s. De Hidalgo’s 1925 Columbia recording of the “shadow song” from Dinorah remains one of the finest renditions of the aria.
HUGUET, GIUSEPPINA [so] (Barcelona, 1871 — 1951)_Giuseppina (originally Josefina) Huguet was born in Barcelona, and studied singing there with Francisco Bonet. She made her debut in 1889 at Barcelona’s Teatro Liceu as Lakmé. She possessed a lovely and agile lyric soprano voice with good coloratura ability, distinguishing herself in such roles as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia and Ophélie in Hamlet. She sang with considerable success in London, Paris, Milan, and Russia. She appeared at the New York Academy of Music for one season in 1898. Huguet also took on verismo roles such as Mimì in La bohème, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, and Nedda in Pagliacci. She retired in 1912 and taught in Barcelona. Huguet made her first recordings in 1903 for G&T in Barcelona, and continued recording for the Gramophone Company until 1909. She portrayed the role of Nedda in the complete recording of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci made by the Gramophone Company in 1908 under the composer’s supervision.
KALTER, SABINE [con] (Jaroslaw, Galicia [Poland], 1890 — London, 1957) Studying in Vienna, Sabine Kalter made her debut with the Vienna Volksoper in 1911, remaining with that company through 1914. Kalter’s wide range permitted her to sing roles from contralto to high mezzo and even soprano parts on occasion. From 1915 through 1935 she was a leading figure with the Hamburg Opera. During these years, her usual roles were Lady Macbeth, Dalila, Amneris, Fidès, and Carmen. She was also heard in several premieres, including Korngold’s Das Wunder der Heliane in 1927, Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex in 1928, and Hindemith’s Neues vom Tage in 1929. In 1935, Kalter was removed from the Hamburg Opera roster by the Nazis, and she quickly left Germany to settle in London. She became a noted figure at Covent Garden from 1935 until her retirement from the operatic stage in 1939. She was particularly admired for her Wagnerian roles, including Brangäne, Ortrud, and Fricka. In addition to her operatic work, Kalter was also a successful concert and lieder singer. After her retirement, she taught in London into the 1950s. Her recordings were made for Odeon beginning in 1923, and several of her Covent Garden appearances in the late 1930s have been preserved.
KEMP, BARBARA [so] (Cochem, Germany 1881 — Berlin, 1959)_Barbara Kemp was born in Cochem, Germany and studied singing at the Strasbourg Conservatory. She made her debut in Strasbourg in 1903 in the role of the priestess in Aida. She continued singing roles at local theaters and by 1913 she was employed at the Berlin Hofoper. She interpreted the role of Senta at the Bayreuth Festival in 1914 and performed at the Vienna State Opera from 1924-1927. Her sister, Josefine Kemp, also had a successful operatic career. Kemp married opera composer and Berlin State Opera director Max von Shillings in 1923, but continued her performing career. She sang at the Metropolitan Opera from 1922—1924, making her debut in the leading role in her husband’s opera Mona Lisa. The first run of Mona Lisa included five performances, which were repeated the next year. Kemp also interpreted the roles of Kundry and Isolde at the Met. Kemp retired from the stage in 1932, and afterward worked as a singing teacher and director at the Berlin State Opera, producing the operas Mona Lisa and Ingwelde. Recordings of Kemp include Der Rosenkavalier in 1927, and also a performance at the Berlin State Opera in 1928.
LAFARGUE, MARIE [so] (Bayonne, 1871 — 1913)_Marie Lafargue studied at the Paris Conservatory and made her debut in Otello (Desdemona) on 19 April 1895 at the Paris Opéra. She remained at the Paris Opéra until 1899 and sang Aida, Donna Anna, and Valentine. In 1903 she sang in Faust (Marguerite) at the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt. She made her Opéra-Comique debut in the title role in Carmen (4 June 1905) and remained at the Opéra-Comique until 1912, singing in Werther, Cavalleria rusticana, Les contes d’Hoffmann, La Navarraise, and Tosca. In addition to her Paris performances, Lafargue sang in many of the major French provincial houses as well as in Brussels, Buenos Aires, and Cairo. She died at the height of her career, leaving an important, though not tremendously large, discography. She recorded for Fonotipia, Odeon, Pathé, and the Gramophone Company.
LANDOUZY, LISE [so] (Le Cateau, 1861 — Aix-les-Bains, 1943)_Landouzy was born Elise Besville and married cellist Fernand Landouzy in 1880. As Mme Landouzy-Besville, she first taught singing at the music school of Roubaix and was active as a concert singer in the French and Belgian provinces, most notably at the casino of Blankenberge, near Oostende, and the Vauxhall in Brussels. She was signed by La Monnaie for the 1887-1888 season, making her debut as Rosine. She remained there for two years, singing Mireille, Leïla, Javotte in Le roi l’a dit, Virginie in Le caïd (which she studied in Paris with Thomas), Rozenn, Marie, Micaëla, and others. In September 1889 she made her debut at the Opéra-Comique, again as Rosine. During the next five years at the Comique, she created Messager’s La basoche (1890), Pessard’s Les folies amoureuses (1891), and Cui’s Le flibustier (1894), among other works, and sang Nannette in the French premiere of Verdi’s Falstaff (1894), in the presence of the composer. She sang one other season at the Opéra-Comique (1900—1901) and continued appearing regularly at La Monnaie until 1903. After that point, she guested mainly in Brussels, and at the Grand-Théâtre of Lyon where her husband was co-director between 1906 and 1909. Monte Carlo saw her in 1904, singing the three female leads in Les contes d’Hoffmann. She was also very active during the summer seasons, singing in Dieppe, Vichy, and Aix-les-Bains until World War One, after which she settled as a teacher in Lyon. Her recording legacy is particularly important, comprising over 160 sides recorded for Odeon between 1906 and 1911. She also made a few rare Phrynis two-minute cylinders. She seems to have sung on stage almost everything she recorded, from Chérubin to Rozenn to Lakmé. In Landouzy’s case there is no difficulty in reconciling the voice as recorded with her fine reputation.
LAUTE-BRUN, ANTOINETTE [so] (Nîmes, 1875 — ?)_Antoinette Laute studied with Duvernoy and Melchissédec at the Paris Conservatory. Her debut was at the Paris Opéra, 1903, as the Page in Tannhäuser. The Paris Opéra remained her artistic home for over two decades. In 1907, she married composer Georges Brun. Laute-Brun had a huge repertoire, including a number of creations, primarily of smaller roles, although she occasionally sang principal parts as well in both the soprano and mezzo ranges. As an example, she was heard at the Paris Opéra as both Marguerite and Siebel in Faust and in the roles of Helmwige and Fricka in Die Walküre. Laute-Brun made a number of records for the French Gramophone Company, as well as Odeon and several other smaller French labels. She also recorded a group of cylinders for Edison around 1911.
LAZZARI, CAROLINA [con] (Milford, Massachusetts, 1891 — Stony Creek, Connecticut, 1946)_Born of Italian parents, Carolina Lazzari received her musical education at the Ursuline Academy in Milan, and afterward studied voice with William Brady in New York City. She was engaged by Cleofonte Campanini, the director of the Chicago Opera Company, and made her debut there in 1917 as La cieca in La Gioconda, followed by Giglietta in Mascagni’s Isabeau. She remained there for three seasons, appearing in Linda di Chamounix and Samson et Dalila. She also appeared on tour with the company at the New York Lexington Theater as the goat herder in Dinorah opposite Amelita Galli-Curci. She sang only once at the Metropolitan Opera, Amneris in Aida on Christmas Day, 1920, opposite Emmy Destinn and Morgan Kingston. She apparently suffered tremendously from stage fright, which may be the reason for her operatic career being so truncated. Subsequently, she had a studio in the Metropolitan Opera House where she taught. She died 17 October 1946. Her only records were a few sides for Edison, who claimed to have discovered her in 1916 and recorded her prior to her debut in opera.
LEQUIEN, HENRI [bs] (Paris, 1865 — ?)_Lequien attended the Paris Conservatory between 1888 and 1890, achieving second prizes in singing, opéra, and opéra-comique. He first sang at Rouen’s Le Théâtre des Arts in productions of Velléda, Les Huguenots, Faust, Mignon, and Salammbô. He appeared at the Monnaie during the season of 1893—1894 as the drum major in L’attaque du moulin, and King Mark in Tristan und Isolde. During the following decade, Lequien sang in Lyon, Bordeaux, and Nice. He also was the première basse d’opéra-comique at the Royal Theater in Antwerp for four seasons from 1898—1902. The Monte Carlo opera saw him (1905—1907) in productions of L’Africaine, Massenet’s Chérubin, Hamlet, Mascagni’s Amica, I Puritani, Tannhäuser, Le roi de Lahore, Rubinstein’s Demon, and Rigoletto. He finally debuted at the Paris Opéra as Wagner in Faust (27 January 1908) and sang minor and major bass roles there until 1911. After leaving the Paris Opéra, he made appearances at Paris’s Gaîté-Lyrique and Champs-Elysées theaters. Lequien’s last traced engagement was as première basse in Dijon during the 1922—1923 season. He made ensemble recordings for French Odeon.
LESTELLY, LOUIS [ba] (Bordeaux, 1871 — Paris, 1919)_Born Louis-Charles-Adolphe Lelais, Lestelly studied with baritone Adolphe Claverie in his native city. His first years took him to a number of theaters in the French and Belgian provinces, such as Nîmes, Verviers, and Liège, where he stayed for two seasons from 1903 to 1905. There, his son René (1904-1993) was born, who would become a successful singer and comedian. Lestelly senior returned to his native Bordeaux from 1905 to 1907, and then sang in Nice in 1906 and 1907. Marseille heard him in 1907 and 1908, after which time he settled for three seasons at Brussels’s La Monnaie. During this period, he found time for a few engagements at Covent Garden in 1910, where he appeared as Valentin, Nevers, and Sharpless. He then sang for two seasons in Lyon and finally made his Paris Opéra debut on 14 July 1913 as Hamlet in 1914. Lestelly appeared as Amfortas in Paris’s first Parsifal. During the war years, he continued to sing in Paris, as well as in Bordeaux. There, the grand theater was closed for renovation, and so Lestelly sang at a number of minor theaters and outdoor venues including Escamillo in an actual bull ring. His Paris career continued until his unexpected death in 1919. In fact, he was billed to sing Valentin on the day before his death, the cause of which is not disclosed in his obituary. Possessed of a beautiful and admirably trained voice, Lestelly could be considered a worthy heir to the great Jean Lassalle. His only recordings are twenty sides for French Gramophone.
LITVINNE, FÉLIA [so] (Saint Petersburg, 1863 — Paris, 1936)_Born Françoise-Jeanne Schütz of a French-Canadian mother and a Russian father, Félia Litvinne grew up in a musical family. She first studied for three years with Mme Barthe-Banderali and Giovanni Sbriglia and later with Pauline Viardot-Garcia. She had already made a few recital appearances in Paris before her unplanned stage debut in December 1883, at the Théâtre des Italiens, where baritone Victor Maurel was a co-director. There, she substituted at the last moment for an indisposed Fidès Devriès as Amelia in Simon Boccanegra. Her formal debut took place there on 8 May 1884 as Elvira in Ernani, opposite Leopoldo Signoretti and Augusto Brogi. Maurel then invited Litvinne to tour the provinces, appearing in Don Giovanni, Lucrezia Borgia, Les Huguenots, Rigoletto, Faust, Un ballo in maschera, Ruy Blas, and as Salomé in Massenet’s Hérodiade. In 1885, it was on to America and her debut at the New York Academy of Music, billed as “Litvinoff, of the Paris Opéra”, in Don Giovanni and Il trovatore. Returning to Europe, she spent three seasons at the Monnaie, where among many other roles, she sang in her first Wagner production, Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. In 1903, she would be chosen to sing Brünnhilde in the Monnaie’s first Ring cycle. Litvinne debuted at the Paris Opéra in March 1889 as Valentine opposite Léon Escalaïs’s Raoul. The Paris Opéra would also select her for Brünnhilde in their first Ring cycle in 1911. In the late 1880s, she returned to her native Russia, becoming a favorite in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and eventually being made official soloist to the Czar. Litvinne made her La Scala debut in 1890, where she scored a triumph in a mezzo role, Gertrude, in Thomas’s Hamlet, opposite the Hamlet of Mattia Battistini and the Ophélie of Emma Calvé. In 1893, marriage to a Dr. Emmanuel Depoux brought a temporary halt to her career. But happily for her admirers, the marriage did not last, and she was back before the public at Marseille in 1895. La Scala welcomed her back for the 1895-1896 season singing Catherine in the Italian premiere of Saint-Saëns’s Henri VIII, followed by Dalila opposite Alfonso Garulli and Giuseppe Pacini. On 25 November 1896, Litvinne debuted at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, bowing in the Falcon role of Valentine in Les Huguenots, followed by Sélika in L’Africaine, and Chimène in Le Cid. She also sang the soprano roles of Aida, Donna Anna, Marguerite in Faust, the Siegfried Brünnhilde, Isolde, and the mezzo role of Gertrude in Hamlet. It was around this time that Litvinne began to focus particularly on Wagnerian roles. It was in Wagner that she made her 1899 debut at Covent Garden as Isolde, opposite Jean de Reszke’s Tristan, Ernestine Schumann-Heink’s Brangäne, and Anton van Rooy’s Kurwenal. The London Times wrote of her Isolde, “…a powerful dramatic soprano, she is evidently well experienced both in the stage business of the part and in the declamatory style of her singing; her voice is well-suited to the requirements of the music, with its full tone and clear enunciation”. Litvinne herself remarked, “To sing Isolde is worth all the sorrow of living.” In addition to Isolde, she sang Brünnhilde, Valentine, and Aida. Her first complete Ring cycle at Covent Garden was in 1905, with additional appearances there until 1910. Litvinne retired from the stage in 1916, but re-emerged after the War as a recitalist during the 1920s. Following Viardot-Garcia’s footsteps, she became a voice teacher, notably at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau; her pupils included Germaine Lubin and Nina Koshetz. Litvinne recorded cylinders for French and Russian Pathé, as well as discs for G&T, Fonotipia, and French Odeon. Her most celebrated recordings are eight titles recorded in 1902 for G&T, accompanied by the famous pianist and conductor, Alfred Cortot.
MARTINEZ-PATTI, GINO [te] (Palermo, 1866 — Roma, 1925)_This tenor of Spanish origin received vocal training in his native city, and made his operatic debut in 1888 in Messina as a comprimario tenor in Gli Ugonotti. The following year he sang the title role in Donizetti’s Poliuto in Palermo. During the early 1890s he sang extensively in Latin America, appearing in La Gioconda, Carmen, Ernani, Lucia di Lamermoor, Ballo in maschera, Cavalleria rusticana, La forza del destino, Fra Diavolo, Norma, La traviata, and Il trovatore. The remainder of his career was spent singing primarily in the smaller Italian houses, with occasional appearances in Rome, Florence, and Naples. His only appearance in the U. S. was in San Francisco with the touring Lombardi Opera Company in 1906. Martinez-Patti made a large number of records for Columbia, Fonotipia, Italian HMV, and several other small Italian labels.
MELCHISSÉDEC, LÉON [bs] (Clermont-Ferrand, 1843 — Paris, 1925)_The leading figure in a family of singers–his daughter Anna (1873-1954) and granddaughter Andrée (1897-1962) were both sopranos, his uncles Guillaume (1821-1870) and Léon Senior (1825-1874), both baritones, enjoyed not insignificant careers, as did his daughter-in-law, soprano Camille Duval-Melchissédec (1873-1970)–(Pierre-) Léon Jr. boasted of a long career though, unlike Soulacroix’s, a mainly domestic one. His first brush with an opera house was at Saint-Étienne, where as an amateur he occasionally played second violin in the orchestra (this would later prove expedient in Richard Cœur-de-lion, where his character of Blondel is supposed to play the violin: this one indeed could and did). He then made his way to Paris, studying at the Conservatoire with Laget, Levasseur, and Mocker: two second prizes (opéra, opéra-comique) in 1865 earned him an engagement at the Opéra-Comique, where he made his debut creating Cohen’s José-Maria (July 16, 1866), sang a very large repertoire ranging from Max in Le chalet to Jean in Les noces de Jeannette, and even the tenor title role of Zampa, and stayed until 1877. That year he joined the Théâtre-Lyrique and created Sainte-Croix in the very successful Paul et Virginie by Victor Massé. The creation, the following year, of Pessard’s Le Capitaine Fracasse, in which he sang the title part, would not prove nearly as popular, and he finally made his debut at the Opéra on November 17, 1879, as Nevers in Les Huguenots, remaining with the house for twelve years, creating Hadjar (alongside Lassalle as his brother Ben-Saïd) in Gounod’s Le tribut de Zamora in 1881, and Mercutio in the new version of Roméo et Juliette (1888; in his Opéra-Comique days he sang the part of Capulet). Melchissédec left the Opéra in December 1891, and a few weeks later began an association with the Monte Carlo opera, where he would sing until 1900, taking part in the creations of both Moina (1897) and Messaline (1899) by Isidore De Lara, as well as in the Gunsbourg staging of La damnation de Faust (1893). In 1902 he made a rare Parisian foray into operetta with Ordre de l’empereur at the Bouffes-Parisiens. Starting in 1894, Melchissédec taught déclamation lyrique (opéra) at the Paris Conservatory, overseeing the studies of dozens of young singers until his retirement in 1923, and left some rather idiosyncratic writings on the art of singing.
MÉREY, JANE [so] (Ghent, 1872 — ?)_Born Marie-Jeanne La Tour, she first studied with her music-teacher mother, then with Rosine Laborde in Paris. A first appearance as Lakmé at Versailles in November 1893 led to the creation of the title-role in Lucy de Montgomery’s Aréthuse in Monte Carlo (February 1894) and an engagement to the Monnaie in Brussels, where she made her debut as Mireille in 1894. During her first two seasons there she sang Lakmé, Rosine, Micaëla, Philine, Marguerite, Jeannette, and in 1895 she created the title-role in Xavier Leroux’s Évangéline. Her Opéra-Comique debut took place in December 1897, again as Mireille, then Lakmé. After a successful 1898-1899 season in Bordeaux, where she not only sang her favorites Lakmé, Rosine, Mireille, and Micaëla, but also Manon, Pamina, Juliette, and Mimì in the local premiere of La bohème with Mary Boyer as Musette. Her career was somewhat disrupted as a result of an unhappy marriage contracted in 1897. The young singer had at first agreed to retire from the stage altogether, but of course the combined allure of art and success was too strong, and she accepted and fulfilled a number of engagements. Her husband sued the directors until a divorce was at last announced, but this did not appease the spurned spouse. He waited for his ex-wife near the Monnaie opera house, where she had been signed again for a series of guest performances in the fall of 1903, and shot at her, the bullet going through her hand. Lalla Miranda took her place for the scheduled Lakmé performance. Mérey sang in Il barbiere di Siviglia with a bandaged arm before making the sensible decision to leave Brussels and perform in Marseille, Bordeaux, and Lyon. As early as 1906 she was teaching in Paris. A second marriage to lawyer Arthur Valabrègue ensured the occasional appearance of her name in the newspapers until World War I, if for dubious litigations rather than artistic events: performances of Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Gaîté in 1908 led to a feud with the Isola brothers; the couple also sued Pathé over the re-recording onto discs of the cylinders Mérey had made for the company between 1905 and 1907. Her displeasure with the transfers not withstanding, these Pathé cylinder and disc recordings display an excellent voice and technique, including lovely high pianissimos.
MERGUILLIER, CÉCILE [so] (Paris, 1861 — 1938)_Cécile Merguillier studied at the Paris Conservatory with Eugène Archainbaud and that exponent in excelsis of opéra-comique style and spirit, Ernest Mocker. She won a first prize in singing in 1880, a second prize in opéra-comique in 1881 as Dinorah, and accordingly made her debut at the Salle Favart on 28 December 1881 in Adam’s Le toréador. She was a principal at the house until 1888 and was on stage with Gabriel Soulacroix when the famous 1887 fire started. She returned for the 1891-1892 season and gave a last series of performances at the house in 1898. Merguillier spent the 1888-1889 season at La Monnaie in Brussels, and otherwise guested chiefly in the main Belgian and French towns: Antwerp, Liège, Bordeaux, Lille, and Nice. In 1895 she joined Devoyod and Scaramberg for a short season of French opera at the Korsh theater in Moscow. By then she was spending the summer seasons in Vichy, where she seems to have given her last stage performances in 1901. While her repertoire remained firmly centered around Dinorah (the Opéra-Comique revived Le pardon de Ploërmel for her and Bouvet in 1886), she also sang Philine, Rosine, Lakmé, Manon, various Auber heroines, and heavier parts like Elsa in Lohengrin. Her first group of records were 1903 Pathé cylinders, some issued later in disc form. In 1905 she recorded twenty-four Edison two-minute cylinders.
NANSEN, LOUIS [te] (Paris, 1878 — 1952)_Born Georges-Louis Noël, Nansen attended the Paris Conservatory between 1905 and 1906, winning several prizes. His Paris Opéra debut was on 5 June 1907 as Gaspard in Fernand Le Borne’s La Catalane. He remained there until 1920, singing minor roles: Paris and later Tybald in Roméo et Juliette; Melot in Tristan und Isolde; Moine and later Tavannes, in Les Huguenots; and Jonas in Le prophète. Nansen created roles in several first Paris Opéra performances: Vedio in Monna Vanna; Froh in Das Rheingold; 2nd Jew in Salome; and Ilbert in d’Indy’s Fervaal. He made ensemble recordings for Pathé.
NARÇON, ARMAND [bs] (Paris, 1866 — 1944)_This now forgotten bass had a forty-seven-year career at the Paris Opéra, singing a variety of minor and occasionally major roles. He attended the Paris Conservatory from 1888 to 1891. He made his Paris Opéra debut in 1893 and continued to sing there until 1940. His wife, Mme Narçon, joined the Paris Opéra’s roster in 1895 and remained until 1918. Armand Narçon recorded for French Odeon, primarily in ensemble selections.
NIVETTE, JUSTE [bs] (Paris, 1866 — ?)_Having studied at the Paris Conservatory, Nivette made his debut in 1892 at the Opéra-Comique as Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, a role that would be closely associated with him throughout his career. He had great success there as well as in the French provinces and Monte Carlo, where he took part in the creation of Le jongleur de Notre Dame in 1902 as the painter monk. That same year, he appeared as Frère Laurent in Roméo et Juliette, with Jean de Reszke in the title role. Nivette was a leading bass at the Paris Opéra between 1899 and 1908. His Meyerbeer roles there were Marcel in Les Huguenots in 1902 and Zacharie in Le prophète, which he took over from Marius Chambon in the 1903 Paris Opéra revival. Nivette was invited to La Scala in 1907, where he sang Hagen in Götterdämmerung with Toscanini conducting. In 1909 Nivette traveled to Boston for the inaugural season with that opera company, making his debut on opening night as Alvise in La Gioconda, a role that he had sung the previous year at Monte Carlo. Quaintance Eaton, in her history of the Boston Opera, states, “His elegant stage presence and rich and sonorous voice, with a Parisian feeling for emotional characterization, all guided by a sure stylistic sense, ensured his Boston success.” The other operas in which he sang that season were Les Huguenots (likely in Italian), Faust, and Lakmé. His stint there ended with a Sunday night concert on 6 March 1910. The remainder of Nivette’s career and life have not been documented. Nivette’s first recordings were a group of twenty-four sides made for G&T in 1903—1904, many of which have never been seen. He recorded prolifically for APGA and Odeon beginning in 1906, and ended his recording career with a small number of sides for Idéal. All of his records display a sonorous voice, with a rich timbre and even scale.
PAYAN, PAUL [bs] (Toulon, 1878 — 1951)_Born Joseph Payan, he entered the Paris Conservatory in 1902, studying singing with Auguste de Martini, and stage deportment with Melchissédec and Isnardon. After earning a first prize for opéra-comique in 1906, he was signed by the eponymous house and made his debut in 1907 as one of the philosophers in Louise. He would remain at the Opéra-Comique for ten years, singing everything from leads such as Sarastro, Lothario, Basile, Vulcain, and the King in Le roi d’Ys to innumerable comprimario parts, notably in creations. During the early months of 1918, he sang Rabaud’s Mârouf and Ropartz’ Le Pays in Geneva, then spent two seasons in Rouen (1919-1921), after which he left for America. He appeared first in Rio de Janeiro, then joined the Chicago Opera Association for the 1921-1922 season, including their New York tour. He was back in Europe in the early months of 1923, enjoying a busy schedule of winter seasons in the main French provincial towns (Toulouse, Lille, and Nice) and numerous guest appearances from Bordeaux to Lausanne. The Colón in Buenos Aires heard him in the summer of 1924, and he sang in a modest capacity at Covent Garden in 1928. By the late twenties he had settled at his villa at Antibes, where he taught while occasionally appearing on stage at least until 1934. His birth certificate states that he died on 1 November 1951. His extensive discography includes recordings for French HMV, Aerophone, acoustic and electric Odeon, and ten four-minute Edison cylinders, mirroring a huge repertoire encompassing basse noble roles such as Brogni in La Juive, basse chantante ones such as Saint-Bris in Les Huguenots, and rather lighter fare like Figaro in Les noces de Figaro.
PINI-CORSI, GAETANO [te] (Zadar, Dalmatia, 1865 — Milan, 1935)_Although some sources have erroneously given his debut as 1880, Gaetano Pini-Corsi’s actual debut probably took place in 1885 at Sampierdarena, singing with his brother Antonio and sister-in-law Clorinda. (Gaetano was the younger brother of the famous buffo baritone Antonio Pini-Corsi.) During that season he sang the Duke in Rigoletto, Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Manrico in Trovatore. During the following decade he continued to sing both major and minor roles, but as time went on, he became renowned for his portrayal of comprimario parts, such as David in Meistersinger (La Scala, 1898) and Mime in Siegfried (La Scala, 1899). Pini-Corsi was also admired for his portrayal of Corentino in Meyerbeer’s Dinorah, Rome, 1899 with Luisa Tetrazzini and Antonio Magini-Coletti; La Scala, 1904 with Maria Barrientos and Giuseppe De Luca; and Quirino, Rome, 1915 with Elvira de Hidalgo and Mattia Battistini. His two rare recordings from this opera are both presented here. Throughout his forty-year career, Pini-Corsi sang mainly in Italian houses, but also made occasional appearances outside of Italy: Montevideo, 1894; Warsaw, 1895; Buenos Aires and Montevideo, 1903; Buenos Aires, 1912; Boston, 1913-1914; and Madrid, 1917. Pini-Corsi’s last traced performances were at La Fenice as Il Trinca in Giordano’s La cena delle Beffe, 1925. For a more extensive overview of his career, see The Record Collector, Vol. 48 N° 4.
PLANÇON, POL [bs] (Fumay, 1851 — Paris, 1914)_At the end of the nineteenth century, two singers vied for the title of greatest French bass, Edouard de Reszke and Pol Plançon. Each had certain qualities the other didn’t possess and it was Plançon who was the more skillful, the more finished, and the one associated with bel canto. Pol-Henri Plançon made his debut as Saint-Bris in Les Huguenots at Lyon (1877) and sang there for two seasons. His Paris debut took place at the Théâtre de la Gaîté (11 February 1880) and after a season in Monte Carlo, Plançon took his rightful place as a star of the Paris Opéra, beginning with Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust (23 June 1883). On 3 June 1891, Plançon created the role of Don Gormas in Massenet’s Le Cid at the Paris Opéra. Plançon made his Covent Garden debut on 3 June 1891 as Méphistophélès, returning each summer for the next thirteen years. There, he participated in the following world premieres: Massenet’s La Navarraise (2 June 1894); Stanford’s Much ado about nothing (30 May 1901); and Bunning’s Princess Osra (July 1902). Plançon also sang in the premiere (concert version) of Mancinelli’s Ero e Leandro in the role of Ariofarno at the Norwich Festival, 1896. Plançon’s U.S. debut was as Jupiter in Gounod’s Philémon et Baucis at the Metropolitan (29 November 1893) where he established a successful relationship with yet another important opera house, singing not only French roles but also a wide variety of parts in German and Italian. In 1908 he gave his farewell performance (Metropolitan, Plunkett, in Flotow’s Martha) and he retired to Paris. His voice, though a true bass, had an exceptionally high range and unprecedented agility. Plançon made more than sixty recordings between 1902 and 1908, first for G&T, then Zonophone, and finally for Victor. His records all confirm his stellar reputation among his contemporaries.
PONSELLE, ROSA [so] (Meriden, Connecticut, 1897 — Baltimore, Maryland, 1981)_Geraldine Farrar may have said it best: “When discussing singers, there are two you must first set aside: Rosa Ponselle and Enrico Caruso. Then you may begin.” Ponselle was born Rosa Ponzillo, the youngest of three children of Italian immigrants. She had a gift for music and began playing the piano at an early age. But it was her natural talent for singing that made her one of the greatest sopranos of the last one hundred years. Influenced by her older sister Carmela, a cabaret singer, Rosa began her career as a silent-movie accompanist and then joined Carmella for a successful stint in vaudeville. There is some controversy concerning Ponselle’s “discovery” with voice teacher/agent William Thorner having a hand in Ponselle’s very early training and legendary baritone Victor Maurel having auditioned both sisters at his friend Thorner’s request, but it is agreed that Enrico Caruso heard the Ponzillo sisters sing and Caruso was deeply impressed with Rosa’s voice. He arranged an audition for the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza, who offered Rosa a contract for the 1918-1919 season. Ponselle made her Met debut as Leonora opposite Enrico Caruso in Verdi’s La forza del destino on 15 November 1918 at the age of twenty-one to tremendous accolades from the public and press. She became the first American-born artist to sing a major role at the Met without the benefit of prior European training or experience, and is credited with opening the doors of the Met to the American-trained singer. Ponselle had a long association with the Met, with her 1927 performance in the title role in Bellini’s Norma often considered her greatest achievement. Her other roles at the Met included Rachel in La Juive (also with Caruso), Santuzza, Gioconda, Selica in Africana, Elisabetta in Don Carlo, Fiora in Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re, Giulia in Spontini’s La vestale, Violetta, and Carmen (to mixed reviews, with Olin Downes’s scathing New York Times review hurting Ponselle deeply). She also debuted two unsuccessful premieres at the Met. The first was the role of Carmelita in the world premiere of Joseph Carl Breil’s The legend (a role Ponselle supposedly despised) in 1919, and the second, Ponselle participating in Montemezzi’s La notte di Zoraima in 1931. Her last operatic performance was as Carmen, 22 April 1937, in a Met tour performance in Cleveland. Differences with the Met management regarding repertoire led her not to renew her contract with the company for the 1937-1938 season. Outside the USA, Ponselle sang at Covent Garden in the 1929-1931 seasons, her roles being Norma, Gioconda, Fiora, Violetta, Leonora in Forza, and the title role in Romano Romani’s Fedra . Ponselle’s only other appearance outside the U.S. was as Giulia in La vestale at Florence’s May Festival in 1933. Like many other opera singers of that time, she made a brief trip to Hollywood and made screen tests for M-G-M and Paramount, but nothing came of them. Her M-G-M screen test of two Carmen arias survives. Ponselle also had a very lucrative concert career and appeared often on the radio during the 1930s. Her first records were made for Columbia 1919-1922, and acoustic and electric recordings for Victor, 1923-1939. Ponselle lived out her life at Villa Pace, (an estate she had built outside of Baltimore in 1940) nurturing and launching the careers of aspiring young operatic talent, and singing at home for friends, who reported that her voice was as magnificent as ever. In 1954, RCA Victor sent a recording crew to Villa Pace to record Ponselle, and two LP discs were subsequently released.
POUMAYRAC, GASTON DE [te] (Toulouse, 1877 — ?)_Born Gaston de Poumayrac de Masredon, he attended the Toulouse Conservatory between 1897 and 1899, winning first prizes in singing, opéra, and opéra-comique. From 1900—1904, he continued his studies at the Paris Conservatory, under Paul Lhérie, Numa Auguez, and then Théophile-Adolphe Manoury. Poumayrac made his debut at Paris’s Opéra-Comique on 9 October 1904 as Vincent in Gounod’s Mireille. He remained there until 1912, appearing primarily in minor roles. During the 1908 season, he was on loan from the Opéra-Comique to the Gaîté-Lyrique, singing in productions of La fille du régiment and Les dragons de Villars. After leaving the Opéra-Comique in 1912, he sang 100 performances of Adelmar Sablon’s La ribaude, opposite Anna Tariol-Baugé, at Paris’s Folies-Dramatiques. He was very active as a character tenor between the wars and took part in a premiere at the Champs-Élysées in 1924. He sang until the early thirties. Poumayrac recorded ensemble discs for Pathé. N. B. Several reference sources give his first name in error as Georges.
PREVE, CESARE [bs] Biographical information unknown. Not much is known about basso Cesare Preve, who was active between 1897 and 1922 in the main Italian provincial towns, particularly in Modena, Padova, Parma, Torino, Venezia, Cagliari, among many others, as well as in Milan (Filodrammatici, 1901) and Rome (Teatro Nazionale, 1908). His repertoire encompassed all the usual Italian, French, and German roles: Raimondo, Giorgio in I Puritani, Rodolfo in La sonnambula, Oroveso, Silva, Sparafucile, Ferrando, Ramfis, Alvise, Colline, Marcello in Gli Ugonotti, Mefistofele in Faust, il vecchio Ebreo in Sansone e Dalila, Enrico in Lohengrin, Pogner in I Maestri cantori di Norimberga, as well as il Viandante in Sigfrido, and Pimen in Boris. Probably a native of Genova, he sang at this city’s Politeama Genovese (1905-1906 and 1914-1915) and Carlo Felice (1904-1905 and 1909-1912) where he took part in the world premiere of Orefice’s Mosè (18 February 1905).
RÉGIS, GEORGES [te] (unknown)_It is thought that Régis made his debut in Marseille in 1898 where he returned for the 1899-1900 season. His Paris appearance was as Weber’s Oberon at the Théâtre-Lyrique in April 1899. In 1902-1903, he went to Bordeaux, singing opéra-comique leads and high-lying second tenor parts in grand opera: Léopold in La Juive, Ruodi in Guillaume Tell, and Jonas in Le prophète. He returned to Marseille before sailing to New Orleans for the 1905-1906 season. His Paris Opéra debut took place in June 1909, but he spent most of the following season at New York’s Metropolitan. London heard him in 1912 as Almaviva at the Hammerstein Opera House. By the mid-twenties he was back at the Opéra, mainly as a comprimario, but still singing Ruodi and taking part in creations such as Roussel’s La naissance de la lyre (1925). He recorded a substantial number of sides for French Gramophone and a few unpublished Edison discs.
RESZKE, JEAN DE [te] (Warsaw 1850 — Nice 1925)_Jean de Reszke was one of the foremost tenors of the second half of the nineteenth century. After studying with Ciaffei (in Warsaw) and in Milan with Antonio Cotogni, he made his debut as a baritone in Venice in 1874 as Alphonse in La favorite, which he also sang in London. Other baritone parts included Rossini’s Figaro, Valentin, and Don Giovanni. Having retrained as a tenor under Giovanni Sbriglia, he sang Robert le diable in Madrid in 1879, with limited success. His real debut was as Jean in the Paris premiere of Hérodiade at the Théâtre-Italien in 1884. He premiered the title-role in Massenet’s Le Cid the following year; his other Palais Garnier roles there were Radamès, Gounod’s Faust, Vasco in L’Africaine, and Jean in Le prophète. In London he appeared in Aida and Lohengrin at Drury Lane and, at Covent Garden, as Raoul in Les Huguenots, Vasco, Faust, Lohengrin, Riccardo in Un ballo in maschera, Roméo, Walther in Die Meistersinger, Don José, Otello, and Werther. He made his American debut as Lohengrin in Chicago in 1891, opposite Emma Eames. His Met debut was as Roméo in 1891 (the first performance in that house of a French opera in French). Other roles he sang at the Met between 1891 and 1902 were Otello, Raoul, Radamès, Lohengrin, Faust, Jean in Le prophète, Walther, Don José, Vasco, Werther, Lancelot in Bemberg’s Elaine (opposite Melba), Des Grieux (opposite Sibyl Sanderson), Tristan, Siegfried in both Siegfried (opposite Félia Litvinne), and Götterdämmerung (opposite Lillian Nordica), and Rodrigue in Le Cid. He sang a single performance as Canio at the Paris Opéra in 1902. After his retirement, he taught at his villa in Nice. His pupils included Maggie Teyte, Miriam Licette, and Arthur Endrèze. His only extant recordings are primitive Mapleson cylinders recorded during Metropolitan Opera performances. He apparently recorded for Fonotipia, but none of the recordings were published, and there has been no trace of any unpublished test pressings.
RIGAUX, LUCIEN [ba] (Saint-Mandé, 1878 — Paris, 1954)_He attended the Paris Conservatory around the turn of the last century and in 1901 he took first prizes in singing and opéra and a second in opéra-comique. His Paris Opéra debut was as Beckmesser in Die Meistersinger on 16 April 1902. The following season, he made his debut at the Opéra-Comique as Pelléas, and also sang the role of Clément Marot in Messager’s La basoche. In 1909—1911, Rigaux returned to the Paris Opéra, singing Valentin in Faust, and reprising Beckmesser. He was married to operetta singer Jeanne Petit. Rigaux recorded for Odeon, primarily in ensemble selections.
RITTER-CIAMPI, GABRIELLE [so]. (Paris, 1886 — Paimpol, 1974)_The daughter of baritone Ezio Ciampi and soprano Cécile Ritter (Ritter-Ciampi after her marriage; her real name was Stella-Marie Lampe), Gabrielle studied with her parents and her uncle pianist and composer Théodore Ritter. From 1907, she sang in concerts and recitals as Gabrielle Ciampi (sometimes with her younger brother pianist Marcel Ciampi, or with her mother and Raoul Pugno) before making her stage debut in 1917 at the Trianon-Lyrique as Virginie in Victor Massé’s Paul et Virginie, the role her mother created in 1876 for her own debut. After appearing as Violetta, Rosine, and Isabelle in Le pré-aux-clercs she was signed by the Opéra-Comique for a revival of Les noces de Figaro and made her debut Salle Favart in 1919 as the Countess. Her technique and musicianship soon established her as a foremost interpreter of demanding parts at once virtuoso and stylish, not only in Mozart operas (Constanze was a signature role), but also in Guillaume Tell, Les Huguenots (Marguerite), Hamlet, Massenet’s Esclarmonde or Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le coq d’or, all works in which she sang during her 1921-1936 stay at the Paris Opéra. After one season with the Artistes Associés at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, she returned to the Opéra-Comique in 1937 for the house premiere of L’enlèvement au sérail and seems to have retired at the beginning of WWII. If her career was mainly circumscribed to France (she frequently guested in the principal provincial towns) and Monte Carlo, with the odd visit to Salzburg (1932, Die Entführung aus dem Serail under Busch with Roswaenge and Berger), her numerous recordings for Pathé and Polydor accurately reflect a very wide stage and concert repertoire ranging from the seventeenth century to her contemporaries Ravel and Roussel. She briefly came out of her retirement in 1949 for the posthumous creation at the Opéra-Comique of Le oui des jeunes filles by her friend and admirer Reynaldo Hahn.
SIEMS, MARGARETHE [so] (Breslau, 1879 — Dresden, 1952)_Siems was a pupil of Aglaia von Orgeni, who in turn had been a pupil of Pauline Viardot. Siems made her debut at the German Theater in Prague as Marguerite de Valois in Les Huguenots (1902), remaining there until 1908. Later that year, she was engaged by the Dresden Hofoper as the successor to Irene Abendroth. Siems was on the roster there until 1922. She took part in the world premieres of three important Richard Strauss operas: Chrysothemis in Elektra (25 January 1909, Dresden Hofoper); the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (26 January 1911, also at Dresden); and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos (25 October 1912, Stuttgart Hoftheater). On 29 January 1913, Siems made her Covent Garden debut as the Marschallin in the London premiere of Der Rosenkavalier under Sir Thomas Beecham. In 1920, she took a teaching position at Berlin’s Stern Conservatory, while continuing to make concert appearances. She returned to Dresden and continued to teach there and in Warsaw until 1940. Siems’s first recordings were made for G&T in Prague in 1903, followed by a second group of discs in 1906. Outstanding among these are her duets with tenor Desider Aranyi, which are certainly her rarest records. A few years later, she recorded for HMV, Parlophone, Odeon, and Pathé.
SOULACROIX, GABRIEL [bs] (Fumel, 1853 — Soturac, 1905)_Born Gabriel-Valentin Salacroix in the Southwest of France, Soulacroix had an extremely striking career, encompassing a number of prestigious opera houses and an unlikely array of roles. He studied in Toulouse, then at the Paris Conservatory with Masset and Mocker. After second prizes in singing and opéra-comique in 1878, he was signed by La Monnaie, where he made his debut as Escamillo and was the first Papageno (1880) and the first Beckmesser (1885). During his seven seasons in Brussels, he was a regular spring guest at Covent Garden, where he made his debut in 1881 and sang everything from Pedrillo to the title role in Der fliegende Holländer, and from Semiramide to Cavalleria rusticana, not to mention staples of French repertoire. This came to an end with his engagement at the Opéra-Comique, where he was a favorite as Figaro and where Hérold’s Zampa was revived for him, and where he was the first Clément Marot in Messager’s La basoche (1890) as well as Ford for the French premiere of Falstaff (1894), among many other creations. He was on stage with Cécile Merguillier when the May 1887 fire started (his behavior on this occasion earned him a medal). After nine seasons at the Opéra-Comique, he left to star in a successful revival of Planquette’s Rip at the Gaîté, where he also created the same composer’s Panurge (1895). He was then back to La Monnaie and Covent Garden (1898), sang Beckmesser at La Scala under Toscanini, spent one season at the Théâtre-Lyrique, was heard at the Gaîté-Lyrique again, extensively toured France, and basically sang everything everywhere, from saucy operettas with Milly-Meyer at Fursy’s cabaret to La traviata in Saint Petersburg with Cavalieri. Soulacroix was also a regular at Monte Carlo, where among many roles he was the first Prieur in Le jongleur de Notre Dame (1902). By the end of 1903 he was back at the Opéra-Comique. He died at Chalet Rip, the home he had built with his fees from the operetta run, in Soturac, a small village near his native Fumel. An abundant discography of over 100 sides preserves his vividness as performer.
STRACCIARI, RICARDO [ba] (Casalecchio di Reno, near Bologna 1875 — Rome 1955)_One of the great Italian baritones of the 20th century, Ricardo Stracciari enjoyed a career of international scope lasting forty-five years. He possessed a powerful voice and outstanding technique, coupled with tremendous stage presence and fine musical taste. He began singing in the chorus of a local operetta company in Bologna, and studied at the Bologna Conservatory. In December of 1898, Stracciari made a concert debut singing in Pesori’s La risurrezione di Cristo in Florence. His stage debut took place later that month in Bologna as Marcello in La bohème. During the next five years he appeared at theaters throughout Italy as well as Lisbon, Alexandria, and cities in Chile and Uruguay. He made his La Scala debut as Amonasro in 1904; his Covent Garden debut also as Amonsaro in 1905; and his Metropolitan Opera debut as Germont, opposite Marcella Sembrich and Enrico Caruso, in 1906. His other roles at the Met for the following two seasons were Rigoletto, Ashton (Lucia di Lammermoor), Amonasro, Nélusko, Valentin, Marcello, Sharpless, Alfio, Tonio, and Di Luna. It should be noted that the New York critics were less than kind to Stracciari during his run at the Met and after two seasons his only subsequent New York performances were at the Lexington Theatre between 1917 and 1919, as a member of the visiting Chicago company. Stracciari first sang at the Teatro Real (Madrid) in the 1910-1911 season, with the more established Titta Ruffo also in the company that year. Stracciari had the honor of singing Il barbiere di Siviglia at La Scala in 1916, celebrating that venerable house’s centenary. From 1917-1920 Stracciari was touring the Americas; in 1922 he sang in Paris and returned to La Scala; and in 1930, at the age of fifty-five, he was singing in Barcelona and Rome. In the early 1930s, Stracciari and his wife settled in San Remo, as his career began to wind down. The performances became fewer and the houses smaller. Stracciari retired from the stage in 1944 with his last stage performance as Germont at the Teatro Sociale in Como. He settled in Rome after the war, and money was scarce. He taught privately at his home in Rome and at the conservatories of Rome and Naples. He died in Rome at the age of eighty. His recorded legacy is large, consisting of substantial groups of acoustic discs for Fonotipia as well as acoustic and electric Columbia recordings made in America, England, and Italy. He is featured in complete recordings of Rigoletto and Il barbiere di Siviglia, made by Italian Columbia in 1929.
TALEXIS, AMÉLIE [so] (Marseille, 1866 — Calais, 1911)_Born Jeanne-Christine-Victorine, Talexis commonly used Amélie as her first name. She studied piano, cello, and singing at the Toulouse Conservatory, where her singing teacher was Jacques Roudil, a former Paris Opéra baritone. She then continued her studies in Paris with Émilie Ambre (one source claims that she studied with Paul Lhérie) and was signed for the 1896 summer season at Aix-les-Bains. She then went to Nice where she met her future husband Henri Berriel, and spent the 1897-1898 season in Nantes. She then sang with the French Opera in New Orleans in 1898 where Berriel was the director and first baritone of the company. She then sang in Antwerp where she was forte chanteuse falcon at the Théâtre Royal for the 1898-1899 season but where Berriel was refused. In the following four years, she appeared in Montréal (1899-1900), again in New Orleans (1900-1901), Mexico (1901), and Liège (1901-1902). Between these engagements, she guested in Bordeaux where she sang both Eudoxie and Rachel in La Juive in the spring of 1901. She also made appearances in Toulouse and Le Havre. She spent the following seasons in Genève (1903-1904), Toulon (1904-1905), and Barcelona (1905-1906). She joined Toscanini in Buenos Aires for Franchetti’s La figlia di Iorio at the Teatro de la Opera in 1906, also guesting in Montevideo where she sang Donna Anna, and most likely made appearances in other Latin American cities. By 1908 she was back in French territory singing in Algiers. Talexis died in a freak accident in the bathroom of a hotel in Calais on her way to London, after a performance of Xavier Leroux’s Le chemineau. Her repertoire comprised the classic falcon roles of Valentine, Alice in Robert le diable, Berthe in Le prophète, and Sélika, but also Elsa, Mignon, Aida, Léonore in Le Trouvère, Santuzza, Adrienne Lecouvreur, and Salomé in Hérodiade. As evidenced by her recordings, all of which were made for Fonotipia and Odeon, her voice was powerful with a wide range and a secure technique, equally comfortable in French and Italian.
TETRAZZINI, LUISA [so] (Florence, 1871 — Milan, 1940)_Luisa Tetrazzini is, even today, such a well-known operatic legend that we need list only the high points of her career. Her breathtaking coloratura ability and vivacious personality are immediately evident on her many landmark recordings. Tetrazzini received her earliest vocal training from her elder sister, Eva Tetrazzini, 1862-1938, also a successful singer who became the wife of the famous conductor, Cleofonte Campanini, 1860-1919. Luisa Tetrazzini made her debut in Florence in 1890 as Inès in L’Africaine. During her early career, she sang roles such as Lucia, Violetta, Gilda, and Oscar, in the smaller Italian houses, and sang to acclaim in Saint Petersburg, Spain, and Latin America. Her first U. S. appearance was in San Francisco in 1905, and her 1907 Covent Garden debut as Violetta took the operatic world by storm, even rivaling Nellie Melba’s preeminent position in that house. She became an overnight success both on the operatic stage and the concert platform. She appeared with the Manhattan Opera Company in 1908 and remained loyal to the company until its demise. She only sang during one season at the Metropolitan, 1911-1912, as Lucia, Gilda, and Violetta. She was a member of the Boston Opera company from 1911 through 1914, and also sang with the Chicago Company, where her brother in law was the chief conductor and artistic director. In 1914, she appeared at New York’s Hippodrome Theater which could seat five thousand. After the War, she appeared primarily at concert venues still attracting large audiences and garnering commensurate fees. Apparently, her third husband quickly went through her fortune, compelling her to sing into the early 1930s, even appearing in variety and vaudeville shows such as the Boston Cinema in 1932 and the New York Paramount that same year. She died in ill health and relative poverty in Milan.
DE TRÉVILLE, YVONNE [so] (Galveston, Texas, 1881 — New York, 1954)_Born Edith La Gierse, de Tréville’s musical training was first as a harpist. After vocal study in Paris with Mathilde Marchesi, de Tréville made her debut in 1897 with the Castle Square Opera in New York City. The following year she appeared with the same company as Mimì in the first New York performance of Puccini’s La bohème. Her European debut took place in 1902 at the Paris Opéra-Comique as Lakmé. Edmond Stoullig, in his annals of theater and music performances in France for 1902 reported that on “1 June 1902 Mlle Yvonne de Tréville made her debut in Lakmé. Her fresh voice, which she used with some agility, was generally appreciated.” In 1905-1906 de Tréville was the only American singer on the roster of the Saint Petersburg Imperial Opera. She was a leading artist at the Brussels Théâtre de la Monnaie between 1907 and 1909, and in 1909-1910 she appeared at the Vienna Hofoper, singing Rosina and Mimì. After 1912 she returned to America where she appears to have sung mostly in concert, returning to Brussels as a guest artist during the 1920-1921 season. De Tréville’s only recordings were for Edison in the 1914-1916 period, the majority of these made as tone-tests, which today, are virtually never seen. Her 1920s love letters to composer John Powell exist (written prior to his 1928 marriage), but whether de Tréville herself was married is so far unknown.
VEZZANI, CÉSAR [te] (Bastia, Corsica, 1888 — Marseille, 1951)_César Vezzani was one of those rare tenors who had nearly everything: a large and vibrant voice, a ringing top, intelligence, and excellent musicianship. These qualities and an ebullient personality brought him great popularity in the French provinces, and yet, Parisian audiences and critics never really accepted him after his first years at the Opéra-Comique. To be sure, Vezzani was not a French-stylist such as Edmond Clément or Émil Scaramberg, but his choices of repertory did not require that level of elegance. In 1902, the Vezzani family moved to the city of Toulon, where years later, César would make his home. His talent for singing was noticed and he took his first singing lessons briefly at the conservatory of Toulon. In 1908, he and his mother moved to Paris where he eventually gained entrance into the Conservatory. While still a student, Albert Carré, director of the Opéra-Comique, heard Vezzani sing, and promised to engage him at the Comique after the completion of his training. Vezzani made his debut there as Richard Cœur-de-lion in Grétry’s opera on 17 December 1911, receiving favorable notice in the press. His next role was the reaper in Le pardon de Ploërmel, which the Comique was reviving that season for the first time in a quarter century. Another singer in the cast was the veteran baritone, Henri Albers, singing the role of Hoël. They each recorded one aria from the opera, which can be heard on this compilation. For the next three seasons, Vezzani continued to add roles from French and Italian operas, with generally favorable reviews, but with some commenting that he was still not a finished tenor. In 1914, he signed a contract to sing for Oscar Hammerstein’s American Grand Opera Company at New York’s yet unfinished Lexington Theater. This venture never materialized, but Vezzani had by then broken his contract with the Comique, for which Albert Carré never forgave him. He therefore had to look for engagements elsewhere. After World War I, Vezzani appeared during only one Parisian season, again at the Comique, in 1921, and rarely again did he sing in the capital. He sang several seasons in Belgium, quite a number in French North Africa, but for the remainder of his career, he sang in French provincial houses, notably Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Toulon, and Rouen. He excelled in dramatic roles in grands opéras, which had largely disappeared from both Paris houses but which were still popular with French provincial audiences — operas such as Le prophète, L’Africaine, Sigurd, La favorite, and Guillaume Tell. His career came to an abrupt end in August 1948 when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage during a rehearsal at the Toulon Opéra that left him completely paralyzed. He spent the next three years in miserable poverty, living off the charity of friends. He died in a Marseille hospital in 1951. His first recordings were made for Odeon at the time of his Opéra-Comique debut. He also made a very extensive group of acoustic and electric recordings for HMV, committing to wax excerpts from roles he sang on stage and several that he never sang. He recorded Faust opposite Mireille Berthon, Louis Musy, and Marcel Journet in HMV’s sensational 1931 recording of Gounod’s opera.
VIGNEAU, DANIEL [ba] (Le Bouscat, 1881 — Boulogne-Billancourt, 1970) Jean-Daniel-Armand Vigneau studied first at the Société Sainte-Cécile music school in Bordeaux before joining the Paris Conservatory. Following his first prize in opéra-comique in 1907, he made his debut at the house of the same name in Louise. While he sang a few small parts, he was mainly entrusted with substantial ones like Jean in Les noces de Jeannette, Lescaut, Albert, Escamillo, Figaro in Le barbier de Séville, Scarpia, Alfio, Marcel, Boniface in Le jongleur de Notre Dame, Karnac, Blondel in Richard Cœur-de-lion, and was the last interpreter of the title-role of Zampa at the house. He also took part in a number of premieres including Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snegourotchka (1908), Falla’s La vie brève (1913), and Rabaud’s Mârouf (1914). Vigneau seems to have served during the whole length of the war, went back to the Opéra-Comique, then left in 1921 to begin a busy schedule of shorter engagements, notably with both theaters of Nice. After a brief return to the Salle Favart (1923-1924), he created Léo Sachs’s Les Burgraves at the Champs-Élysées (1924), appeared at the Liceu in Barcelona (1924, 1933), in The Hague (1926), guested at the Paris Opéra (1927, 1933, 1940), at Bordeaux, Cannes, Lille, Marseille, Toulouse and a number of summer resorts, as well as in smaller Parisian theaters like the Gobelins or the Alhambra. Though by the late thirties he was mainly doing concert work, the new war brought him a last flurry of engagements and as late as 1944 he was singing Tosca in Bordeaux. His sonorous voice can be heard on a number of sides recorded for Pathé, Odeon, and the Gramophone Company.
YAW, ELLEN BEACH [so] (Boston Corners, NY, 1869 — Covina, California, 1947)_A student of Mme Bjorksen in New York City, where Yaw worked as a law secretary, Yaw was noted as the possessor of an extremely high voice and was considered a musical freak. Wishing to appeal to a discriminating public, she went to Paris and studied with Mathilde Marchesi. Appearing in Rome, she changed her name for a time to Elena Elvanna. In London she was selected by Sir Arthur Sullivan to create the leading soprano role, Sultana Zubedyah, in his opera, The rose of Persia. She was, however, replaced by Isabel Jay as a result of her shaky performances. In 1907 Yaw sang one Lucia at the Metropolitan. She claimed that the Met had offered her a contract but that she had turned it down as she was expecting an engagement at the Vienna Hofoper (which apparently never materialized). The reviews of her Met performance made much about her slender form (Tetrazzini was the competing Manhattan Opera’s Lucia) and how, collapsing after the “mad scene” in her white gown, Yaw appeared as a spilled saucer of milk. Little mention was made of her voice. Yaw’s personal life was also colorful. She married a former cowboy in 1907 and he joined her, at least for a period, in West Covina, California, at her Lark Ellen Ranch. She constructed there the Lark Ellen Bowl as a performance venue for the town. Also named in her honor were the Lark Ellen Elementary School, the Lark Ellen Railroad Station, the Lark Ellen Newsboys Home (in Los Angeles), and the Lark Ellen Fountain of the Birds. Lark Ellen Avenue, one of the main West Covina thoroughfares, was likewise named for her. She also established the Lark Ellen League to bring concerts to hospitals and jails. Yaw retired from active concert touring in 1928 but continued to sing sporadically up to the year of her death, spending much of her time teaching and in charitable pursuits. Her few records were for Berliner (1899), Victor (1907), Edison (1913), Rex (ca. 1913), and private electrical recordings.
L’étoile du nord (1854)
The action takes place in Karelia and Russia in the early eighteenth century, during the Great Northern War (1700-1721).
Act 1. Czar Peter the Great (bass), living in a Karelian village under the borrowed identity of the carpenter Péters Michaeloff, has fallen in love with Catherine (soprano), sister of the joiner and amateur flutist George Skawronski (tenor). A toast is drunk to the country (Chœurs des buveurs: À la Finlande). Catherine recalls that her mother, on the night she died, predicted that a glorious future lay in store for her. Announced by George’s terrified fiancée Prascovia (soprano), a group of Kalmuk soldiers, led by Gritzenko (baritone), bursts in (Chanson: Enfants de l’Ukraine) but the intrepid Catherine, disguised as Vlasta the fortune-teller, sends them on their way. When she learns that her brother, on his wedding-day, is to be conscripted by the Ukrainian invaders, she disguises herself as a soldier and takes his place, recalling the promise she made to her mother to look after his well-being (Final Prière et barcarolle: Veille sur eux toujours).
Act 2. At the Czar’s encampment, a drunken Peter fails to recognize Catherine, still disguised as a soldier, when she is brought before him on the charge of having raised her hand on Gritzenko, now her corporal; she barely escapes being executed. She calls out to Peter on being led away, and now jolted into reality, he recovers when faced with a mutiny, reveals his identity, and galvanizes his troops before the impending battle against the Swedes.
Act 3. In the Czar’s palace in Saint Petersburg, Peter cannot forget Catherine (Récit and Romance: Pour fuir son souvenir ... Ô jours heureux). On hearing that Catherine has been found but lost her sanity, the Czar has the Act 1 village recreated for her, with all her friends present, as on the day of her brother’s wedding. As she hears Peter and her brother play their flutes together again, the shock of remembrance restores her reason (Finale: Quelle douce lueur succède). She marries Peter–now revealed as Czar–and becomes empress of Russia, the ‘Star of the North’, fulfilling her mother’s prophecy.
Le pardon de Ploërmel (1859)
The action takes place in and near the Breton village of Ploërmel.
Act 1: Evening. On the eve of the annual pilgrimage to the Blessed Virgin, the demented peasant girl Dinorah (soprano) sings a lullaby to her pet goat (Berceuse: Bellah! ma chèvre chérie … Dors, petite). She laments the loss of her fiancé Hoël, who deserted her on their wedding-day a year before. The obsessed Hoël (baritone) reappears with the news that he has found a buried treasure (Grand Air: Ô puissante magie) but, aware that the first to touch it is predicted to die, recruits Corentin (tenor) to help him (Enfin l’heure est venue… De l’or, de l’or).
Act 2: Night. Villagers leaving a tavern are told of Dinorah’s sad tale by a Goatherd (mezzo) (Canzonetta: Dites-moi, dites vite… Depuis lors, quand la nuit gagne). Dinorah searches for her goat in the haunted valley (Romance: Le vieux sorcier de la montagne). She dances in the moonlight with her shadow (Air de l’ombre: Ombre légère … La nuit m’environne). As midnight approaches, Hoël and Corentin, looking for the treasure, encounter Dinorah, who reveals to Corentin the legend of the fateful treasure (Légende: Sombre destinée). The gathering storm breaks. Dinorah, pursuing the goat across a flimsy bridge, falls into a raging torrent. Hoël who had not recognized Dinorah at first, does so at last and leaps in to save her.
Act 3: Morning. On the day of the pilgrimage, a hunter (bass) sings a song (Chant du chasseur: En chasse, en chasse, piqueurs adroits), followed by a reaper (tenor), who celebrates the harvest singing (Chant du faucheur: Les blés sont bons à faucher). After his rescue of Dinorah, Hoël now feels deep remorse over his past behavior (Ah! mon remords te venge). As the procession approaches, he realizes that love is the greatest treasure of all. Dinorah, blessed by the Virgin, is restored to health and united with him.
L’Africaine (posthumous, 1865)
The action takes place in Portugal and India, 1497-1498.
Act 1: In the council room of the Admiralty in Lisbon, Inès (soprano), engaged to the explorer Vasco de Gama, recalls their farewell two years before (Romance: Adieu, mon doux rivage). When the council assembles (Chœur d’Évêques: Dieu, que le monde révère), Admiral Don Diégo (bass), her father, promises her hand to Don Pédro (bass), president of the Royal Council, since Vasco is believed to have died with the rest of Bartholomew Díaz’s expedition. But Vasco (tenor) reappears (Récit. de Vasco: J’ai vu, nobles seigneurs). He brings with him two proud slaves, Sélika (soprano) and Nélusko (baritone), captured off Africa, and requests permission to lead a new fleet to colonize previously unknown territories. The council refuses and, when Vasco ridicules their ignorance, he is arrested and imprisoned by the Inquisitor (bass) (Finale: D’impie et de rebelle).
Act 2: In his prison cell, Vasco is consoled by Sélika, who is in love with him (Air du sommeil: Sur mes genoux… Ah! je succombe, hélas). She prevents Nélusko, who declares his devotion to her (Aria: Fille des rois … Quand l’amour m’entraîne), from stabbing his rival. Sélika reveals to the perplexed Vasco the presence of a great island east of Africa. Vasco is filled with affectionate gratitude (Duo: En vain leur impuissante rage… Combien tu m’es chère). A distraught Inès appears and tells Vasco that she has bought his freedom by agreeing to marry Don Pédro, who himself announces that he will lead the new fleet Vasco had requested (Septet: Moi seul il m’aime… Immobile de surprise… Dans les soupirs de la ramure).
Act 3: Aboard Don Pédro’s ship, the women sing of the voyage, and the sailors announce the dawn (Chorus and Reveille: Le rapide et léger navire … Debout, matelots! ... Voyez-vous l’aurore). Inès joins them in prayer (Ô grand saint Dominique). Nélusko, whom Pédro has rashly made his pilot, summons the sailors and sings a ballad about the menacing giant of the ocean (Recitative and Ballade: Hola, matelots... Adamastor, roi des vagues profondes). A caravel appears, bringing Vasco, who warns Pédro of impending disaster, but Pédro refuses to listen and has him arrested (Duo: Je viens à vous malgré ma haine). A typhoon breaks, as Nélusko steers the ship onto a reef.
Act 4: Outside a Hindu temple in India. The Portuguese have been massacred, save for Vasco. After the ceremonial entrance of the restored queen Sélika into the temple, Vasco wanders in and sings rapturously about the beauty of the surroundings, which he claims as his own (Grand Air: Pays merveilleux ... Ô paradis). He pleads with the natives who surround him to be spared and returned to Portugal (Cabalette: Conduisez-moi vers ce navire). Sélika saves him from execution by claiming she and Vasco are married, reducing Nélusko to despair by forcing him to confirm it (Cavatine de Nélusko: L’avoir tant adorée). The High Priest of Brahma (bass) blesses their union, giving them a love potion to drink (Morceau d’ensemble: Brama! Wichnou! Shiva!). Left alone with Sélika, the drugged Vasco is overwhelmed with gratitude and surrenders to her affection (Grand Duo: Jamais nulle mortell e... Ô transports, ô douce extase ... Ô ma Sélika). Maidens prepare their nuptials (Chœur dansé: Remparts de gaze).
Act 5: Inès, believed dead by Vasco, has managed to escape from the poisonous fumes of the manchineel tree. Sélika, filled with grief and jealousy, realizes that she cannot ever become Vasco’s true wife and orders Nélusko to oversee Vasco’s and Inès’s safe return home. Sélika now seeks out the manchineel tree on a promontory overlooking the vast ocean. As the noxious perfume takes effect, she imagines herself united to Vasco in heaven, while Nélusko joins her in death (Grande Scène du Mancenillier: D’ici je vois la mer ... Ô temple magnifique ... La haine m’abandonne ... Quels célestes accords).