OP0058. CARMEN, recorded 1911, Pathé, w.Ruhlmann Cond. l’Opéra-Comique Ensemble; Marguerite Méréntié, Agustarello Affre, Henri Albers, Hippolyte Belhomme, Aline Vallandri, etc. 2-Marston 52019. Transfers by Ward Marston. - 638335201924
"Today this stands as the most important CARMEN document of all, as it features female leads, chorus, orchestra and conductor of the Opéra-Comique, the very institution for which CARMEN had been created and whose aesthetic conventions guided its inspiration. While 36 years had elapsed since the premiere this set is as close as we can ever come to experiencing the original concept. The result is revelatory. Running a full 2½ hours (spread over 54 (!) original sides running from less than 2 to 3¼ minutes), it challenges our very notion of the work. Rather than a continuum of music, the set pieces are spread amid lengthy stretches of dialogue, voiced in the lightly-inflected mellifluous tradition of classical French light comedy. This is a team effort in which dialogue and music blend effortlessly together, shorn of raging egos. (The team may have been larger than the usual opera cast – a vast audible change as Don José shifts from dialogue to his Act I duet with Micaëla suggests that separate singers and actors may have been used for the recording.)
The sonic quality is extraordinary for its time (and undoubtedly is abetted by a superb CD transfer by Ward Marston). With only rare exceptions, the balances are natural, all the instruments and voices are clearly heard with sufficient timbre to distinguish them, the volume of the soft parts isn't boosted (even at the expense of Micaëla's entrance being barely audible), climaxes avoid distortion, cymbals crash in the Act I finale, and sonic continuity is preserved among the discs. Of the featured singers, Mérentié and Vallandri were current stars of the Opéra-Comique, while Affre and Albers specialized in French repertoire. Mérientié may not have been famous, but she presents a fine blend of delicate allure and confident power. Ruhlmann's tempi are moderate and well-judged, but with occasional appropriate adjustments (somber for the card scene, ecstatic for the ‘liberté’ finale of Act II). We may never know how Bizet wanted his masterpiece to be heard, but this recording brings us as near as we will ever get.”
- Peter Gutmann
"Here we have Marguerite Mérientié as a down to earth gypsy who simply lets the character sing for itself, as it were, without imposing any startlingly imaginative personality....the rest of the cast are colorful, idiomatic in all senses of the word, and give the feeling of a live performance....The detailed notes are almost worth the price of the set alone and tell the story with more leisure than I can afford here.
Agustarello Affre held his own with Escalaïs, de Reszke, Van Dyck, Alvarez, Saléza, Scaramberg, Muratore and Franz in a career that lasted two decades. Affre made his début at the Paris Opéra in 1890 as Edgardo in Lucia with Nellie Melba. At the Opéra, he created rôles in operas by Massenet and Saint-Saëns and also sang Canio and Belmonte for the first time. Affre never sang at the Opéra-Comique, but during his career he made guest appearances in Lyon, Marseille, Brussels, London, New Orleans, Havana and San Francisco.
Henri Albers, born Johan Hendrik Albers, was a Dutch-born opera singer who later became a French citizen. He sang leading baritone roles in an international career that spanned 37 years and was a prominent singer at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels and the Opéra-Comique in Paris, which was his base from 1900 until his death. He also sang in 36 performances with the Metropolitan Opera company from 1898 to 1899. He made many recordings for Pathé Records and specialised in the heavier baritone and basso cantante repertoire.
Albers was born in Amsterdam and initially trained and worked as an actor. He then studied singing at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and was engaged by Johannes George De Groot to sing with his newly established Hollandsche Opera company. He made his operatic début in 1889 as Méphistophélès in a Hollandsche Opera production of Gounod's FAUST and during the next two years continued singing leading roles with the company. In 1891, on the recommendation of De Groot, he met with the French composer Jules Massenet and auditioned for him. Massenet was impressed and encouraged him to study further in Paris and to broaden his horizons beyond Amsterdam. After further studies in Paris with Jean-Baptiste Faure, Albers made his first stage appearance outside Holland when he was engaged by the French opera company in Antwerp. In 1892, he sang Jean d'Hautecoeur in the company's first production of Alfred Bruneau's LE RÊVE and began a lifelong friendship with the composer, appearing in many of his operas.
After Antwerp, Albers was engaged as Principal Baritone at the Opéra de Bordeaux and went on to sing at the Royal Opera House in London and the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. He was engaged by the Metropolitan Opera in 1898 and sang with the company both on tour and in New York. He made his company début on 8 November 1898 as Mercutio in the Met's touring performance of ROMÉO ET JULIETTE in Chicago. He remained with the company through 1899, appearing 36 times in eight different operas and singing his first Wagnerian role, Wolfram in TANNHÄUSER. On his return to Europe he sang regularly at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels from 1901 to 1906 and added several more Wagnerian roles to his repertoire. A highly versatile singer, he also appeared in the title roles of La Monnaie's productions of HAMLET, RIGOLETTO, HÉRODIADE, and LE ROI ARTHUS, as well as singing Count di Luna in IL TROVATORE, Iago in OTELLO, and Baron Scarpia in TOSCA.
In 1899, he had also been engaged by the Opéra-Comique in Paris where he sang leading baritone and bass-baritone roles for the next 25 years in 39 different operas. Although it became his ‘home’ opera house, he continued to appear at La Monnaie, the Paris Opéra, and several other European opera houses from time to time. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1920. In late August 1926 at Aix-les-Bains, Albers once again sang the role of Jean d'Hautecoeur in LE RÊVE. A month later, he died in Paris of a sudden illness at the age of 60. At the time of his death, he was on the administrative council of the Union des Artistes dramatiques et lyriques des théâtres français.”
- Robert Baxter, Program Notes