OP1799. PÉNÉLOPE (Fauré), Broadcast Performances, 11 Nov., 1951, w.Inghelbrecht Cond. ORTF Ensemble; Berthe Monmart, Christiane Gayraud, Georges Jouatte, André Vessières, Charles Paul & Charles Cambon. (France) 2-Malibran 699. - 3760003776995
“PÉNÉLOPE is an opera in three acts by the French composer Gabriel Fauré. The libretto, by René Fauchois, is based on Homer's ODYSSEY. In 1907 the Wagnerian soprano Lucienne Bréval encountered Fauré in Monte Carlo. She expressed surprise that he had never written an opera, and introduced him to the young René Fauchois, who had recently written a play based on the section of the ODYSSEY dealing with Ulysses' return to Ithaca. Work on the score was slow because Fauré's teaching and administrative duties as head of the Paris Conservatoire left him only the summer holidays free for composing. For this reason he asked Fauchois to reduce the libretto from five to three acts and to cut the character of Ulysses' son Telemachus.
Fauré worked on the opera each summer between 1907 and 1912. He orchestrated most of the piece himself, in contrast with his frequent practice of delegating orchestration to one of his students. However, at the end of October 1912 he had orchestrated only half the score; with the premiere announced for the following March he recognised that with his commitments to the Conservatoire entrance examinations he needed the help of an assistant to ensure that the score would be completed in time.
Of composers of his generation, Fauré was one of the least influenced by Wagner, but for PÉNÉLOPE he adopted two essential elements of Wagner's compositional technique: character and themes are represented by leitmotifs, and the music is mostly continuous, with no individual arias. These are the only ways in which the work is Wagnerian, though the two main roles call for voices of heroic quality.
The premiere at Monte Carlo was not a great success, partly because the director of the theatre, Raoul Gunsbourg, was more concerned with promoting his own opera, VÉNISE, which made its début four days later. Fauré was not greatly troubled at the modest success of the piece: he regarded the Monte Carlo production as ‘a rehearsal for Paris’, where the work was to be given two months later. PÉNÉLOPE was rapturously received at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris on 10 May, 1913. Several newspapers from foreign countries thought it worthwhile sending their critics to the premiere. The Paris cast was headed by Bréval, with Lucien Muratore as Ulysse, Cécilie Thévenet as Euryclée and Paul Blancard as Eumée. Muratore in particular was considered a great improvement on his Monte Carlo counterpart.
The piece was only very briefly the principal topic of discussion in Parisian musical circles: less than three weeks after the premiere of the opera the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was the venue for the first performance of THE RITE OF SPRING. The scandal at and after the ballet's premiere preoccupied the French press, and Fauré's opera was hardly mentioned. A second blow to the fame of PÉNÉLOPE was the financial collapse and near bankruptcy of the theatre six months after the premiere. The sets and costumes had to be sold.
The Opéra-Comique took PÉNÉLOPE into its repertoire on 20 January, 1919, with a cast including Germaine Lubin in the title role and Charles Rousselière as Ulysse and Félix Vieuille as Eumée, conducted by François Ruhlmann. Later revivals were conducted by Albert Wolff (1922), Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht (1924, with Claire Croiza in the title role), and Wolff again in 1927 and 1931, totalling 63 performances. On 14 March, 1943 the Paris Opera staged PÉNÉLOPE, conducted by Ruhlmann, with Lubin in the title role.”
“Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht was one of the most prominent French conductors of the first half of the twentieth century and a leading champion of the work of composer Claude Debussy. His family was musical: His father was a viola player in the Opéra de Paris and his mother was a pianist and violinist. They taught him the violin early on and enrolled him in the Paris Conservatory's courses on solfège and harmony under Taudou. For whatever reason, after several years there, he was expelled on the ground of ‘musical ineptitude’.
This did not prevent him from getting a musical job, for he joined an orchestra as a violinist. He learned the art of conducting from observation and self-study and débuted as a conductor in 1908 at the Théâtre des Arts. He became friends with Debussy, who asked him to prepare the choruses for the première of LE MARTYR DE ST. SÉBASTIEN in 1911. After this, he became director of music at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in 1913. In that position, he conducted the first French-language production of Mussorgsky's BORIS GODUNOV.
He remained closely associated with theater music throughout his conducting career. Two major exceptions came in 1928 to 1932 when he led the Pas de Loup Concerts and after 1934, the year in which he founded the Orchestra National de la Radiodiffusion Française. This orchestra, whose name is sometimes given as the French Radio Orchestra or the O.R.F. (later O.R.T.F. Orchestra), is one of Paris' leading orchestras and the country's premier broadcast orchestra. He had two terms as its musical director, 1934 - 1944 and 1951 - 1958. His theatrical appointments included the Ballets Suédois (or Swedish Ballet, a French group despite its name) (1920 - 1923), the Opéra-Comique (1924 - 1925, 1932 - 1933), the Algiers Opéra (1929 - 1930), and the Paris Opéra (1945 - 1950). Throughout his life, he was regarded as the primary champion of Debussy's opera PÉLLEAS ET MÉLISANDE and his recording of it is recognized as an authentic representation of the style of its original performances. He was also a prolific composer in a style similar to those of Debussy or late Fauré, with subtle, clear orchestration. His best-known composition is LE NURSERY (1905 - 1911), a five-volume piano suite that he also orchestrated.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com
“Soprano Berthe Monmart débuted at L’Opéra–Comique on 18 April, 1951 as the Countess in NOZZE. She then appeared as Ariadne in ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, Santuzza in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, Fiordiligi in COSÌ FAN TUTTE and Charlotte in WERTHER.”
- Zillah Dorset Akron
“In the firmament of model French singers, Charles Cambon figures amongst the greatest. Thanks to the good instincts of certain artistic directors, this voice of exceptional timbre, power and range has been preserved for us in all its splendour.
Charles Cambon joined the chorus at l’Opéra in 1923, amking his solo début a year later in a small role in BORIS GODUNOV. He would remain thrity years in this illustrious theatre, making an impression as Amonasro, Valentin, Ottokar in DER FREISCHÜTZ, as Sylvio in PAGLIACCI and as the Dutchman. He appeared only once at l’Opéra-Comique as a memorable Zurga in LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES. But it was radio and records that brought him fame. True opera-lovers never missed the broadcasts in which he starred, admiring his diction, his fearlessness, his fabulous top notes but also his sensibility and his dramatic instincts in the greatest roles; Rigoletto, Luna in IL TROVATORE, Athanaël, Iago and of course Hamlet.
Charles Cambon died in Paris on 17 September,1965. He lives on, thanks to recordings, as one of the most admired baritones of the French vocal tradition.”
- Jean Ziegler