OP3206. PÉNÉLOPE (Fauré), Live Performance, 9 March, 1974, Théâtre des Champs Élysées, w. Paray Cond. ORTF Ensemble; Liliane Gitton, Guy Chauvet, Ernest Blanc, Robert Massard, Jocelyn Taillon, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-416. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“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, totaling 63 performances. On 14 March, 1943 the Paris Opera staged PÉNÉLOPE, conducted by Ruhlmann, with Lubin in the title role.”
- Z. D. Akron
"Guy Chauvet was the youngest of what Jean Giraudeau (a noted tenor himself) and Jean Gourret in their comprehensive book LES PRESTIGIEUX TÉNORS DE L’OPÉRA DE PARIS termed ‘La Dernier Vague’ (The Last Wave). They were aware of the gradual decline in the number of fine tenors that used to dominate the French operatic scene during the first half of the 20th century….[Chauvet is] a remarkable tenor talent.”
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2014
“French tenor Guy Chauvet was born in Montluçon 2 October 1933. In 1954 he was co-winner of a tenor competition in Cannes, along with Alain Vanzo, Gustave Botiaux, Tony Poncet, and Roger Gardes - a pretty impressive assemblage of talent! Chauvet made his Paris Opéra début in 1959, starting with comprimario parts, finally advancing to lead roles. He soon established himself as an important presence, both in France and, ultimately, in many of the world’s other major opera houses. He sang numerous roles in the French and Italian repertoire, and became particularly well-known for such heroic parts as Aeneas and Samson.
Guy Chauvet was without question a talented singer, and one who filled a pressing need during a time when the grand tradition of the French heroic tenor was in decline….Typical of this singer’s work in general, the diction is idiomatic and crystal-clear....Chauvet displays all of the other qualities that are the heart and soul of great French tenor singing - a seamless legato, a masterful application of the mixed voice, and an ideal balance between elegance and passion. It’s also quite impressive to hear Chauvet demonstrate an ease and mastery of style and technique in music ranging from the 18th century to verismo. And if all of these attributes inspire comparison to Chauvet’s great predecessor, Georges Thill, the singing on this disc justifies such comparisons. We hear some absolutely first-rate French tenor singing. Highly recommended.”
K. M., classicalcdreview, Sept., 2004
“Massard made his professional début at the Paris Opéra in 1952, as the High Priest in SAMSON ET DALILA, shorthly followed by Valentin in FAUST. The same year, he also made his début at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, as Thoas in IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE. His career rapidly took an international dimension with débuts in 1955, at La Scala and the Glyndebourne Festival, both as Ramiro in L'HEURE ESPAGNOLE. Oreste in IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE was his début role at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Royal Opera House in London, and the Edinburgh Festival. Massard also appeared in North and South America, notably at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, at Carnegie Hall and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Henceforth considered one of the best French baritones of his generation, he was internationally acclaimed as Valentin in FAUST, Escamillo in CARMEN, Fieramosca in BENVENUTO CELLINI, and Golaud in PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE.”
- Ned Ludd
“Paray established a solid reputation as a French conductor, heading orchestras in Lamoureux, Monte Carlo and Paris. French culture is the most deeply chauvinistic of any, proudly defended to the death against the pollution of foreign influence. Indeed, the most famous French music has a unique sound, often described as impressionistic, much like the paintings of Monet and Renoir. It’s a valid analogy. Like that art, French impressionist music is concerned more with color effects than formal structure, as sensual melodies briefly appear before flitting away. While the overall effect is of subtle, blended mist, the sound is achieved through a layering of distinct instruments, much as in a Seurat painting in which the pastel atmosphere arises from dots of intense color. That’s what Paray gives us – not a sonic blur but precise dabs of bold instrumental coloration.
Paray brought to all his work the highest achievement in any art, whether acting, painting or music – from careful preparation, constant revision and grueling work emerges something natural, accessible and inviting. And through this process, Paray created and preserved an island of his native land in a most unlikely place, as distant geographically and culturally as could be. His DSO records prove his undeniable success.”
- Peter Gutmann, classicalnotes.net