OP0169. LA FAVORITE (Original French Version), recorded 1912, Pathé. w.Ruhlmann Cond. l’Opéra-Comique Ensemble: Ketty Lapeyrette, Robert Lassalle, Robert Marvini, Henri Albers, etc. 2-Marston 52010. Transfers by Ward Marston. Very Long Out-of-Print! Final copy! - 638335201023
“When the 1912 Pathé LA FAVORITE was made, its sole purpose was to provide home entertainment. Little did Pathé realize that its ambitious and unprecedented series of 11 acoustic operas would provide one of the most valuable operatic time capsules in the entire history of the phonograph. The Pathés record a period in French operatic history, and provide us with definitive, irrefutable documentation of how Gounod, Massenet, and Bizet expected their operas to be performed. But Pathé didn't just confine itself to the Belle Époque. Through its superb French-language recordings of Verdi operas, we hear performance traditions that reach back to the mid-19th century. And in LA FAVORITE - almost as if Pathé decided to turn the crank one more notch on H. G. Wells' time machine - this idiosyncratic company invites us to travel back even further, to the year 1840 to be exact.
Of the many splendid, ‘must-buy’ historical reissues on CD, Marston's brilliantly transferred release of the 1912 recording of Donizetti's LA FAVORITE is truly unique. Not only is this the solitary studio recording of the original French version of one of Donizetti's finest operas, but of the 50-plus recordings of his operas currently in the catalog, this 1912 LA FAVORITE is very likely the only performance that the composer (who died in 1848) would recognize as legitimate were he able to listen to them all. Those who only know LA FAVORITE in the bastardized Italian version LA FAVORITA (The New Grove Dictionary of Opera calls it ‘corrupt’) - especially as performed in recent times as vehicles for mezzos more suited to late Verdi and verismo - will no doubt find this authentic French recording revelatory. In fact, out of all of the hundreds of complete recordings of many famous and not so famous bel canto operas, the 1912 LA FAVORITE stands alone for its stylistic integrity and purity. There's really nothing else like it; the closest might be the 1932 [Schipa] DON PASQUALE and the 1918 Phonotype [de Lucia] IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA.
At the time Pathé recorded LA FAVORITE, both the Paris Opéra and Opéra-Comique still rigidly maintained their sacred traditions. Not only were all operas, regardless of their original languages, sung in French, but scores and performing editions from the past were faithfully adhered to. New exponents of roles would be coached by the previous generation, which in many instances included their instructors. (Even in a recording made as recently as the 1955 LE BARBIER DE SÉVILLE, a point at which the French traditions were in their last gasp, the singers can be heard trying, with varying success, to execute florid ornamentation and elaborate cadenzas that strikingly resemble those heard on turn-of-the-century recordings by their illustrious predecessors.) The entire cast of the 1912 Pathé LA FAVORITE reflects those once unbroken traditions.
LA FAVORITE was composed specifically for the Paris Opéra, where it received its world premiere in 1840. The opera became a repertoire staple in Paris, receiving 692 performances by 1918, the last year it was performed there. One of the Léonors in 1918 was Ketty Lapeyrette, who sings the role on the 1912 Pathé recording. A beautiful woman, Lapeyrette must have been an irresistible Léonor on-stage. Although she was not perhaps as strong a vocalist as other French mezzos of the period, she gave a thrilling performance. Her ‘O mon Fernand’ is distinguished by its intensity of expression. The tenor, Robert Lassalle (son of the famed baritone Jean Lassalle), was a first-rate Fernand, steady in his declamation and eloquent in his arias, duets, and ensembles – a worthy successor to the legendary Gilbert Duprez. ‘Ange si pur’, perhaps the best, known aria in LA FAVORITE, is beautifully sung by Lassalle. As fine as were the romantic pair, the undoubted star in the performance was the great Belgian baritone Henri Albers, featuring his fully committed performance of a complex character. Indeed his singing of ‘Pour tant d'amour’ and ‘Léonor, viens’ is equal to the great Italian-language recordings by Battistini, even surpassing the Italian in spinning out a perfect trill. The bass Robert Marvini made a superb Balthazar, deep and dark-hued in ‘Les cieux s'emplissent d'étincelles’. Although the effectiveness of the chorus is limited due to the primitive acoustic, there's no mistaking their idiomatic singing. The performance, which includes six minutes of the ballet, is tautly conducted by the eminent French conductor François Ruhlmann.
Those who have known this performance from the perfectly decent LP edition on Bourg will recognize that Ward Marston has worked wonders in correcting the many flaws and anomalies that resulted from Pathé's peculiar engineering process (Marston gives a particularly cogent description of their bizarre methods in the FAVORITE booklet). Although the sound remains dim and cannot be remotely compared to modern technology, Marston's efforts were Herculean in obtaining a transfer of such listenable quality - the engineer scoured the world for as many copies of these rare records as possible, a necessity as it turned out, since some copies of the records had less music on them than others! The notes by William Ashbrook are first-rate, among the best I've seen for a project of this type. Special care was taken to obtain superior illustrations of the attractive cast.
The significance of this recording cannot be overemphasized. We have no way of knowing what performances were like in the time of Handel, Mozart, or Beethoven, but here, in this one precious instance, we have a living, breathing example of what an audience would have experienced in 1840 - the earliest such repertoire document. The 1912 LA FAVORITE is an absolute ‘must’ for anyone interested in this repertoire; it is the preeminent historic vocal reissue of our time.
- James Camner, FANFARE, Jan./Feb., 1999
“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.”
- Zillah Dorset Akron