OP0924. FAUST, recorded 1911, Pathé, w.Ruhlmann Cond. Léon Beyle, Jeanne Campredon, André Gresse, Jean Noté, Pierre Dupré, etc. 3-Marston 53007. Transfers by Ward Marston. - 638335300726
"To my ears, the star is Léon Beyle, a beautiful lyric tenor with just the right ‘heft’ for this taxing role….As Méfistofélès, André Gresse offers a salutary reminder of the number of fine French bassos of the period….[All remaining artists] offer insights into the performing style of a period when there were a considerable number of superb Francophone singers performing at the Opéra and Opéra-Comique in Paris….As ever with Marston, the set is well documented, the booklet a model of its kind."
- Stanley Henig, CLASSIC RECORD COLLECTOR, Autumn, 2006
“With one exception, the cast assembled by Pathé Frères for their complete FAUST was not only typical of the Opéra roster of the time, it was among the best available in Paris. As the heroine, they chose the young soprano, Jeanne Campredon, who had made the role her own at the time of the recording. Pathé’s choice for Méphistophélès was André Gresse, who had been one of the foremost exponents of the role since 1901. Valentin was entrusted to the dependable and popular Belgian baritone, Jean Noté, who had been singing the part since 1896. Even the smaller parts were carefully cast: Marguerite d’Elty was a special Opéra favorite as Siebel, and Jeanne Goulancourt was a noted Dame Marthe. The glaring exception was the title role, which was entrusted to Léon Beyle, a highly regarded tenor who had switched allegiance from the Opéra to the Opéra-Comique early in his career, and had therefore not performed Faust in Paris. It should be remembered that in those days, the repertoires of the two Paris houses were mutually exclusive, and Faust was the strict prerogative of the Opéra. The choice of an Opéra-Comique tenor as the protagonist is all the more perplexing since Pathé currently had in their stable several tenors who had distinguished themselves in this role - they could have engaged the veteran Agustarello Affre or either of two young and promising tenors, Robert Lassalle or Charles Fontaine.
It is possible that Léon Beyle had sung Faust in his Lyon days and he had certainly previously recorded solo and concerted extracts from the opera, so there is no doubt that the role was within his ability.
It is significant that all of the singers on this recording were well known in France at the time and yet, except for Jean Noté, none of them figures in modern standard reference works: SINGING ON RECORD, THE RECORD OF SINGING, or DIE GROSSEN SÄNGER. This present reissue thus attempts to provide some information on these unjustly neglected artists.
Jeanne Campredon came to Paris for her musical training and studied at the Conservatoire under the famous baritone Max Bouvet. She made her debut at the Paris Opéra on 13 March 1908 in the taxing role of the Queen in Meyerbeer’s LES HUGUENOTS, winning praise for her ‘brilliant voice and acting full of charm’. At the beginning of the 1909/1910 season she essayed Mathilde in GUILLAUME TELL, and ’her pretty voice and secure vocalization won the audience over’. Later in the season she added the diverse roles of Ophélie in HAMLET, Gilda in RIGOLETTO, and Freia in the Opéra’s first performance of DAS RHEINGOLD. Marguerite in FAUST was to become her own special role, which she sang for the first time on 25 August 1910 ‘to thunderous applause’. Following Opéra tradition, the first performance of each new year was FAUST and on 2 January 1911 Campredon led the cast with Paul Franz, Marcel Journet, Marcelin Duclos, and Jeanne Goulancourt. Her commitments at the Opéra were such that Campredon had little time to appear abroad, and these appearances were generally limited to North Africa, Monte Carlo, Geneva, and Luxemburg, though she also sang in Stockholm. In addition to the stage, she sang at many concerts in Paris and in the main provincial centers. When she retired in the mid-1930s, she devoted herself fully to the teaching activities she had taken up while still performing. Her most famous pupil was undoubtedly Leila ben Sedira, who was also born in Algeria and who became one of the great coloratura sopranos at the Opéra-Comique.
Listening to her performance of Marguerite, it is easy to understand why she was so often cast in the role. Her strong but flexible voice provides the solution to the challenge that all Marguerites must tackle: how to combine the power needed for the Church Scene and Apotheosis with the lyricism required for the ‘Garden Scene’, and yet also deal effortlessly with the coloratura of the ‘Jewel Song’. Campredon certainly has the reserves of power needed - she seems to dominate the final trio. But her coloratura was also up to the mark and she negotiates the trills of the ‘Jewel Song’ with aplomb.
Léon Beyle 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 onto a 15-year career as one of the house’s leading tenors. His repertoire at the Opéra-Comique was vast, ranging from 18th century operas, ALCESTE and IPHIGÉNIE EN TAURIDE, which were being revived at the time, to traditional French 19th 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. 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. Other records of his, featuring operetta and popular songs, appeared under the pseudonym Stendhal, a nod to the 19th century novelist, whose real name was also Beyle.
Listening to his performance here, it is hard to imagine that Beyle was not a regular interpreter of Faust. Yet it seems certain that, at least in Paris, he never sang the role. He is unquestionably fluent in his part, though some of his earlier recordings find him in fresher voice.
André Gresse [was] the son of the famous basse noble Léon Gresse, who was a pillar of the Opéra until his death. André went to the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied singing with Taskin and Melchissédec. His first stage performance was at the Opéra-Comique in 1896 as the Commendatore in DON GIOVANNI. He remained there for several seasons, creating roles in Massenet’s SAPHO and Erlanger’s JUIF POLONAISE. In 1901 he moved to the Opéra where his first role was Saint-Bris in LES HUGUENOTS, and it was not long before he sang Méphistophélès, a role which he was to make his own. He also sang Méphistophélès in Berlioz’s DAMNATION DE FAUST. The high point of his career may well have been the creation of Sancho Pança in Massenet’s DON QUICHOTTE, sung opposite Feodor Chaliapin at Monte Carlo in 1910. On retirement, Gresse taught singing at the Paris Conservatoire.
Jean Noté is still something of a legend in his native Belgium. His hometown, Tournai, has a street and a concert hall named after him. His voice is said to have been discovered while he was doing military service. He was asked to sing at the Fête de Sainte-Barbe and was heard by Adolphe Samuel, the director of the Ghent Conservatorium who was able to exempt him from further service. Noté studied music there for four years, but did not wait to graduate before singing, and appeared in Tournai in song and operatic excerpts. After graduation, he sang first in Ghent, and then in various other Belgian and French opera houses before making his debut in 1887 at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, where he was to remain for six seasons. The central point of his career was at the Paris Opéra, beginning in 1893, where he sang myriad roles. Of all the singers on this recording Noté is the one who sang most often outside Belgium and France, with appearances in London, Berlin, and New York. He appeared at the Metropolitan during its 1908—1909 season: Rigoletto to Alda’s Gilda, and Comte des Grieux to Farrar’s Manon.
Noté’s singing tends to be disparaged by English-speaking critics and collectors….yet, contemporary critics in France and Belgium were fulsome in their praise. Could it be that non-French listeners have an expectation of how a French singer should sound, and they appreciate what they hear according to this expectation? Thus, elegant singers such as Plançon and Clément are praised, whereas those who do not correspond to this preconception, Fanny Heldy and Solange Delmas, for example, are rejected.
François Ruhlmann was engaged at the Opéra-Comique in 1905, and conducted his first work at the Opéra in 1911 (Massenet’s THÉRÈSE) but did not become a regular conductor there until 1916. His first assignment was THAÎS, and in subsequent years, he virtually took over the entire house repertoire. From 1940 until 1946, he was the Musical Director and in 1944, he was at the helm for the lavish 2000th performance of FAUST. On retirement, Ruhlmann was replaced by his near contemporary, Henri Büsser, known to posterity not only as a composer but also as the conductor of the 1931 complete recording of FAUST featuring César Vezzani and Marcel Journet.”
- John Humbley