OP2191. LES NOCES DE JEANNETTE (Massé), recorded 1922, Pathé, w.Haleti Cond. Ninon Vallin, Léon Ponzio, Laurent & de Busson; GALATHÉE, recorded 1912, Pathé, w.Archainbaud Cond. André Gresse, Alex Jouvin, Albert Vaguet & Jane Morlet (both Victor Massé). 3-Marston 53010. Transfers by Ward Marston. - 638335301020
"Ninon Vallin was without doubt the most completely recorded of all major French singers of the first half of the twentieth century. She was born Eugénie Vallin in Montalieu-Vercieu not far from Lyon on or about 7 September 1886, and died near Lyon on 22 November 1961. She studied music at the Conservatoire in Lyon for three years and continued at the Conservatoire Fémina-Musica with Meyrianne Héglon. Her legacy is enhanced by the fact that her recording career paralleled her appearances on stage and the concert platform. The Record Collector (volume 48, no. 2, 2003) provides a comprehensive discography and much hitherto unknown material on her career, so the remarks here merely draw attention to the close relationship between her stage career and recordings.
Vallin’s début at the Opéra-Comique in 1912 was as Micaëla in CARMEN, whose third act aria she recorded in 1921, and the duet “Parle-moi de ma mere” in 1934 with Miguel Villabella. In 1926, during her second Opéra-Comique period, Vallin appeared more frequently in the title rôle, subsequently singing it often both in France and abroad. She recorded extensive extracts of CARMEN, both solos and duets, mostly electric recordings. MIGNON was added to Vallin’s repertoire during her initial Opéra-Comique season, the first of the rôles tending towards the mezzo end of the soprano range, which particularly suited her voice. She remained associated with the rôle of Mignon, and was chosen to sing the feted 1600th performance at the Opéra-Comique in 1927. She recorded two versions of “Connais-tu le pays?”, both duets with Lothario, and “Elle est aimée”, though she never committed the Styrienne to wax. Louise, a rôle first assumed by Vallin in 1914, played an important part in her stage and recording career. She recorded “Depuis le jour” on six occasions, and sang the title rôle in Columbia’s 1935 abridged recording of the opera. Mimi in LA BOHÈME was also one of Vallin’s major rôles, sung in French for the Opéra-Comique performances and in Italian for those in South America. Mimi’s entrance and farewell were recorded in several versions (all in French), and in 1932, Vallin recorded the quartet and extracts from the final scene with Villabella. She twice recorded Musetta’s waltz, though there is no evidence she ever sang the rôle on stage. Manon, a rôle she assumed in 1915, was to be even more important for Vallin, as she sang it in France and both North and South America throughout most of her career. Sadly, there is no complete recording, but she did commit to wax all the arias and most of the duets save the finale. Charlotte in WERTHER, another rôle midway between soprano and mezzo, fared better, as there is the 1932 complete recording with Georges Thill, as well as many extracts recorded in the years between the wars.
Vallin remained at the Opéra-Comique until disagreement with the manager, Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi forced her to leave in 1915. She sang extensively in Latin America, then returning to Paris, though this time to the Opéra for her first THAÏS in 1920, quickly adding the two Marguerites (FAUST and LA DAMNATION DE FAUST), before her career there came to an abrupt end, followed by another stint in Latin America. Berlioz’s Marguerite is represented by an abbreviated version of the two arias in a recording from the period of her Opéra appearances and in more substantial extracts recorded at the end of her career in 1955. Gounod’s Marguerite is represented by the two famous arias recorded in several versions, and the garden and church scenes recorded in 1930. Vallin’s return to the Opéra-Comique in 1924 featured her as Louise, while the following year, she again sang both Marguerites at the Opéra. She toured France and the world in subsequent years, with concerts taking up more of her activity than opera. Her repertoire of French and Spanish songs are well represented on disc, though there is little of the Debussy with which she was associated at the beginning of her career.
LES NOCES DE JEANNETTE cannot be counted among Vallin’s major stage rôles. She does not seem to have sung the rôle at the Opéra-Comique, but Alfred de Cock has documented her performances of the rôle in Montevideo in 1921. A decade later Pathé called on Vallin again, this time with André Baugé who often performed the rôle of Jean on stage, to record the confrontation scene (Halte-là, s’il vous plaît!) first in 1931 and again in 1934. She is very amusing indeed as Jeannette, displaying talent and individuality more than actual schooling in a given tradition, sounding altogether more modern, a bit like a young Gaby Morlay—quite charming.
Léon Ponzio made his début in 1909 at the Gaîté-Lyrique and then sang in French provincial theaters. From 1910 he was a member of the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, where he took part in many local premieres, including Nouguès’s QUO VADIS?. After the First World War he returned to Brussels between 1920 and 1922. From that time on he pursued a career in operetta, singing in LES MOUSQUETAIRES AU COUVENT at the Théâtre-Lyrique in Paris in 1922. In 1924 he toured Latin America in operetta. Back in Europe he was heard in the title rôle of Mârouf—a rôle with which he was increasingly associated—first in Turin at the Teatro Regio in 1925–1926 and then in France. His period of fame really started with his participation in a gala performance of the BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA at the Opéra—in Italian, perhaps in deference to the star, Conchita Supervia. There followed a period of seven years during which he was a member of the Paris Opéra, singing rôles such as the father in LA TRAVIATA (d’Orbel in the French version), and his beloved Mârouf, though he also took part in performances at the Opéra-Comique as a guest artist. He returned to Belgium in the 1930s, making guest appearances in Ghent in the 1932–1935 season and singing at the Oostende Kursaal in 1930 and 1932. He sang at Covent Garden in 1935, again as Figaro in the IL BARBIERE, and as Marcello in LA BOHÈME, a rôle also associated with him throughout his career. He continued singing until the Second World War.
His recording career was rather short: apart from his participation in the complete recordings of MANON and LES NOCES DE JEANNETTE for Pathé, he made over thirty sides for Pathé in the 1920s and early 1930s, with operetta extracts predominating. In the 1930s he made a small number of records for French Columbia and Salabert. His portrayal of Jean on the present set is an excellent example of opéra-comique rondeur and spirit.
Seen from the twenty-first century, Jane Morlet may seem to be a minor artist, but in the Paris of the closing years of the Belle Epoque she was the talk of the town. In the years before World War One, two rival houses were giving the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique considerable competition. The Gaîté-Lyrique consistently put on ambitious operas with most prestigious casts, including such Opéra luminaries as Félia Litvinne and Ernest Van Dijck, and had in 1909 staged the greatest operatic success of the period, Nouguès’s QUO VADIS?. The Théâtre du Trianon-Lyrique, a relative late-comer to the scene, aimed more at the lighter end of the Opéra-Comique’s repertoire, with considerable success. Jane Morlet sprang into prominence on the Paris scene of 1906, when she was chosen as the leading soprano to inaugurate the Trianon-Lyrique’s new management under Félix Lagrange. She was born on 22 January 1879, the daughter of the soprano also named Jane Morlet (born Jeanne-Flore-Eugénie Guillot) and Louis Morlet (1849–1913), a distinguished Opéra-Comique baritone, a celebrated Figaro who created LA MASCOTTE and Chabrier’s UNE EDUCATION MANQUÉE. Jane Morlet (junior) made her début at Monte Carlo on 18 March 1906 in the local premier of Bizet’s forgotten opera, DON PROCOPIO. For the first Lagrange season of the Trianon-Lyrique, she sang a large number of light soprano rôles in ZAMPA, HAYDÉE, LA MUETTE DE PORTICI, LE CAÏD, LA JUIVE and LE DOMINO NOIR, all to critical acclaim. The 1909 season was even more eventful for her as a figure in operatic history. She assumed the title rôle in the creation of Pons’ LAURA (“a heart-rending Laura, a clear, supple soprano voice, which she uses with infinite skill”) and Chloé in Fernand Le Borne’s DAPHNIS ET CHLOÉ “with all the naïve passion that is required,” as Edmond Stoullig attested. 1910 saw the same sort of season at the Trianon-Lyrique, and again Stoullig emphasized the importance of the singers who contributed so much to the success, the first and foremost being Jane Morlet! In 1911 the Trianon-Lyrique put on the French first performance of ZAZA, with Morlet in the title rôle and with her mother as Zaza’s mother, under the pseudonym of Mme. Jyhem (“J. M.”). Stoullig found the opera musically conventional, but could not praise the singers enough, in particular Jane Morlet, “who gave a superior interpretation of Zaza with flame, fire, and extraordinary passion.” Another more ephemeral creation took place on 21 December: L’AUBERGE ROUGE by Jean Nouguès, with Morlet in the leading rôle. A noted revival of that season was Delibes’ LE ROI L’A DIT, in which Morlet interpreted the leading rôle of Javotte. 1911 saw the production of Massenet’s DON CÉSAR DE BAZAN, with Morlet as Maritana. That season, she also portrayed the rôle of Ernestine in Offenbach’s M. CHOUFLEURI RESTERA CHEZ LUI LE … , impersonating one of the best known virtuosa stars of old-fashioned Italian opera, Henriette Sontag. On 20 June 1912, Morlet sang Philine in a benefit performance of MIGNON with Jeanne Marié de l’Isle in the title rôle, Maurice Capitaine as Wilhelm, and Louis Azéma as Laërte. In 1913 Morlet starred in Boieldieu’s LA DAME BLANCHE, Xavier Leroux’s LE CHEMINEAU, and in Gounod’s MIREILLE. Morlet somehow found time to guest in Marseille, where she created the rôle of Minnie in the first performance in France (and probably also in French) of LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST on 8 November 1912 with the composer in attendance. By 1916 Morlet was announced as a dramatic soprano, and sang Mathilde in Marseille’s ever-popular GUILLAUME TELL. Wartime conditions soon made it impossible to continue operatic production at the Trianon-Lyrique, and when operatic life returned to normal at the end of the hostilities, Morlet never seemed to find her mark again. She was heard in operetta, where she increasingly became associated with the rôles of charming old ladies, and eventually she gave up singing altogether but continued in similar rôles in the spoken theater until 1950. She died in Paris on 22 December 1957, having been married twice, in 1900 and 1927.
Jane Morlet made at least two series of recordings before the First World War, which mirrored the many rôles she assumed during the period. Her first records were a few titles for Odéon reflecting her first years at the Trianon-Lyrique, and a little later, Pathé recorded additional extracts representative of her repertoire: LE DOMINO NOIR, LES DIAMANTS DE LA COURONNE, LE SONGE D’UNE NUIT D’ÉTÉ, and another Massé opera, PAUL ET VIRGINIE. In the years between the wars Morlet was heard in minor rôles in the Odéon operetta extracts, including Reynaldo Hahn’s BRUMMEL and Oscar Straus’s EIN WALZERTRAUM. As Galathée, a rôle she interpreted at the Trianon-Lyrique, Morlet proves on record to be the perfect exponent of genuine opéra-comique style. She had not only wide actual experience in the repertoire, but also the ideal training for it, since her father was a pupil of Coquelin, and opéra-comique is as much about comedy and words as it is about singing and notes. The vividness of her words is striking and makes her mischievous portrayal very much alive.
The son of the famous bass Léon Gresse (1845–1900), André Gresse was born in Lyon on 23 March 1868. He studied singing with Taskin and Melchissédec at the Paris Conservatory, graduating in 1896. His first stage performance was at the Opéra-Comique in the same year as the Commandeur in DON JUAN. He remained there for several seasons, creating rôles in Massenet’s SAPHO and Erlanger’s JUIF POLONAIS, and also sang Gaveston in LA DAME BLANCHE and Max in LE CHALET. In 1901 Gresse went over to the Opéra where his first rôle was Saint-Bris in LES HUGUENOTS. There, he sang Osmin in the Paris Opéra’s first performance of Mozart’s DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL and became renowned for his portrayals of the major Wagnerian bass rôles and the Mephistos of Gounod and Boito. Gresse has also gone down in history as the creator of Sancho Pança in Massenet’s DON QUICHOTTE, which he interpreted alongside Chaliapin at Monte Carlo in 1910, and with Vanni- Marcoux in Paris, sharing the rôle with Fugère the following year. Gresse was still singing at the Paris Opéra until the end of the 1920s. He died in 1934.
André Gresse began his recording career in 1902, making a small number of records for Pathé. That same year, he began his association with the French Gramophone Company, which lasted until 1912.
Albert Vaguet’s career can be divided into two distinct parts: the first as a leading tenor of the Opéra from 1890 to 1902, and from then on until 1928 as the most recorded tenor in France. The experience gained during the first career gave much of the importance to the second. The actual reasons for his early retirement from the stage remain obscure. The first issue of the trade journal Phono-Ciné-Gazette in 1905 announces his comeback to Paris after a long absence, but no explanation is given. Most sources, including Kutsch and Riemens, have cited, as the cause, a leg amputation in 1903. Recently however, record collector Lawrence Holdridge brought to light a 1913 article on Vaguet published in Musical America, in which Vaguet states that his retirement from the stage was due to a tonsillectomy, which affected his vocal cords such that he could sing only for very short periods. This may explain why some of his records show an extremely mellifluous voice, while in others, one can discern extreme vocal strain
Albert Vaguet was born in Elbeuf in Normandy on 15 June 1865. He studied at the Paris Conservatory, graduating in 1890 and making his début at the Opéra on 29 October of that year as Faust, the rôle most closely associated with him, followed by La Trémoille in Paladilhe’s PATRIE, and Fernand in Donnizetti’s LA FAVORITE. He was also in the cast of the first Paris performance of Chabrier’s GWENDOLINE in 1893. Over the next twelve years he assumed leading rôles, both dramatic and lyric, such as Lohengrin, Don Ottavio, and the Duke in RIGOLETTO. In 1897 he was chosen to interpret Faust in the Opéra’s first performance of Berlioz’s LA DAMNATION DE FAUST, but apparently there was obvious evidence of vocal discomfort. In 1899 he sang the title rôle in a noted revival of Méhul’s JOSEPH. He was also associated with several creations, including Samuel Rousseau’s LA CLOCHE DU RHIN, from which he later recorded an extract, Chabrier’s BRISÉIS, LE ROI DE PARIS by Georges Huë, and the leading rôle (Marcomir) in Saint-Saëns’ LES BARBARES.
Vaguet’s recorded legacy reflects not only his stage career, but also encompasses many of the lighter operas associated with the Opéra-Comique, and even includes a few operetta extracts, most remarkably John Styx’s aria from Offenbach’s ORPHÉE AUX ENFERS, transposed for tenor voice. Ganymède was certainly not among his stage rôles, and, nearing 50 years of age, he was an unlikely interpreter of the youthful servant.
Alexandre (Alex) Jouvin was a leading operetta tenor of the period immediately before and after the First World War. He was a stalwart of the Trianon-Lyrique troupe from 1906 until at least the late 1920s. There in 1912 he took part in the creation of the rôle of Lucas in an operetta by Claude Terrasse, CARTOUCHE, and the Opéra-Comique version of Lehar’s AMOUR TZIGANE. Jouvin was also active as a producer. In 1923 the Trianon-Lyrique had him produce Gluck’s LES PÈLERINS DE LA MECQUE, in which he also sang the rôle of Osmin. His only other recording seems to be the rôle of Champlâtreux in an excellent abridged version of Hervé’s MAM’ZELLE NITOUCHE, made for Artiphone around 1930. If slightly over the top, his Midas in this recording of GALATHÉE remains faithful to the opéra-comique buffo tradition."
- Ward Marston