OP2964. CARMEN - Excerpts, w.Courand Cond. Karlsruhe Opera Society Ensemble; Elise Kahn, Tony Poncet, Jean Borthayre, Irene Jaumillot, etc. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL 33-234. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Vezzani clearly had the better and more pure style and Luccioni the more sensuous sound and more metal, but it was Poncet (The Last of the French ‘fort ténors’) who kept those Meyerbeer operas in the repertoire at a time when so called serious critics and managers thought them old trash. Lucky for us in the eighties some singers realized what a gap of operatic history was disappearing (and what possibilities for success) and though not common, a lot of revivals have proven these operas to be a treasure trove. But none of the tenors after Poncet (surely not in France) were able to step into his vocal shoes as most of them were spintos at their best. Tony Poncet was indeed the last ‘fort-ténor’.
Nowadays one is happy when a few tenors turn up at a singing contest, but in those days it was not strange to pass judgment on hundreds of hopefuls of that most rare vocal category. To win the fort-ténor prize Poncet sang ‘Céleste Aïda’ and ‘Supplice infâme’ (‘Di quella pira’). There exists a live recording of the competition which is the first recording of Poncet’s voice. The sound is unmistakably Poncet’s with top notes blazing forth, but at the same time one sits up and takes note of his purity of style, not always one of his best qualities later on. He sings the ‘Celeste Aïda’ as a real love song with delicate shades of mezza-voce and piano, though of course clinging to the traditional high B at the end. Abe Saperstein (the famous boss of the Harlem Globetrotters, the black basket ball team) took Poncet with him to the U.S., promised him extensive concert engagements and probably some operatic ones as well
He started with a concert in Lyon, France’s second city, in January 1953. A few days later he made his official opera début at the municipal theatre of Avignon. It must have been quite an occasion for Poncet, as he had to sing the roles of Turiddu and Canio at the same time, no mean feat. In June 1956, he had an audition before Georges Hirsch, the general manager of the two Paris Opera Theatres. Hirsch realized Poncet’s potential and helped him improve his musical and scenic abilities. He understood the problems of Poncet’s height and decided that lack of centimetres can be an asset when singing Canio, a poor clown and a cuckolded husband. In January 1957 Poncet made his début at the Opéra-Comique and scored a triumph. A serious critic like Roland Mancini tells us that one of the two most intense ovations he ever heard at a début at the theatre belongs to the tenor (Robert Massard got the other one in IL BARBIERE). Then Poncet made his début at the Opéra itself in the one aria-role of DER ROSENKAVALIER, an opera where it is plausible that the Marschallin has all kind of strange looking servants and so a very small tenor can fit easily in. Poncet was more than ably partnered by some of France’s best singers like Andrea Guiot, Gabriel Bacquier, Jean Borthayre at the Comique and Crespin at the Opéra. From 1958 on he no longer had to look for performances as theatres realized his talents and his fast growing popularity due to his first recordings. Philips France recorded him at the end of 1957 in a long French selection of Lehar’s DAS LAND DES LÄCHELNS together with soprano Renée Doria. The operetta always was a hit in France and all important tenors and high baritones recorded it (Luccioni, Vanzo, Botiaux, Dens etc). The recording was a huge success. This is already vintage Poncet as we will get to know him in his subsequent recorded and some live performances. The voice sounds huge (and it was huge). It is dark-hued as Spanish tenor voices often are and the timbre is not conventionally beautiful. Some people will even think the timbre somewhat ugly as it is grainy timbered but those are the ones that will not like a voice as Pertile either. But Poncet doesn’t chop up his phrases; he has legato and can sing mezza-voce though piano is not his forte. Anyway the record told French tenor buffs that at last here was a successor of Affre, Granal, Verdières, Luccioni and Vezzani. Always generous to a fault, he helped Toulon out on the 21st of December 1958 when their announced tenor fell ill. He sang Canio at the matinee and in the evening he appeared as Rodolfo.
By 1969 one notices far less performances than usual with one rather (in)famous occasion: a concert performance at Carnegie Hall of LES HUGUENOTS, known for the hysterical outbursts of applause by the fans of Beverly Sills [OP2908]. Americans were not impressed by Poncet. After a long illness Poncet died on 13 November of 1979, not yet sixty-one. Poncet was not much of an actor but how could he be with his [lack of] height in such heroic roles. He wore a pair of very high heels that, however, didn’t much improve the situation, and one of his not very nice nicknames was ‘Puss in boots’. He unashamedly milked the audience with applause.”
- Jan Neckers
"Jean Borthayre is proof that a French baritone can sing with great warmth, full-bodied tone, immaculate diction and fine musicality. Borthayre has it all going for him."
- Charles H. Parsons, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, March/April, 2008