OP3358. SAMSON ET DALILA, recorded 1946, w.Fourestier Cond. L'Opéra Ensemble; Hélène Bouvier, José Luccioni, Paul Cabanel, Charles Cambon, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-1053, taken from pristine copies of the original Pathé 78s. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This 1946 recording remains the only SAMSON ET DALILA performed by an entirely French cast, played by a French orchestra, and led by a French conductor. It is true that opera is an international art, but it is also true that there is something to be said for the comfort with their native language and the vocal style that a cast like this exhibits. Of course, this would not count for a lot unless we were getting a first-rate performance, and this one is.
The Corsican tenor Jose Luccioni possessed the ideal voice and vocal production for the role of Samson. The voice has plenty of metal and power, but it also has beauty at its core. Luccioni is a persuasive vocal actor, conveying both the strength of the warrior and the tenderness of the lover. He was an important part of the tradition of French dramatic tenors that included Paul Franz, Léon Esclaïs, César Vezzani, and Georges Thill, all of them the kind of voices a role like Samson was written for. In Hélène Bouvier Luccioni has an ideal partner. Her voice is warm, the top secure, and she conveys seductiveness without overdoing it. She and Luccioni know exactly how to phrase the music and shape the words so that one really has the sense that they are communicating with each other rather than singing at the listener. ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ comes as a natural outgrowth of the scene of which it is the centerpiece, not as an aria inserted for a mezzo-soprano in which to show her skills. Before, during, and after it the interaction between Bouvier and Luccioni is extremely persuasive.
Paul Cabanel is a very strong High Priest and Charles Cambon a very effective Abimélech. At the center of it all is the conducting of Louis Fourestier. From 1938 to 1965 he was the principal conductor of the Paris Opéra. His comfort with the idiom and the naturalness of his pacing are perfect for Saint-Saëns’ score. While there is no ‘aha’ moment where you take note of some striking orchestral effect, the flow of the opera is so seamless that you don’t think about the conducting. Even with the limitations of a 1946 monaural recording Forestier’s sense of orchestral color and balance is evident.
The original Pathé recording has been transferred before, first by EMI (not particularly well) and then by Naxos (quite well). If you already own the Naxos edition, I wouldn’t replace it with this new one. But Yves St. Laurent has done a fine job, correcting some pitch problems with the original 78s and striking the right balance between filtering out noise and retaining the quality of the voices and orchestra.
In many ways this remains the finest recorded performance of SAMSON ET DALILA, and if you love the opera, it makes for an easy and strong recommendation. As usual, St. Laurent Studio includes no notes or libretto but good documentation."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“This marvelous SAMSON ET DALILA serves as yet another testament to a lost school of vocal production. If you’ve ever been curious as to what critics and opera lovers mean when they say that the ‘French school’ of singing is gone, just listen to any 30 seconds here. A first-rate cast, led by a warmly seductive Hélène Bouvier and a bright-toned, heroic José Luccioni in the title roles, offers a veritable clinic to aspiring singers and nostalgic listeners. Still that open, forward vocal placement, the crisp consonants and liquid vowels: it’s a timely reminder that speaking French and singing it are two completely different matters, and certainly not merely a question of hiring a diction coach. Conductor Louis Fourestier seems to have prepared the orchestra with a lot of care and it plays well for him - at least to the extent you can hear it behind the voices - and the Act 3 Bacchanal works up a suitable head of steam. If you like French opera, this one’s a no-brainer.”
- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
“SAMSON ET DALILA has had its share of recordings, but when I think back on the singers who essayed the title roles, few French names come to mind. Here's a recording - and it was the opera's first complete one - that is French all the way through.
Bouvier and Luccioni are excellent singers. Perhaps they are not ‘stars’ like Risë Stevens and Ramon Vinay, but they are totally inside of their roles on this recording. Luccioni sings with a mixture of heroism and vulnerability; his tone trumpets but never blares. Bouvier, an under-recorded singer, does not make Dalila's seduction of Samson an episode of bovine ridiculousness. Instead, she is warm and sexy and very chic. Her singing of ‘Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix’ is both a highlight and a point of culmination. She is erotically persuasive here, and one can hardly blame Samson for giving in. Both of them have excellent diction and vocal acting skills; you'll hardly need a libretto to follow the action on this recording. Fourestier does nothing unusual, but he conducts with immense understanding and taste, and the other singers and musicians match the high standards set by Bouvier and Luccioni.
This SAMSON ET DALILA was recorded by Pathé in the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in September 1946. The result for buyers was 15 shellac discs – not to be carried home on your bicycle, s'il vous plait!"
- Raymond Tuttle, ClassicalNet
"Hélène Bouvier was a French operatic mezzo-soprano, particularly associated with the French repertoire. She studied at the Paris Conservatory and made her debut in Nantes in the title role of Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE, in 1930. She then left for Argentina where she sang at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. Back in France, she made her debut at both the Palais Garnier and the Opéra-Comique during the 1938-39 season, where she quickly established herself in roles such as Carmen, Dalila, Charlotte, Geneviève, the mother in LOUISE, etc. She made guest appearances at La Scala in Milan, La Monnaie in Brussels, the Monte Carlo Opera, also appearing in Dresden and Leipzig, the Holland Festival, and again at the Teatro Colon from 1949 until 1965. She took part in the creation of contemporary works, notably Maurice Duruflé's REQUIEM and Darius Milhaud's BOLIVAR. She was also admired in Arthur Honegger's ANTIGONE and Carl Orff's OEDIPUS REX. She retired from the stage in 1967 and taught in Paris."
- Zillah Dorset Akron
"A heroic tenor with strong lyric instincts, [Luccioni] had a brilliant, trumpety voice, forwardly produced, tightly focused, and apparently tireless. The words are perfectly clear, and Luccioni, not given to much nuance, pretty much lets them speak for themselves."
- Ralph V. Lucano, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, July/Aug., 2000
"There were considerable artists who are nearly 'forgotten' today, probably due to their few recordings. Paul Cabanel is one of them, at least outside of France. To me, he belongs to the most complete French singers. Paul Cabanel's dark-timbred voice is of great beauty and warmth . He is equally outstanding in dramatic (Athanael) as well as in lyric parts. He shows through characterization, musicality and a perfect French enunciation why he was such an acclaimed artist in his time. Cabanel sings a lordly and tender Arkel in a reference recording of PELLEAS ET MELISANDE performed by a great French cast. Do not miss the integral recording of SAMSON ET DALILA conducted by Louis Fourestier. It is the most 'French style' version of that opera.
This first commercial recording of Saint-Saëns' biblical opera SAMSON ET DALILA, made by EMI in 1946, remains in many ways the finest. Certainly sonics of this recording, originally released on 78s, cannot compete with more modern issues, but there are numerous other qualities that place this recording at the top of the list. First and foremost, the recording is by far the most idiomatic of all commercial issues. It is the only one that features an entire cast's principal singers, chorus, orchestra, and conductors who are native to the French style. What a pleasure it is to hear the text proclaimed with such clarity and sensitivity and to hear the wide range of colors and unerring sense of line the vocalists are able to impart to their music. Finally what a pleasure it is to listen to a conductor who collaborates in such a sympathetic way with his singers.
José Luccioni represents a type of voice that has essentially disappeared from our midst. This native of Corsica possessed a bright heroic tenor, very much in the mold of such great singers as Léon Escalaïs (with whom Luccioni studied) and Georges Thill. It is a voice that lacks the baritonal quality of such famous Samsons as Mario del Monaco, Jon Vickers and Placido Domingo. But these considerable artists do not begin to approach Luccioni's ease with the French language and style. Luccioni proves himself to be a dramatically persuasive Samson as well. His entrance is a model of heroic dignity, ideal for a messenger of God. During the Act II confrontation with Dalila, Luccioni rises to greatness in his depiction of the conflict raging within Samson between his devotion to God and desire for carnal pleasure. The despair that Luccioni expresses during the Scene at the Mill is all the more touching because of the tenor's admirable restraint. And in the opera's final moments, Luccioni gloriously depicts the return of Samson's strength with a ringing B-flat. Despite impressive recorded competition, José Luccioni remains the best Samson on disc.
He is partnered by the equally impressive Dalila of the Parisian mezzo-soprano Hélène Bouvier. Unfortunately this longtime star of the Paris Opéra and Opéra-Comique participated in relatively few commercial recordings, making this SAMSON ET DALILA all the more valuable. As with José Luccioni, Hélène Bouvier offers a memorable combination of vocal riches, a firm grasp of the French operatic style, and dramatic persuasiveness.
Paul Cabanel, Charles Cambon, and Henri Médus, all distinguished French artists, are excellent as respectively, the High Priest, Abimelech, and an Old Hebrew. As previously mentioned, conductor Louis Fourestier demonstrates admirable sympathy with his singers and with Saint-Saëns' music. The dramatic conclusion of Act II and a scintillating 'Bacchanal' reveal that Fourestier was also capable of generating considerable excitement. The timbre of the orchestra, with its rather nasal winds and brass, reinforces the Gallic atmosphere of the enterprise."
- Z. D. Akron
“In the firmament of model French singers, Charles Cambon figures amongst the greatest. Thanks to the good instincts of certain artistic directors, this voice of exceptional timbre, power and range has been preserved for us in all its splendour.
Charles Cambon joined the chorus at l’Opéra in 1923, making his solo debut a year later in a small role in BORIS GODUNOV. He would remain thirty years in this illustrious theatre, making an impression as Amonasro, Valentin, Ottokar in DER FREISCHÜTZ, as Sylvio in PAGLIACCI and as the Dutchman. He appeared only once at l’Opéra-Comique as a memorable Zurga in LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES. But it was radio and records that brought him fame. True opera-lovers never missed the broadcasts in which he starred, admiring his diction, his fearlessness, his fabulous top notes but also his sensibility and his dramatic instincts in the greatest roles: Rigoletto, Luna in IL TROVATORE, Athanaël, Iago and of course Hamlet.
Charles Cambon lives on, thanks to recordings, as one of the most admired baritones of the French vocal tradition.”
- Jean Ziegler