V2603. JEANNE MARIÉ DE L'ISLE: Songs by Gounod, Massenet, Hahn, Chaminade & Giordano; Arias from Mignon, Carmen, Werther, La Damnation de Faust & Les Dragons de Villars. [An absolute treasure of a recital!] (France) Malibran AMR 184, recorded 1904-06, G & T, Odéon & Zonophone. [AMR titles are issued without rear tray-cards]
“Jeanne Marié de l’Isle took voice lessons with Maurice Jacquet, who arranged her stage debut in 1896 at Versailles in the role of Rose Friquet in Aimé Maillart’s then highly popular LES DRAGONS DE VILLARS. This led Léon Carvalho, who was in the audience, to hire her for the Opéra-Comique, then still housed in the former Théâtre-Lyrique building on the Place du Châtelet. Jeanne Marié de l’Isle made her debut as Malika in LAKMÉ with the American-soprano, Marie Van Zandt, who had previously created the role of Lakmé. Marié de l’Isle sang Mercédès to Georgette Leblanc’s Carmen for the opening of the rebuilt Salle Favart in December 1898 and she took on the main role a few weeks later under Albert Carré, the new Opéra-Comique director. Coached by her aunt Célestine, the creator of Carmen, a fact which makes her recordings of special interest, Marié de l’Isle quickly established herself as a leading exponent of the part. ‘She makes an incredible effect’, according to Henri de Curzon, ‘precisely because she is not aiming for one. She is simple, true, consistently under her character’s skin’. She sang it for the last time at the Salle Favart in 1913, with César Vezzani as José and Nelly Martyl as Micaëla. Thanks also to Galli-Marié’s coaching, she was also a highly successful Mignon. Her most important role, however, was Charlotte in Massenet’s WERTHER, which she first sang for the 1903 revival, with Léon Beyle as Werther and Marguerite Carré as Sophie. Ten years after the Paris premiere, this new cast finally established the work’s masterpiece status. In November 1903 Marié de l’Isle sang Charlotte opposite Ernest Van Dyck, who had created the role of Werther in Vienna in 1892. She sang it with Beyle again in 1905 and 1906, with Edmond Clément in 1908, and, one last time at the Opéra-Comique, with Jean Marny in 1917. Marié de l’Isle was also a noted Santuzza, succeeding Zina de Nuovina in the part at the Salle Favart and sharing the honors with Claire Friché as the Santuzza of the decade - with Beyle as her Turridu in 1908. Still at the Opéra-Comique, having premiered the part of Camille in LOUISE in 1900, she sang the heroine’s Mother when Aline Vallandri reprised Mary Garden’s role in 1908. The appealing cast also included Thomas Salignac and Lucien Fugère. She also appeared as Massenet’s Marie-Magdeleine (in its staged version), as Serpina in Pergolesi’s LA SERVA PADRONA, as Taven in Gounod’s MIREILLE, as Jacqueline in his delightful LE MÉDECIN MALGRÉ LUI, and in small roles in Hahn’s LA CARMÉLITE and Méhul’s JOSEPH. She did not sing much outside the French borders, but she did appear at the Monnaie in Brussels in 1904. The last testimony we have of her career is a 1917 concert celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Le Havre; she deserves to be remembered as one of the glories of French singing in the early years of the 20th century.
The most fascinating, indeed tantalizing feature of Marié de l’Isle’s Carmen recordings is, of course, the glimpse they provide on what may have been the vocal and interpretive style of the part’s creator, her aunt and coach Galli-Marié….far from being a ‘passive’ interpreter, she contributed to fashioning the role in collaboration with Bizet and his librettists. What is particularly impressive about her interpretation, apart from the perfect execution of vocal ornamentation (including occasional interpolated grace notes), is the lightness of touch and lack of affectation. No tragic femme fatale, she brings to the role, instead, unusual touches of youthfulness and charm, particularly apparent in the Dance - perhaps, one wonders, to her own castanet accompaniment. She ‘speaks’ the role, never shouts it, and for once, Bizet’s expressive direction for the Card Scene, ‘simplement et très également’, is taken literally. To a greater extent than Delna and Mérentié, she is the quintessential Opéra-Comique Carmen.
Among the songs, which are all treasurable, a special mention can be made of Chaminade’s ‘L’anneau d’argent’, in which Marié sensitively conveys the tender feelings expressed in the poem by Rosemonde Gérard, wife of Edmond Rostand and a celebrated poétesse at the time; and of Gounod’s perennially popular ‘Sérénade’, on words from act 1 of Victor Hugo’s Marie Tudor, in which the effortless execution of the ornaments reminds us, once more, that Jeanne Marié de l’Isle belonged to a tradition that went back to the golden age of the Opéra-Comique.”
- Vincent Giroud