This disc is one of the first twenty, issued on the
Decca label, under the generic title ‘The Singers’. The series,
with another thirty in preparation, claims to present the artistry of
the greatest singers from the first century of recording history. Ardoin
had access to the recorded annals of DG, Philips and Decca. More significantly,
these discs are more than merely sonic artefacts, being enhanced for
those with ROM facility, to include photo gallery, biographies and texts.
If you lack a CD-ROM you have to make do with a booklet with brief essay
and track listing, the latter lacking such basic information as to the
operatic character singing the aria. The presentation aims to be different
and unique, being a cardboard case within a plastic slip case emblazoned
The advertisement for this series makes much of the
fact that the choice of the singers was made by the late John Ardoin,
"the distinguished critic and vocal authority". The choice is
certainly individual, even idiosyncratic, none more so than with the
singer featured on this disc.
Jennie Tourel was born in Russia, then fled with her
family to France at the time of the Bolshevik revolution, and to the
USA just before the outbreak of World War II. She started her vocal
studies in Paris where she made her debut in Borodin's Prince Igor
in 1930. Her career developed rapidly and she sang Charlotte, Mignon,
Cherubino and over 400 Carmens at the Opéra-Comique
between 1933 and 1939. Tourel made her Met. debut in 1937, where, as
well as Carmen, she was a renowned Rosina and Adalgisa.
Tourel created the role of Baba the Turk in
Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, in Venice in 1951, in a cast
that included Otakar Kraus as Nick Shadow and Elisabeth Schwartzkopf
as Anne Trulove. She did not appear in the Met's first production
of The Rake, as, by then in her 50s, and settled in America,
she was mainly known as a recitalist which is as she is heard on this
This disc is drawn in part from two LPs she recorded
for American Decca. No recording dates are given. However, as the first
11 tracks are in stereo and the second in mono, an approximation placing
the sessions as early as the mid-late 1950s can be made.
The first three tracks are of songs by Rossini for
the Venice Regata, and previously unpublished. They illustrate Tourel's
mezzo in many facets – vivacious, full toned, rich in the lower register
and with a good top. However, she is not extended unduly until the more
demanding pieces on the second mono half of the disc devoted to Russian
repertoire. Here the voice shows more of its dramatic overtones. A student
or enthusiast of the human singing voice as John Ardoin was, could have
made an interesting comparison with our contemporary, Olga Borodina.
We can hear Borodina on disc in the dramatic operatic repertoire; regrettably
we cannot do that with Jennie Tourel. Although she appeared in Vol.
4 of EMI's 'Record of Singing' and recorded for American Columbia (later
bought by Sony) I do not find any issues readily available.
The piano accompanists are sympathetic and the recording
is forward and clear, with plenty of presence. The booklet essay, by
John Ardoin himself, is informative and enthusiastic about the singer.