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Lucien Fugère (1848-1935)
André MESSAGER (1853-1929)

La Basoche

Trop lourd est le poids
Elle m’aime
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame

La Vierge
La sauge
Friedrich von FLOTOW ((1812-1883)

Quand je monte cocotte
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte

La vie est un voyage
Couplets de l’oiseleur
Don Giovanni

Air de Leporello
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)

Le Roi malgré lui

Le Polonais
Les gondoles
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
Dinorah, Le pardon de Ploërmel
Fromental HALÉVY (1799-1862)

Le Val d'Andorre

Victor MASSÉ (1822-1884)

Les Saisons

Chanson du Blé
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Le Médecin malgré lui

Les glouglous
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Les Pelerins de la Mecque

C’est un torrent
Ferdinando PAËR (1771-1839)
Le Maître de chapelle
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
Ronde d'amour
L’Anneau d’argent
Maurice HENRION (1854-1940)
Le vieux ruban

Charles LEVADÉ (1869-1948

Les vieilles de chez-nous
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
(6) Mélodies – Vieille Chanson du Jeune Temps
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

La procession

Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)

Le Tambourin arr. Pagans
Lucien Fugère (baritone)
With unnamed orchestras and pianists
MALIBRAN MR 556 [75.49]
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Lucien Fugère, who made his debut back in 1874 after a tough ascent, was one of the most stylish and notable of all French baritones. Once a position of eminence had been reached he retained it for the rest of his astonishingly long-lasting career. He retired in 1932 singing Don Bartolo in the Barber of Seville at the age of eighty-two. For much of his career, which was centred on his native soil (though he did make a visit to Covent Garden in 1897 to sing Leporello) he performed buffo or character roles – Papageno, Leporello, Bartolo, Don Pasquale, des Grieux amongst them. He was sufficiently prestigious to record for Zonophone in Paris at the turn of the century and then for the less well-known Pantophone label around 1904-05. But the bulk of his discs were made for French Columbia from 1928-30 when he was a trifling eighty years old.

These are the discs that Malibran has collated – as Symposium did on their tribute to him (Symposium 1125). The preservation of the voice is remarkable in and of itself, of course. The idea that this was the voice that launched so many operatic premieres in the French repertoire is frisson enough – or should be. But the lessons that can be learned – not didactically but as a consequence of listening to his style – are equally pressing. It’s a typically light, open French baritone, irrespective of age. There are some passing instances of imperfect breath control but entirely understandable one would have thought in a man of eighty, in some demanding repertoire. The lightness and effortless élan of his Massenet is unignorable and whilst his Chaminade Ronde d’amour is hardly a model of steadiness of line what stylish and atmospheric singing this is – and good piano playing as well from the unnamed accompanist. The so-called Rameau Tambourin sounds to me as if it’s Leclair’s – and sung to words by Pagans, which is an unusual experience but not uncomfortably so. In the song from Victor Massé’s Les Saisons one can appreciate Fugère’s buffo past - brio is definitely the mot juste.

His voice sounds rather heavier and more emphatically centred in the Gluck, one of his most impressive recordings. The legato is perfectly sustained. One of his most amazing discs is Paër’s Le Maître de chapelle where he assumes all the roles in a kind of one-man vocal band of an interpretation as well as indulging in some instrumental impersonation – a scena of great brilliance, considerable technique and unquenchable wit and artistry. And fun. Let’s not forget that Fugère was a witty stage animal to the last. His Mozart is elegant in true late nineteenth century style with Fugère faithfully mirroring orchestral rallentandi and employing some magical full and half voice in the extracts from the Magic Flute – though he has what we’d now consider a very light voice for Leporello in his Don Giovanni disc. Interpretatively he’s not at all insidious or insinuating here – preferring instead elegance to character study. Another facet of his musical vocabulary can be encountered in his Flotow where his floated head voice becomes almost a falsetto – a very French characteristic and excellently deployed.

The lessons to be learned from such a voice as this are incalculable. Whether we do listen and learn is another matter but Fugère’s recordings should always be pressed into service whenever the thorny question of French vocalism is at stake. The preservation of his voice is one thing – though Cuénod is a similar example of longevity into old age – but the imperishable question of style is another. No apologies need be made for the voice – and none for the excellent transfers.

Jonathan Woolf

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