Let me tell you
Stratospheric Barbara Hannigan
Birmingham and BBC Proms
One to treasure
One of the
Book and CD
Book + 4CDs
Mady Mesplé - Airs d'Opers Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor:
1. Mad Scene Il dolce suono … Ardon gli incense … Spargi
d’amaro pianto [18:57] Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
La cambiale di matrimonio:
2. Come tacer … Vorrei spiegarvi il giubilo [4:19] Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
3. Gualtier Maldè … Caro nome [6:55] Leo DELIBES (1836–1891)
4. Ou va la jeune hindoue [7:27] Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918)
Pelléas et Mélisande:
5. Oh! cette pierre est lourde [3:58] André GRÉTRY (1741–1813)
6. Je romps la chaine qui m’engage [5:06] Adolphe ADAM (1803–1856)
7. Ah! Vous dirai-je maman [7:09] Wolfgang Amadeus
8. O zittre nicht … Zum Leiden [4:51]
9. Der Hölle Rache [3:03] Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Ariadne auf Naxos:
10. Grossmächtige Prinzessin [11:25]
Mady Mesplé (soprano)
Lucian Marinescu (tenor), Christian Portanier (bass) (tr.
1); Raymond Amade (tenor), Charles Clavensy (bass) (tr.
7); Orchestre lyrique et Choeurs de l’ORTF/Gianfranco Masini
(tr. 1), Pierre Michel Le Conte (tr. 9); Orchestre Lyrique
de la RTF/Manuel Rosenthal (tr. 2), Pierre Dervaux (tr.
6), Eugène Bigot (tr. 7); Orchestre de Chambre de l’ORTF/Jésus
Etcheverry (tr. 4, 8); Choeurs et Orchestre de la Suisse
Romande/Lamberto Gardelli (tr. 3), Peter Maag (tr. 10);
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française/D.E.
rec. Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, 16 January 1958 (tr. 5),
7 February 1974 (tr. 1); Grand Théâtre de Genève, 21 September
1967 (tr. 3), 20 February 1969 (tr. 10); la Maison de la
Radio, Paris, 29 September 1966 (tr. 9); radio recordings:
19 January 1961 (tr. 2), 24 January 1966 (tr. 4, 8), 14 May
1959 (tr. 6), 23 January 1963 (tr. 7) EMI CLASSICS 49168 [73:35]
Renowned for her stratospheric upper range and her amazing
coloratura technique, Mady Mesplé, born 1931 in Toulouse, was
the leading French lyric soprano from her debut in 1953 until
of the 1980s. Hers was not a large voice but the brilliance
and the accuracy was such that she could ride an orchestra
without problem, even at fortes. Basically her tone was on
the acidulous side but her interpretations still radiated
warmth and she was easily recognizable through her quick
vibrato, which was sometimes hard to distinguish from a trill.
At times her sound was similar to some of the high-pitched
singing that adorned certain Disney films in the past. Her
great break-through occurred, tragically enough, in connection
with the 1500th performance of Lakmé, which
was supposed to be given to honour her great predecessor
Mado Robin. Ms Robin died, however, only days before the
occasion and Mady Mesplé, who sang the role at her debut
two years earlier, had to step in at short notice. This role,
which she sang and played on film as well as on a complete
gramophone recording, was together with Lucia, her signature
role. Both are represented on this disc, drawing on live
and radio recordings from various sources during the period
1958 to 1974: her real heyday. The sound is variable but
never less than serviceable and her voice comes through as
well as on any of her commercial recordings. A look at the
header reveals that she co-operated with the cream of French
conductors of the day, plus a couple of renowned Italians,
and they guarantee that the accompaniments are idiomatic.
The Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor becomes her calling-card
for this recital and it is a riveting performance. During
the last half-century we have got used to hearing more dramatic
approaches to this role – in the wake of Callas and others.
Before that it was largely the territory of light coloraturas:
Patti, Sembrich, Melba and Tetrazzini. The only complete
recording before the advent of the LP, an early 1940s Cetra-set,
had Lina Pagliughi as the heroine. Mady Mesplé is in this
illustrious company. Her voice is slim but has all the lustre
and agility needed. She sings with deep feeling; her duet
with the flute is delicious. The final note of the aria proper
is plumb in the middle and is greeted with hysterical ovations,
lasting a couple of minutes before she is allowed to continue
and conclude the scene with Spargi d’amaro pianto.
The sound is good and spacious.
The 1961 mono sound for La cambiale di matrimonio is
more congested and here we meet a pert soubrette with more
acid in the voice.
The finale of the aria was, by the way, recycled for Rosina’s
cavatina in Il barbiere di Siviglia.
Her Caro nome comes from a Rigoletto performance
in Geneva. The recording is fairly distant but the balance
still good. This is a superb reading with admirable voice
control – no wonder the applause breaks loose before the
aria is finished.
Mesplé’s most famous role was no doubt Lakmé, which she sang
over 145 times. It is good to have the Bell Song in a radio
The pinpoint accuracy in the runs and her birdlike trill
are impressive features but the reverse side of the coin
is the arrival of a more tremulous tone than in some of the
other excerpts. Here I prefer her in the complete recording
with Alain Lombard, made a couple of years later.
Her recording of Yniold’s scene from the fourth act of Pelléas
et Mélisande is the earliest example of her art on
this disc, set down when she was not yet 27. It could be
argued that she is too bright-toned, but she can soften
the voice for greater intimacy and the purity is a treat
in itself. Grétry’s operas occasionally have an outing
and Léonore’s aria from L’Amant Jaloux is a welcome
rarity, even though the whole recording is over-bright
with glassy string tone.
Caroline’s aria from Le Toréador is nothing less
twinkle, little star”, with each stanza more and more adventurously
embellished. Her two male partners are accomplished singers
but it is Mesplé’s fireworks, especially the last two minutes,
that steal the show.
I have heard more formidable Queens of the Night – she is supposed
to be an evil woman – but few who have sailed up into the
stratosphere with such ease – Margareta Hallin and Sumi Jo,
possibly Rita Streich come to mind. Who else has twittered
through Zerbinetta’s Grossmächtige Prinzessin more
effortlessly? This recording from Geneva is, unfortunately
marred by a less than well defined recording.
Mado Robin was the undisputed French Queen of Coloratura
until her untimely death in 1955. During the last 15–20 years Natalie
Dessay has occupied a similar position, but the gap of more
than thirty years between them was filled by Mesplé with
the same unfailing accuracy and greatness.
The present compilation of excerpts from some of her greatest
roles is a worthy document of her excellence. We have to
without texts and translations but we are at least vouchsafed
an appreciation by André Tubeuf and a more role-specific
biography by Jean-Louis Dutrong.
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