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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)
L’Amant jaloux:
6. Je romps la chaine qui m’engage [5:06]
Adolphe ADAM (1803–1856)
Le toreador:
7. Ah! Vous dirai-je maman [7:09]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Die Zauberflöte:
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. Inghelbrecht
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 the end 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 is 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 recording. 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 than “Twinkle, 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 make do 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.
Göran Forsling


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