César Vezzani (1888-1951)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791–1864)
Le Pardon de Ploërmel
1. Les blés sont beaux
2. Pays merveilleux
Le Prophète
3. Pour Berthe moi, je soupire
4. Roi du Ciel et des Anges
Fromental HALÉVY (1799-1862)
La Juive
5. Rachel quand du Seigneur
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
La Reine de Saba
6. Faiblesse de la race humaine ... Inspirez moi
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921)
Samson et Dalila
7. Arrêtez ô mes frères
8. Israël romps ta chaîne
Ernest REYER (1823-1909)
9. Prince du Rhin
10. J’ai gardé mon âme ingénue
11. Esprits Gardiens
12. Oui, Sigurd est vainqueur
Jules MASSENET (1842–1912)
13. En fermant les yeux
14. Ah! fuyez douce image
15. J’aurais sur ma poitrine
16. Pourquoi me réveiller
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
Guillaume Tell
17. Asile héréditaire
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
18. Je veux entendre
19. Tout m’abandonne, adieu
20. Dieu tu pouvais m’infliger
21. Que nul ne craigne
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana
22. Moi seul ... Ah! servez de mère
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858–1919)
23. M’habiller, m’habiller
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Manon Lescaut
24. Ah! ne m’approchez pas
25. Le ciel luisant d’étoiles
rec.1912 – 1925
It is a double mystery that Corsican-born tenor César Vezzani should first never have sung in any major opera house and secondly still remain comparatively unknown, even amongst those who consider themselves cognoscenti, especially when you consider that his voice type has always been extraordinarily rare. I refer to the “ténor fort” the French equivalent of the “spinto tenore” typified by Italian singers such as Franco Corelli. This voice category was never plentiful but there was a whole slew of French-singing tenors of this type active in the first half of the twentieth century, including Russian-born Joseph Rogatchewsky and no fewer than three Corsicans, José Luccioni, Gaston Micheletti and Vezzani himself; perhaps the last was Canadian Raoul Jobin. Today, such voices are virtually extinct. The closest equivalent to Vezzani in his day was his great near-contemporary Georges Thill, a lyric-dramatic tenor whose repertoire of “demi-caractère” roles overlapped with Vezzani’s. Their voices shared similar characteristics, being vibrant, clear and masculine, with superb top notes and crystalline diction. Thill had an international career and his fame overshadowed that of Vezzani, his elder by nine years. He also lived far longer, until 1984, yet he had already retired by 1956, whereas Vezzani was still singing as principal tenor in Toulon up until 1948 when a stroke finished his career. Fortunately he was much sought after by Pathé, Odeon and HMV and recorded prolifically, including a complete “Faust” in 1930.
Both singers had their critics; some called into question the integrity of Thill’s top notes, despite the fact that in addition to taking on Wagner, he continued undaunted to undertake roles with a high tessitura; in Vezzani’s case it was his supposed lack of subtlety and variation that drew adverse comment. Comparing their respective accounts of “J’aurais sur ma poitrine”, there seems to me to be no basis for either accusation; both singers acquit themselves admirably. Vezzani’s quick vibrato, clear enunciation, steadiness of tonal of emission and the clarion penetration of his high Bs and Cs are all highly attractive features of his singing, even if prolonged and unrelieved exposure to these virtues over the generous eighty minutes of this recital can prove a little wearing. That possibility is somewhat offset by the brevity of most of the tracks here; only three extend beyond four minutes. The disc opens with four famous arias from Meyerbeer operas. I am one of those resistant to claims for Meyerbeer’s genius but Vezzani makes as convincing a case as possible for these showpieces; this is music which responds to a “give-it-all-you’ve-got” attack. I particularly like the way Vezzani utterly refuses to indulge in anything close to a slide in his approach to high notes; he simply nails ’em, over and over again. Everything here is in French - I don’t think he sang in other languages – and he never abandoned the lyric French roles despite his ability to tackle Lohengrin, Siegmund and Siegfried, hence we hear a 1924 recording of Rossini’s “Asile héréditaire” with an easy, thrilling top C. You can hear the Wagnerian quality in his stentorian delivery of Samson’s exhortations to the Israelites in tracks 7 and 8. For delicacy, go to the Massenet arias. Here he tames the natural robustness of his vocal production and sings in a lovely mezza voce, producing a delightful, soft, sustained falsetto A in “il y faut encore Manon” and his legato in “Ah! fuyez” is the dream it should be when a tenor tells us "Je viens de faire un rêve”. Hearing Verdi in French is interesting, especially in so demanding a role as Otello. The French version of “Ora per sempre addio” (“Tout m’abandonne, adieu”) really is taken at too plodding a tempo but Vezzani’s attack and intensity are compelling. He then passes the “A flat test” in “Dieu, tu pouvais m’infliger”, rising nobly to its climax. His “Desdemona, morte, morte!” is heart-rending; hearing him sing that live must have been thrilling. We are also treated to two dead-centre-no-slide-up top Cs in the aria from “Jérusalem” (which was in French, being a revision and adaptation of “I Lombardi” for Paris). I could go on, but everything here is sung with dedication and artistry that I urge every lover of great tenor singing to buy this disc.
The sound is what we have become accustomed to and expect from Nimbus; I like what they do, as the generous ambience and reduction of hiss really do permit the voice to emerge as cleanly and realistically as we could hope given that the sources here are venerable acoustic matrices made just before the introduction of electrical recording.
One niggle: Nimbus needs to find a better proof-reader in French; the titles of the arias in the notes and track-listings are riddled with duplicated errors. If anyone cares, the details above are correct.

Ralph Moore
Sung with dedication and artistry. I urge every lover of great tenor singing to buy this disc.