Victor MASSÉ (1822-1884)
Galathée (1852)
Pygmalion — Andrei Gresse (bass)
Midas — Alex Jouvin (tenor)
Ganymède — Albert Vauguet (tenor)
Galathée — Jane Morlet (soprano)
Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra-Comique, Paris/Émile Archainbaud
rec. c.1912, Paris
Les noces de Jeannette (1853)
Jeanette — Ninon Vallin (soprano)
Jean — Léon Ponzio (baritone)
Thomas — M. Laurent
Pierre — Mme de. Busson
Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra-Comique, Paris/Laurent Halet
rec. 1922, Paris
Tristes amours! -Marie Charbonnel (con) as Pygmalion; ca. 1910; TRIANON (7411) 7411O Vénus - Suzanne Brohly (ms) as Pygmalion; 8 February 1922; GRAMOPHONE (CE238-1) 033225
Aimons! Il faut aimer - Rose Heilbronner (so) as Galathée and Joachim Cerdan (bs) as Pygmalion; 17 December 1912; GRAMOPHONE
Ah! Qu’il est doux de ne rien faire - Georges Régis (te) as Ganymède; 27 December 1910; GRAMOPHONE (16197u) 4-32224
Mais quels transports nouveaux? - Lise Landouzy (so) as Galathée; ca. 1911; ODÉON (XP5527) X56227
Ah! Qu’il est doux de ne rien faire - Georges Régis (te) as Ganymède; 27 December 1910; GRAMOPHONE (16197u) 4-32224
Enfin me voilà seul - André Baugé (ba) as Jean; 19 May 1921; GRAMOPHONE (03446v/03447v) W411

Les noces de Jeannette
Enfin me voilà seul - Gabriel Soulacroix (ba) as Jean; July 1900; GRAMOPHONE (1020G) 32879
Enfin me voilà seul - André Baugé (ba) as Jean; 19 May 1921; GRAMOPHONE (03446v/03447v) W411
Parmi tant d’amoureux - Lise Landouzy (so) as Jeannette; ca. 1905; PHRYNIS 2-MINUTE CYLINDER (10401)
Margot, Margot, lève ton sabot - Alexis Ghasne (ba) as Jean; 1907; APGA (1736) 1736 Halte-là, s’il vous plaît!- Yvonne Brothier (so) as Jeannette and André Baugé (ba) as Jean; 24 May 1921; GRAMOPHONE (03451v/0345
Ah! Vous ne savez pas, ma chère - Berthe César (so) as Jeanette and Louis Dupouy (ba) as Jean; 5 September 1912; GRAMOPHONE (17306u)
Cours, mon aiguille, dans la laine [Romance de l’aiguille] - Jeanne Daffetye (so) as Jeannette; June 1907; GRAMOPHONE (6759o) 33820
Au bord du chemin [Air du rossignol, part 1 only] - Jeanne Leclerc (so) as Jeannette; 1905; ODÉON (XP1623) 36126
Au bord du chemin ... Pour entendre mieux [Air du rossignol] - Georgette Bréjean-Silver (so) as Jeannette; ca. 1907; ODÉON (XP3267/3268) X56071/56073
Allons, je veux qu’on s’assoie - Nelly Martyl (so) as Jeannette and Louis Dupouy (ba) as Jean; 23 November 1911; GRAMOPHONE (02228v)
No texts.
MARSTON 53010-2 [3 CDs: 76:43 + 75:56 + 77:10]

Marston is making its inexorable way through Pathé’s remarkable, acoustically recorded opera series. The recording began with Carmen in 1911 and ended with Massenet’s Manon in 1923. In between there was a series of outstanding complete sets, mostly of canonic works, but also including three that are little known today. One was Nouguès’ Les Frères Danilo, recorded in 1912-13, and the other two are contained in this exquisitely produced three CD set. Both are by the once exceptionally popular Victor Massé. Galathée was composed in 1852 and was recorded in around 1912, whereas Les noces de Jeannette is the product of sessions in 1922. Both are exceedingly rare now, and their appearance here is not simply logical but is made even more valuable by virtue of the appendix, which contains other performances of the music from both operas. It’s an index of the popularity of both works that not only were complete opera sets made, but that so many other isolated extracts exist of music from them too.

Both works were acclaimed at the Opéra-Comique. They need singers immersed in the style, singers able to give life, and idiomatic life at that, to the numerous spoken passages. Galathée is the less well known of the two, whereas Les noces de Jeannette was an immense hit for the composer, but listening to them side by side, as it were, gives one an opportunity to acknowledge Massé’s sheer consistency of invention, and to admire the singers who undertook these two pioneering recordings.

The reinforcement of brass basses is most apparent in Galathée but it’s also notable just how well balanced is the solo harp, for instance, and the balance between voice and orchestra is good — albeit Pathé was maddeningly inconsistent in recording quality. There is minimal stage craft but there is some — there’s a door knocking scene leading to the first spoken text near the beginning of the first Act. As an investigation into prevailing spoken style, into the contemporary Opéra-Comique approach, this is a fascinating document. All four singers are personable. Albert Vaguet is the best known, a much recorded tenor. Alex Jouvin’s articulation is a touch eccentric, so too his divisions and stage laugh but he makes a strong aural impression. André Gresse had been recording for a decade by this time, and his confident, authoritative presence is cemented by an equally attractive and theatrically convincing spoken style. Whereas in years to come, much nearer our own time and on LP, actors were employed in scenes such as this, here we have no such mismatch between song and speech. In the title role is Jane Morlet, whose first appearance is teasingly delayed — the story incidentally is effectively that of Pygmalion — and who demonstrates real stylistic assurance and textual nuance. Ensembles exude fun and wit, the texts are taken crisply and with buoyant internal rhythm.

Ninon Vallin is the star of Les noces de Jeanette, but on no account overlook León Ponzio, her Jean, who brings élan, style, and immense vocal charisma to his role. She, meanwhile, sings with clarity and directness, though genuine badinage and wit is not really her province, splendidly though she sings as such. Once again the spoken scenes are excellent, ensembles too, though I miss in Vallin a little of what Morlet brought a decade earlier. The two smaller parts are well taken, though the Thomas, one M. Laurent, seems to have escaped biographers to such an extent that his Christian name is unknown. The quality of the recording had necessarily improved and Pathé seems to have become a touch more consistent by this time, unless that’s an aural illusion provided by Ward Marston’s tremendous transfers. Still, the pealing bell effect in Act II registers clearly and the clarity of articulation in sung and spoken scenes is high indeed.

The Appendix gives us 17 separate songs from both operas in recordings dating from 1900-22. Some of the greatest names in French singing are here in rare discs. Marie Charbonnel survives a rough sounding c.1910 Trianon whilst Suzanne Brohly reminds us in her 1922 disc that the role of Pygmalion in Galathée was originally to have been that of a mezzo. Rose Heilbronner’s French Gramophone disc was pretty much contemporary with the 1912 Pathé set, but her disc is immeasurably better recorded, though neither she nor Joachim Cerdan can match the Pathé singers for personality. It’s very valuable to find the little known soprano Marie-Louise Martini in her 1909 APGA, but it’s also good to find so eminent a soprano as Lise Landouzy too in her c.1911 Odéon. Jane Marignan’s 1905 Pathé has one of those rinky-dink Parisian piano recordings — could it have been pitch stabilised? — whereas the great Gabriel Soulacroix, recorded in 1900, five years before his death, suffers no such trouble in his extract from Les noces de Jeanette. Others to impress include the imaginative and exciting Louis Dupouy, and the similarly talented Alexis Ghasne. Georgette Bréjean-Silver is rather weak-toned in her extract.

This three disc set is aimed squarely at specialists in French opera on disc. As such it is a niche set, but that’s pretty much a given, since almost all Marston discs appeal to the specialist collector of one sort or another. The project has been realised with outstanding intelligence and application, and is recommendable in every respect.

Jonathan Woolf

Aimed squarely at specialists in French opera on disc. Realised with outstanding intelligence and application.