The Canadian Leopold Simoneau (1916-2006) was one of the foremost
lyric tenors during the 1950s and early 1960s. As a Mozart singer
he had no peer and few equals. In French lyrical repertoire only Nicolai
Gedda could challenge him. Many of his recordings are today collectors’
items. Some of them are quite hard to come by since he recorded extensively
for the long defunct Concert Hall Record Club. It was through some
of those recordings that I first discovered him in the early and mid-1960s.
For me he is still the supreme lyric tenor of the post-war years.
On these ten well-filled CDs we get a rounded portrait of him in studio
recordings as well as numerous excerpts from live performances. Not
all of the latter are sonically top-notch but they are fully listenable.
CD 1 Gluck and Mozart [67:51]
Simoneau’s complete recording of Orphée et Eurydice
for Philips (1956) with Suzanne Danco and his wife Pierrette Alarie
is still regarded as definitive, at least when it comes to the interpretation
of the role of Orphée. The opera was originally written for
Vienna in 1762, where the title role was sung by a castrato alto.
Gluck revised it for Paris in 1774 and then for a high tenor. Today
it is in the Berlioz version for contralto from 1859, a concoction
of the Vienna and Paris versions, that we most frequently hear it.
Bearing in mind that we don’t have many tenors in the Simoneau
class, it’s no wonder that the Paris version is a relative rarity.
The two arias that open CD 1 are glorious testimony to Simoneau’s
supremacy in the field, but the orchestra is nothing to write home
Iphigénie en Tauride from 1779 is arguably Gluck’s
most consummate composition. The live recording from which the two
excerpts on this disc are culled, is to my knowledge the earliest
preserved documentation of the work. It was recorded at Aix-en-Provence
under Carlo Maria Giulini and the sound is acceptable but a bit tiring.
Besides Simoneau’s superb Pylade we also hear Pierre Mollet’s
Oreste and Patricia Neway’s Iphigénie.
The arias from Idomeneo and La clemenza di Tito are
mostly from studio recitals from the mid-1950s, but Spiegarti non
poss’io (tr. 7) with Erika Köth as Ilia is a live recording
from a Mozart-Fest in Würzburg, and Come ti piace, imponi
(tr. 11) with Pierrette Alarie is from the Salzburg Festival. Alarie
is as lovely as ever.
CD 2 Mozart: Die Zauberflöte and
Die Entführung aus dem Serail [73:53]
The two opening tracks here are also classics: Dies Bildnis
and the duet between Pamina and Tamino from the complete Zauberflöte
under Karl Böhm (Decca, 1955). The Bildnis-aria was on
an EP that I bought very early and it is still my favourite rendition,
though Wunderlich, also under Böhm (DG), is in the same league.
Hilde Güden is a lovely Pamina in the duet.
The remaining four tracks from Zauberflöte are from a
live performance at the Salzburg Festival in 1959, conducted by George
Szell. The stellar cast includes Lisa Della Casa’s Pamina, Hans
Hotter’s Sprecher and Kurt Böhme’s Sarastro. I have
only one marginal complaint: on a disc devoted to the art of Leopold
Simoneau, couldn’t there have been a separate cue-point for
the tenor aria Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton?
Die Entführung aus dem Serail is represented by yet another
legendary recording, Thomas Beecham’s from 1956. Lois Marshall
may not be my ideal Konstanze though she is very good, but Simoneau
is my ideal Belmonte: light, flexible, elegant. Just listen
to Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen (tr. 10). Beecham cut
Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke from his ‘complete’
set but Simoneau had recorded it on a recital record the year before,
and that version is included here as track 12. As track 11 there is
also the duet Welch ein Geschick with Erika Köth from
the same Würzburg concert as the Idomeneo duet on CD 1.
Köth is good but Pierrette Alarie is even better, which we can
experience on CD 8. That version is from a Concert Hall LP that fortunately
is available complete in a Doremi box with the couple.
CD 3 Mozart: Don Giovanni[67:57]
Almost 68 minutes of music from Don Giovanni is included here,
most of it (trs. 3-9) from a live performance in Salzburg, 1956, the
bicentenary of Mozart’s birth. What a cast! With Dimitri Mitropoulos
and the Vienna Phil in the pit, Rita Streich as Zerlina, Lisa Della
Casa as Donna Elvira, Elisabeth Grümmer as Donna Anna, Walter
Berry as Masetto, Fernando Corena as Leporello and Cesare Siepi as
Don Giovanni one could hardly imagine a more starry gathering. On
top of that we get the sterling Don Ottavio of Leopold Simoneau. The
sound is distant but clear, the production noisy but the singing is
God-sent. Both tenor arias are there and they begin and end the disc
in alternative recordings. Dalla sua pace (tr. 1) is from a
concert in Cologne with Otto Klemperer, no less, conducting. This
is followed by the legendary studio recording of Il mio tesoro
from the complete Philips Don Giovanni under Rudolf Moralt.
At the end we hear Dalla sua pace from a Montreal broadcast
(I believe) and finally Il mio tesoro from a 1954 studio session.
CD 4 Mozart: Così fan tutte , La
finta giardiniera and Drei Lieder [63:44]
Another of those legendary Simoneau recordings is Così fan
tutte from 1954, conducted by Herbert von Karajan and with Elisabeth
Schwarzkopf, Nan Merriman, Rolando Panerai and Sesto Bruscantini in
the leading roles. Again it is hard to imagine a more distinguished
group of Mozarteans. Leopold Simoneau’s ardent and elegant Ferrando
is a model of Mozart singing. Un’ aura amorosa is delicious
and the duet with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s FiordiligiFra gli
amplessi riveting. Both these numbers are also included in alternative
versions, Un aura in what I believe is a broadcast from 1953
(tr. 1) and the duet from the Concert Hall record I mentioned earlier,
with Pierrette Alarie. Here in 1959 Simoneau is slightly more strained
but his wife is as glittering as ever, which she also is in the duet
from La finta giardiniera from the same 1959 recording. A slightly
more strained Simoneau still out-sings most of the competition.
The three Mozart songs that conclude the disc were also in the Doremi
box and in my review I then wrote: ‘Simoneau also stands out
as a superb Lieder singer and his Abendempfindung can challenge
any version I have in my collection.’
At this point we leave Mozart for the time being and turn to the French
CD 5 Thomas, Gounod, Lalo, Delibes, Offenbach [79:30]
Leopold Simoneau recorded for a lot of different commercial record
companies. On the first four discs in this box we hear recordings
from Philips, Decca, EMI, Concert Hall, Ducretet-Thomson and possibly
one or two other labels. The first three tracks on this disc are originals
from Deutsche Grammophon. They have already been available on the
yellow label and are, together with the rest of the items on that
disc - some of which also appear here - music that is seldom far from
my favourite chair, which is fixed beside my CD-player. Only a native
speaker can deliver these arias so authentically and very few native
speakers have singing voices to match. The Mignon arias pour
like gold from the throat and mouth of Leopold Simoneau and even more
so in the Faust duet. There Pierrette Alarie’s singing
also is divine. They recorded Faust complete some years later
for Concert Hall, a recording that is available on CD. Three duets
from Mireille and Roméo et Juliette (tr. 4 -
6) recorded in Paris in 1953 are also magically sung. If O nuit
divine! (tr. 5) doesn’t make your heart melt, then you are
colder than Turandot.
A Hamburg recording of the aria Vainement, ma bien aimée
from the rarely heard Le roi d’Ys by Eduard Lalo is also
Gérard in Leo Delibes’ exotic opera Lakmé
is another role that suits the Simoneau voice-type and slim-line elegance
to perfection. Tracks 8-11 treat us to more than twenty minutes of
delicious singing. My only regret is that there wasn’t room
for Alarie’s Bell Song. The concluding four items are
from a complete recording of Les contes d’Hoffmann, originally
recorded by Epic in 1958 but some years later also issued by Concert
Hall. Hoffmann was not in Simoneau’s stage repertoire - neither
were Faust and Don José. In the recording studio he could manage
it, as he graphically tells us in an interview
- or rather two interviews from the mid-1980s with Pierrette Alarie
and Leopold Simoneau: very illuminating about their lives and careers
and their opinions on various subjects. His song about Kleinzach is
very good - small-scale compared to Gedda or Domingo but still authentic.
We also get glimpses of Giulietta and Antonia, the latter in particular
is movingly interpreted by the delectable Mattiwilda Dobbs.
CD 6 Bizet, Massenet, Halévy, Méhul [70:13]
The opening track is the wonderful romance from Les pêcheurs
de perles that was made famous in the early 1930s by Beniamino
Gigli’s recording. It was frequently played on the radio in
my youth. When I bought my first record player I also pretty soon
added that recording to my collection. Gigli sang it in Italian, and
however mellifluously he performed it, he tended to make it too tearful.
Then I heard Gedda’s recording, made in the early 1960s, and
found that it was the real thing. It is still my preferred version
but Simoneau’s DG-recording heard here is up there on the Helicon
Three operas by Massenet follow. Le Cid would seem to be too
heavy for Simoneau, but O souverain suits him surprisingly
well. More his cup of tea should be Des Grieux in Manon, and
he sings both arias wonderfully. His wife amply demonstrates that
the title role could have been written for her in the two duets. Le
jongleur de Notre Dame, premiered in 1902, is not completely forgotten.
It was written for a cast of only male characters, bar a couple of
angels. In 1908 the Scottish soprano Mary Garden adopted the role,
something that is said to have horrified the composer. Leopold Simoneau
in the interview is of the same opinion: this role should be sung
by a tenor. The aria Mais renoncer … Liberté,
confirms this - but I still have a soft spot for Mary Garden’s
Halévy’s La juive gets an outing once in a while.
The Vienna State Opera did it about a decade ago. It was played earlier
this year (2013) in Dresden, St Petersburg and Vilnius and Gothenburg
will mount it in the spring of 2014. For Méhul’s Joseph
there were no hits at all on Operabase. The aria Rachel, quand
du Seigneur from the former work is not completely unknown. The
role of Eléazar was Caruso’s last new role at the Met
in 1919. It was also the last role he sang before his untimely death
in 1921. Simoneau was no Caruso but he approaches the role from his
own requirements and the outcome is touching. Champs paternels
from Joseph is closer to his temperament and this is one of
his finest recordings.
Finally three excerpts from the complete recording of Carmen,
set down in 1959 for Concert Hall. This was only my second complete
opera on LP. I played it innumerable times for many years and continued
to do so until I some years ago deported my LP collection to an outhouse.
Two years ago I found a CD transfer of it so now I can again savour
the most poetic Don José. His Flower Song is superb, some strain
apart, and he obeys all the instructions in the score. In the first
act duet with Micaèla, he is partnered by Pierrette Alarie
and she is plainly the best on any recording. The final scene, where
he kills Carmen, is a testing piece for a lyric tenor but his medium-sized
voice doesn’t exclude dramatic intensity and the Spanish mezzo-soprano
Consuelo Rubio is a worthy adversary. For these excerpts you need
to turn up the volume quite a bit.
CD 7 Donizetti, Cimarosa, Rossini, Verdi, Cilea, Puccini [61:54]
The repertoires of Leopold Simoneau and Alfredo Kraus were largely
identical. Of the ten operas represented on this disc only Matrimonio
segreto, L’Arlesiana and Tosca were not in
Kraus’s stage repertoire. I doubt that it was in Simoneau’s
either, though his E lucevan le stelle as an isolated solo
piece is very attractive with beautiful shadings and suitably plaintive
tone. The Cilea ariaE la solita storia is also well sung here.
The opera as a whole is a rarity today and there exists only one complete
recording, as far as I know, set down as long ago as 1955 by Cetra
with Ferruccio Tagliavini and Pia Tassinari in the leading roles.
In Donizetti Simoneau’s elegance and nuanced delivery is a strong
asset and in the Lucia scene Pierrette Alarie is excellent.
Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto was enthusiastically
received at the premiere, so enthusiastically that it had to be reprised
the same evening. I first got acquainted with the work through the
early Cetra recording with Cesare Valletti as Paolino. The sound was
execrable but the singing so good that I managed to listen to it anyway.
Simoneau’s tone is brighter than Valletti’s but both singers
were true bel canto artists. This excerpt also treats us to
Pierrette Alarie’s delicious Paolina, easier on the ear than
Cetra’s Alda Noni, who was still a worthy interpreter.
In Ecco ridente from Il barbiere di Siviglia he has
to give way to Luigi Alva - at least the Alva of the EMI recording
with Callas and Gobbi from 1957. This doesn’t mean that he is
in any way bad. Four excerpts from La traviata follow. The
tenor aria is from the DG sessions in 1957, the other three from 1953.
In two of them he is partnered for once not by his wife but by Maria
Morales, a name hitherto unknown to me. She was born in Madrid in
1929 and thus was only 24 when these recordings were made. It seems
though that she retired the following year. From what I hear in these
two excerpts she might have had an important career if she had continued
singing. In Parigi, o cara Pierrette Alarie is back again,
which she also is in the Gilda - Duke scene from act I of Rigoletto.
Simoneau also sings Ella mi fu rapita ... Parmi veder excellently.
O soave fanciulla from La bohème with Alarie
is also a worthy inclusion, even though Alarie was a Musetta more
than a Mimi.
CD 8 von Flotow, Mozart, Méhul, Donizetti, Verdi, Thomas,
Massenet, Bizet [68:39]
This disc seems to involve some mopping up of odd tracks from diverse
sources but on closer scrutiny is far from that. The duet from Die
Entführung aus dem Serail is the remaining item from the
Concert Hall LP mentioned before. The Bildnis aria from Die
Zauberflöte is from a French 1955 recording, from which we
have had at least one number before. The concluding three excerpts
from Les pêcheurs des perles are from the highly acclaimed
complete recording from 1953, with Pierrette Alarie as Leila and the
fine baritone René Bianco as Zurga. This is wholly delectable
singing and I suspect that many readers having heard these tracks
will want to acquire the complete recording. The remainder of the
tracks are from what could be labelled a ‘cover’ LP to
the DG LP from 1957 with French and Italian arias, but now sung in
German. Back in the 1950s it was quite common to record one LP or
EP for the international market in the original languages and one
for the domestic market, sung in German. The aria from Martha,
sung in the original German, was common to both LPs. The rest of the
arias sung in German are all here, bar the one from La Juive.
It could easily have been included on the disc, since the playing
time is only 69 minutes. German is no easy language to sing and achieve
the same legato and elegance as in French and Italian, but I think
Simoneau manages quite well.
CD 9 Berlioz and Duparc [55:43]
No more opera on the remaining discs. CD 9 opens with Sanctus
from Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts from a live performance
during the Salzburg Festival in 1956, Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting
the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Simoneau later - in 1959 - recorded
the work under studio conditions for RCA with the Boston Symphony
and Charles Munch, another highly acclaimed recording. The sound from
Salzburg is more primitive but Simoneau sings marvellously and the
orchestral playing cannot be faulted. The female voices of the chorus
initially sound a bit wayward, but later on they are OK and towards
the end truly angelic.
The rest of the disc offers no fewer than eleven songs by Henri Duparc,
the first four with orchestra, recorded in Cologne in 1957 and the
seven others with piano in a studio recording from 1956 for Westminster.
The complete disc is available on Forgotten Records. Simoneau was
a master also in French mélodie repertoire.
CD 10 Mozart, Haydn, Handel, Rameau, Duparc, Fauré [72:56]
This disc opens with two of Mozart’s concert arias, which both
were included in the afore-mentioned Concert Hall LP, but here they
are instead presented from the same Cologne sessions as the four Duparc
songs with orchestra on CD 9.
Then we return to Salzburg and a song recital on 14 August 1959 with
Erik Werba at the piano. Three Haydn songs are followed by three arias
by Handel. Rameau’s cantata L’impatience takes
11 minutes and then there is more Duparc, but only Chanson triste
is duplicated from CD 9, and there it was sung with orchestra.
Three of Gabriel Fauré’s loveliest songs round off the
evening - and this magnificent tribute to one of the last century’s
finest lyric tenors. ‘The Ultimate Collection’? Well,
you can’t go wrong when buying this box. Jens Malte Fischer
once wrote in the Süddeutsche Zeitung about an earlier CD release:
‘... if Simoneau is featured, buy it without listening!’
I endorse that. Some of the live recordings are rather murky, but
this is compensated by the superb singing of the tenor. Buy it without
Full contents list
Orfeo ed Eurydice: Quel nouveau ciel par ces lieux / J'ai perdu mon
Eurydice (GLUCK); Iphigenie en Tauride: Quel langage / Unie des la
plus tendre enfance / Ah! mon ami / Divinité des grandes âmes
(GLUCK); Idomeneo: Qual mi conturba I sensi / Fuor del mar / Ah non
sarebbe il viver mio / Non temer amato bene / Principessa ai tuoi
sguardi / Spiegarti non poss` io / Torna la pace al core (MOZART);
La Clemenza di Tito: Se all'impero / Ah se fosse intorno al trono
/ Come ti piace imponi (MOZART)
Die Zauberflöte: Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön / Tamino
mein! - Pamina mein! / Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schon / Zum Ziele
fuhrt dich diese Bahn / Die Weisheitslehre dieser Knaben / O ew'ge
Nacht / Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton / Soll ich dich Teurer
nicht mehr seh'n / Mich schreckt kein Tod / Tamino mein! (MOZART);
Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Hier soll ich dich denn sehen
Konstanze / Konstanze dich wiederzusehen / Ach Belmonte ach mein Leben
/ Wenn der Freude Tranen fliessen / Welch ein Geschick / Ich baue
ganz auf deine Starke (MOZART)
Don Giovanni: Dalla sua pace / Il mio tesoro intanto / Ma qual mai
s'offre oh Dei / Fuggi crudele fuggi / No ti fidar o misera / Come
mai creder deggio / Dalla sua pace / Protegga il giusto cielo / Riposate
vezzose regazze / Sola sola in buio loco / Ferma perfido ferma / Il
mio tesoro intanto / Ah dove e il perfido / Dalla sua pace / Il mio
tesoro intanto (MOZART)
Cosi Fan Tutte: Un'aura amorosa del nostro tesoro / Fra gli amplessi
in pochi istanti / La mia Dorabella / E la fede delle femmine / Una
bella serenata / Sento oddio che questo piede / Un'aura amorosa /
Secondate aurette amiche / Amico abbiamo vinto! / Donne mie la fate
a tanti / Tradito schernito / Bravo questa e costanza / Fra gli amplessi
(MOZART); La Finta Giardiniera: Tu mi lasci (MOZART); Oiseaux si tous
les ans K307. An Chloe K524. Abendempfindung K523 (MOZART)
Mignon: Adieu Mignon! Courage! / Elle ne croyait pas (THOMAS); Faust:
Il se fait tard adieu (GOUNOD); Mireille: La brise est douce (GOUNOD);
Romeo et Juliette: O nuit divine! Je t'implore / Va! je t'ai pardonné
(GOUNOD); Le Roi d'Ys: Vainement ma bien aimée (LALO); Lakmé:
Prendre le dessin d'un bijou / Fantaisie aux divins / D'ou viens-tu?
/ C'est le dieu de la jeunesse / Tu m'as donné le plus doux
rêve / Lakmé! Lakmé! C'est toi / Dans la forêt
près de nous (DELIBES); Les Contes d'Hoffman: Va pour Kleinzach!
/ Il était une fois a la cour d'Eisenach / Elle est là
/ C'est elle! Elle sommeille! / Malheureux tu ne comprends donc pas
/ O Dieu de quelle ivresse / C'est une chanson d'amour (OFFENBACH)
The Pearl Fishers: A cette voix quel trouble / Je crois entendre encore
(BIZET); Le Cid: O souverain o juge o père (MASSENET); Manon:
J'ai marque l'heure du départ / Instant charmant / Et je sais
votre nom / Je suis seul / Ah! fuyez douce image (MASSENET); Les Jongleur
de Notre Dame: Mais renoncer ... Liberté (MASSENET); La Juive:
Rachel quand du Seigneur la grace tutelaire (HALEVY); Joseph: Vainement
Pharaon / Champs paternels (MEHUL); Carmen: Parlez-moi de ma mère
/ La fleur que tu m'avais jetée / L'on m'avait avertie (BIZET)
L'Elisir d'Amore: Una furtiva lagrima (DONIZETTI); Don Pasquale: Come
gentile (DONIZETTI); Lucia di Lammermoor: Sulla tomba (DONIZETTI);
Il Matrimonio Segreto: Cara non dubitar (CIMAROSA); Il Barbiere di
Siviglia: Ecco ridente in cielo (ROSSINI); La Traviata: Un di felice
eterea / Lunge da lei / De'miei bollenti spiriti / Che fai? - Nulla
/ Parigi o cara (VERDI); Rigoletto: Ella mi fu rapita / Parmi veder
le lagrime / Signor ne principe io lo vorrei / E il sol dell'anima
(VERDI); L'Arlesiana: E la solita storia del pastore (CILEA); La Boheme:
O soave fanciulla (PUCCINI); Tosca: E lucevan le stelle (PUCCINI)
Martha: Ach so fromm ach so traut (FLOTOW); Die Entführung aus
dem Serail: Welch ein Geschick (MOZART); Die Zauberflote: Dies Bildnis
ist bezaubernd schon (MOZART); Joseph in Egypt: Ach mir lachelt umsonst
huldvoll..../ O Vaterland (MEHUL); Der Lieberstrank: Wohl drang aus
ihrem Herzen ein Seufzer (DONIZETTI); La Traviata: Entfernt von ihr
/ Ach ihres Auges Zauberblick (VERDI); Mignon: Gib` Kraft Mignon /
Wie ihre Unschuld (THOMAS); Manon: O schone Zeit / Ich schloss die
Augen / Ich bin allein / Flieh o flieh holdes Bild (MASSENET); The
Pearl Fishers: C'est toi / Au fond du temple saint / A cette voix
/ Je crois entendre encore / De mon amie / Leila! Leila! Dieu puissant
/ Ton coeur n'a pas compris le mien (BIZET)
Grande Messe des Morts op. 5: Sanctus (BERLIOZ); Phidylé: La
vie antérieure / L'invitation au voyage / Chanson triste /
Testament / Sérénade florentine / La vague et la cloche
/ Lamento / Elégie / Sérénade / Au pays ou se
fait la guerre (DUPARC)
Concert Arias - Per pieta non ricercate K420. Misero! o sogno! - Aura
che intorno K425b (MOZART); 6 English Kanzonette HobXXVIa: Genugsamkeit
/ She never told her love / Sailor's Song (HAYDN); Dettinger Te Deum:
Vouchsafe o Lord (HANDEL); Acis and Galathea: Would you gain the tender
creature / Love sounds th'alarm (HANDEL); L'Impatience (RAMEAU); Soupir.
Chanson triste. Extase. Le manoir de Rosemonde (DUPARC); Au cimetière
op. 51/2. Claire de lune op. 46/2. Poème D'un Jour op. 21 (FAURE)