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Rita Gorr sings French Opera
Orchestre du Théâtre National de l’Opéra/André Cluytens
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire/Georges Prêtre
rec. 1959-1962, Salle Wagram, Paris

Rita Gorr (1926-2012) was the stage name of Marguerite Geirnaert, born into a working-class family in the industrial town of Zelzate, near Ghent, Belgium. After leaving school she worked as a nurse. The family who employed her noticed the quality of her singing and paid for her first lessons. After vocal studies in Ghent and in Brussels she won first prize at the vocal competition of Verviers in 1946, making her professional debut at Antwerp as Fricka in Die Walküre the same year. She was a member of the Strasbourg Opera from 1949 to 1952, winning another first prize at the vocal competition of Lausanne in 1952 and making her Paris debuts that year at the Opéra-Comique as Charlotte in Werther on 6 March, and at the Paris Opéra on 31 October as Magdalena in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Her Paris repertoire expanded rapidly to include Dalila in Samson and Delilah, Venus in Tannhäuser, Carmen and Amneris in Aida, Eboli in Don Carlos and Marguérite in La damnation de Faust. She premiered at La Scala in 1958 as Santuzza and Kundry, in 1959 at Bayreuth as Ortrud, at Covent Garden in 1959 as Amneris, in 1960 at Vienna as Fricka, Waltraute and Brangäne and at the Met from 1962 to 1966 encompassing the Verdi mezzo repertoire and Dalila.
It was as Amneris in Solti’s 1962 recording of Aida opposite Leontyne Price in the eponymous role and featuring Jon Vickers as Radames that I first came across her (Decca 460 765-2). It was probably her debut appearance as Amneris at the Met that led to her recording the role with Solti. The Met tended to take their casts to Rome for annual visits and record for the RCA label. The recording was an early fruit of the short-lived liaison between RCA and Decca that saw exchanges of contracted artistes between the two with the former benefiting from the superior recording technology of the latter. By that time the Italian trio of Stignani, Simionato and Barbieri were either retired or nearly so, whilst Shirley Verrett and Cossotto had not emerged as recording artists. Rita Gorr filled the bill for Solti without being wholly convincing to my ears, being far more successful as Ortrud in Lohengrin, opposite Sándor Kónya and Lucine Amara, under Erich Leinsdorf in 1965, as well as a 1959 version from Bayreuth conducted by Lovro von Matacic. Other recorded roles included Fricka, the latter at Bayreuth under Hans Knappertsbusch, and, notably as Dalila.

With a vocal compass of two octaves her voice was difficult to define and the upper reaches could rattle the recording microphone. In these recordings, from sessions at the Paris Salle Wagram, in its resonant acoustic, her voice is set well back. She is distinctly stretched at times in the 1961 recordings of arias from Iphigénie en Tauride (trs. 2-5) whilst the aria from Orphée et Euridice from 1959 gives an altogether better representation of her qualities (tr.6). Her dramatic capabilities are heard to good effect in the extracts from Cherubini’s Médée (trs.7-11) whilst in La damnation de Faust the music sits nicely on the rich middle of her voice where the richness of her timbre is very evident (Trs.12-13). That rich middle is also well heard in both arias from Samson et Dalila that was, perhaps, her ideal calling card (trs.15-16).

Robert J Farr

Previous review: Ralph Moore


Christoph GLUCK (1714-1787)
1. Divinités du Styx [5:08]
Iphigénie en Tauride
2. Ô toi, qui prolongeas mes jours [4:27]
3. Ô malheureuse Iphigénie (Choeurs René Duclos) [4:01]
4. Je cède à vos désirs - D'une image, hélas! trop chérie [4:08]
5. Non, cet affreux devoir - Je t'implore et je tremble [4:08]
Orphée et Eurydice
6. Malheureux, que je fais? - J’ai perdu mon Eurydice [5:33]
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
7. Vous voyez, de vos fils, la mère infortunée [4:10]
8. Perfides ennemis qui conspirez ma peine* [4:38]
9. Chers enfants, il faut done que je vous abandonne* [6:07]
10. Du trouble affreux qui me dévore [4:20]
11. Eh quoi! Je suis Médée [5:03]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
La damnation de Faust
12. Autrefois un Roi de Thulé [5:21]
13. D’amour l’ardente flamme [7:26]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
14. Werther! Werther! . . . Ces lettres . . . ah! je les relis sans cesse [6:07]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Samson et Dalila
15. Printemps qui commence [4:46]
16. Samson, recherchant ma presence [3:28]



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