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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Edmond Clément

Edmond Clément was born in Paris in 1867.  As a young man, Clément entered the Conservatoire de Paris, where it quickly became apparent that he was possessed of a very beautiful high lyric tenor voice.  At the relatively young age of 22, Clément made his stage debut, as did so many artists, at the Opéra Comique, in Massenet’s Mireille.  He very quickly began to earn a reputation as a superbly elegant and polished singer.  He remained a leading tenor at the Opéra Comique for the next twenty years, until 1909.

During this crucially important period, Clément perfected what was going to become the core of his essential repertoire, including Ottavio, Roméo, Werther, Hoffmann, Almaviva, Tamino,and, perhaps most importantly, des Grieux.  Also, given the era in which he sang, he had the opportunity to take part in première performances, including Falstaff, Butterfly and Saint-Saëns’ Hèléne.

By this time, when Clément was in his early 40’s, he began to spread his wings, as it were, and appear outside Paris.  While today we assume that it is natural to move abroad as opportunities present themselves, this was not always the case in the early years of the 20th century.  For one thing, travel was expensive and difficult then, and there is nothing like a transatlantic trip by steamer to wear one out.  Not everyone is constituted to be able to tolerate long trips by boat and rail.  It was common enough for artists who lived in Paris to have their entire careers and never leave Paris, even then considered by many, if not most, to be the world’s greatest city.

However, for Clément it was off to Madrid, Monte Carlo and Brussels.  He did not sing at Covent Garden, but he did manage the big transatlantic trip to New York, to perform in the 1909-10 season at the Metropolitan Opera. This was, however, the heyday of Enrico Caruso, the star tenor of the Met’s roster, and verismo singers such as Enrico Caruso were all the rage at the time, and were basically polar opposites to elegant bel canto tenors such as Edmond Clément.  Clément and others certainly had their audience also, but it was not, shall we say, that of the Italophile Met and its New York Italian immigrant fan base.

He found a very much more appreciative audience in Boston, at the Boston Opera House, where his extremely elegant and polished singing, coupled with his equally refined stage presence,  were greatly applauded. He was a natural Roméo, and a good Don José.  It should be mentioned at this point that  Clément was a superb musician, and a very handsome man, with considerable acting skills.

The year following his Boston triumph saw the outbreak of WWI and Clément, a patriotic Frenchman,  returned to his homeland and joined the Army.  While he did survive, he was  wounded, and was never quite the same after the war.  While he did sing a little, it was nonetheless a period of decline.  He gave a recital at age sixty and died in 1927,the following year, in Nice.  He is remembered, even today, thanks to his records, as one of the most precious and elegant of tenors, the very exemplar of French elegance.

To begin, here is Clément in what may be his signature role, des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon:


Talk about elegance!  That is certainly one of the finest recordings of “Le Rêve” to be found.  Clément scores at every important point in the aria: style, legato, precise enunciation, and simplicity, something often overlooked, which should not be, because it is the bed-rock foundation of elegance!  It is too easy to be excessive, but the true test of an artist’s ability to demonstrate with perfection the intentions of the author is to adhere to a clean, precise simplicity, and at this Clément excels.

Here is a piece that shows an uncommon breath control and command of legato singing, the tenor aria from Boieldieu’s La Dame Blanche, “Viens, gentile dame:

If we can imagine a very long string, or piece of thread, wrapped into a ball, unwinding from the first note of the aria to the last, we have a very reasonable visual image of the legato line extending from the beginning to the end of the aria.  It reminds me a bit of McCormack, but even finer.  This is an elegance that can only be called remarkable.

Finally, here is a song, and while it is not an operatic aria, it is what I always refer to as the oldest continually sung love song of them all, Martini’s “Plaisir d’amour.” Written in 1780 by Jean Paul E. Martini, “Plaisir d'amour” is a very good candidate for being the greatest love song ever written. It has been sung constantly from the moment of its creation until the present day, which is now over 230 years.  It has been sung by folk singers, great opera singers, pop singers, including Elvis Presley, and countless thousands of amateurs.  The song is an absolute classic of beauty, elegance, structural perfection, and essential text: “I loved her, she said she loved me, but she ran off with someone else, now I'm miserable.  The joy of love lasts only a minute, its pain is life-long.”  It doesn't get much more basic than that.  In a word, it is a song tailor-made for Edmond Clément:



Sunday, November 16, 2014

French Tenor Paul Franz


French tenor Paul Franz was born François Gautier in Paris in 1876.  He took the name Paul Franz and was always known  by that name.  He did not begin to study voice until he was 30 years old.  He won a major vocal competition in 1908 and made his debut at the Grand Opera in Paris that same year, in Lohengrin.  The Paris Opera remained his artistic home for 30 years. He retired in 1938.  His voice was brilliant and powerful and his stage  presence most impressive, all of which made him a great favorite with audiences.  He was able to sing big roles, such as Rhadames, Otello, Samson, Don José, Le Cid, and Wagnerian roles such as Sigmund, Siegfried and Tristan.  Paul Franz died, in Paris,

in 1950.

Here is the tenor aria "La fleur," from Carmen:

Ignore the address above and go to Youtube and look up the aria "La Fleur" under Paul Franz

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Eula Beal

Eula Beal (January 25, 1919 – July 29, 2008) was an American contralto. During her relatively short touring career, she performed with distinguished collaborators not only in concert on the US West Coast but also in Concert Magic, a 1947 film billed as "the first motion picture concert." [1]

Beal was born in Riverside, California. Touring the United States as a concert contralto in the 1940s, she appeared with orchestras including the Phoenix Symphony[2] and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. With the latter ensemble, she performed in two works by Gustav Mahler: his Eighth Symphony, under Eugene Ormandy at the Hollywood Bowl,[3] and Kindertotenlieder.[4] Beal's operatic appearances included interpretations of Erda in Wagner's Siegfried and the innkeeper in Boris Godunov with the San Francisco Opera during the 1948 season. She also sang at Radio City Music Hall and the Tanglewood Festival with the Boston Pops.[5]

Here is a wonderful rendition of Schubert's lied, Der Erlkonig:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Francesco Merli

By Mr. Dan Ogilvie



Francesco Merli




In many paintings of the lamentation of Christ, amongst the bowed heads of the mourners, you may find a solitary grief stricken figure looking out at you, the viewer. The purpose of this solitary viewer is to turn the scene from a simple recording of an event into something the viewer can emphasise with. We can see the emotion on the face of this figure, and therefore we also can share in his grief. The figure is a ‘way in’ to the painting.


I often feel that the aria Nessun Dorma performs the same function in opera. How many of us, I wonder, have started to explore opera because of hearing a rendition of that song, perhaps by Luciano Pavarotti, Russell Watson, Al Martino or Mario Lanzo. I know, in my case, it was hearing Jussi Bjorling sing it that introduced to me, firstly further arias of his, but then full operas: he and his soaring version of that aria, was my ‘way in’ to opera.


I have always maintained affection for Turandot. In some ways I sort of collected Nessuns, from the plaintive but underpowered Miguel Fleta to the ridiculously long-held last note of Xiaojun Deng. But complete performances have always disappointed – I thought that this was, perhaps, an opera that has to be heard live – you have to be there to be wrapped up in its violent and rather unpleasant plot (the frustratingly brief extracts of Giovanni Martinelli or Daniele Barioni, live, perhaps endorse this). Even the complete recording of Jussi Bjorling failed to catch my imagination, even though there is some glorious singing to be found there.


So it was more for completeness that I bought the complete studio recording of Turandot with Francesco Merli, Gina Cigna and Magda Olivero. Let me tell you, once you have bought this recording, there is no need to buy any other. It is stunning, so much so (and I will honestly admit this) I have repeatedly played the Ping, Pang and Pong act, so well performed as it is, something I sometimes skip or use as an excuse to get a glass of wine.


This recording was not my first introduction to Francesco Merli, but it cemented for me what an astonishing tenor he was.


Here is the Signor Ascolta… Non Piangere Lui from that recording. Be prepared to have your breath taken away.



Merli’s voice is dark, even sonorous, but never unwieldy. Listen in the Non Piangere to him waiver his voice at the end of ‘questo’. Are we now in any doubt that this apparently heartless man loves Lui. And for such a dark baritonal voice the top notes ring out and are generously held, but not just because of playing to the crowd. Turandot is going to accept his challenge – he will make sure of that.


Perhaps Rosa Ponselle, slightly indirectly, should introduce my next extract:


‘You know, I don’t even remember Merli singing Gioconda at all… All I remember singing with him was L’amore dei tre re: that was unforgettable, even the rehearsals… Whew! I forgot myself around him, even in the rehearsals. I was a bad girl;…’


Unfortunately I cannot find that duet on-line, but here is Cielo e Mar from Gioconda, lest the rest of us should forget.



We are now in no doubt this voice is a true tenor voice. We can hear that agility again, he caresses the words; the phrasing is immaculate.


Why is Merli not mentioned in the same pantheon as Lauri-Volpi or Martinelli or Gigli? Well, he was unlucky with his roles at the Metropolitan (ill-health) and at Covent Garden (which is graveyard for many singers who do not fit the British sensibilities of the particular time) which restricted his fame to within Italy, with La Scala his base. But luckily there are quite a few recordings of his to be found.


Stella Roman has hailed Merli as the greatest Otello she ever appeared with, and as her partners included Vinay, Pertile and Martinelli, we should take note. It would be remiss of me to not include something from that work here.



Ms. Roman, you have a point. Tell me, gentle reader, are you not breathing a little quicker after listening to that – it is stunning piece of singing. And the words are sung, not shouted: the words are deeply felt; this is truly the singing of a broken man. Even in the last note of defiance do you hear him sharpen the note slightly, giving it an edge, a little bit of extra ferocity.


I always think, with the demanding repertoire that Merli sings, there has to be a sort of saving of resources for that last note. How many tenors have you seen hang around the back of the stage letting the chorus do all the work until running quickly to the front to deliver the final note of Di Quella Pira (let alone reprise it!). Merli has such surety in his voice and such technique he never feels the need to ‘save himself’. Listen to this aria from Guillaume Tell – those notes, given so freely, would shatter rock, let alone the odd chandelier or two.



Let me finish with an aria from La Forza del Destino that I believe encapsulates everything that is great about this singer. It is so easy for a singer such as this, with such weight of voice at his command, to go ‘over the top’, to ‘play to the gallery’. That can, of course, be exciting, and don’t think there isn’t a place for it. But Merli manages to be refined, yet at the same time exciting and emotional. He does not abuse the words and music, he heightens them. He is, truly, a great singer.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Great Jan Kiepura

Jan Kiepura was born on the 16th of May 1902 in Sosnowiec, a quite small industrial town in Poland.

Kiepura discovered his singing voice in his youth and started singing in a school choir. His parents did not encourage him, however, and sent him to Warsaw to study law at the University of Warsaw, to which he was admitted in 1921. He continued studying voice in private, however, determined to become a solo singer in any theater that would give him the chance.  He finally got a chance, in 1924, to perform in a comic operetta called “Halka”

Word began to spread about the law student with the extraordinary voice, and in only one year he was given the chance to sing Faust at the Wielki Theater in Warsaw, when the tenor Dobosz, who was scheduled to sing, did not appear.  Kiepura was a spectacular success that night, receiving a standing ovation for his performance.  Thus began a brilliant career.

Kiepura gained popularity singing in Rigoletto (Verdi), Halka (Moniuszko) and Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni) at the Warsawian Wielki Theater.

In 1926 Puccini's Tosca and Gianni Schicchi were added to his repertoire. Then came Tosca and Turandot as well as Straszny dwór by Moniuszko. Kiepura was becoming famous in Poland, but he very quickly determined to move on to Aivnna and Paris.  He also learned Italian and German, preparing himself for an international career.  He could sing convincingly in Italian, but he sang much more often in German, the language in which he gained his greatest popularity.

Here is a brilliant Nessun Dorma  (Sung in German)

By 1937 Kiepura had married Martha Eggerth, a singer and actress, with whom he appeared in many movies as well as in a production of 'The merry widow' on Broadway. The merry widow was such a success that the production toured throughout the U.S.A. as well as Western Europe, and was sung in four different languages. Kiepura acquired great fame in the '30s, shifting the emphasis from opera to the big screen. On January the 10th 1938 he debuted at the Metropolitan in New York as Rodolfo in Puccini's La Boheme. Kiepura also sang in Tosca, Bizet's Carmen, and Verdi's Rigoletto at the Metropolitan until 1942. The duke of Mantua (Rigoletto) was regarded as his best role.

Kiepura's voice was an outpouring of a rich, warm tone: powerful and generous singing forte, sweet and honeyed when singing piano. Equipped with such an instrument he managed to sing roles throughout virtually the entire tenor fach. He did, however, stay away from the most taxing and heavy roles such as Otello. Besides being successful as an operatic singer he was also a prolific singing movie star richness and spontaneity in his voice.His technique allowed him to sing concerts well into his sixties. Unfortunately a heart attack ended his life prematurely when he was still active as a singer. Jan Kiepura died on August 15th, 1966.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Irina Konstantinovna Arkhipova

Irina Konstantinovna Arkhipova was a Russian mezzo-soprano, and later contralto, opera singer. She sang leading roles first in Russia at the Sverdlovsk Opera and the Bolshoi Theater, and then throughout Europe and in the United States.
Born: January 2, 1925,  Moscow, Russia

Died: February 11, 2010, Moscow, Russia


She  studied at the Moscow Conservatory from 1954 to 1956 and sang with the Sverdlovak Opera where her roles included Marina in Boris Godunov, Eboli in Don Carlos Charlotte in Werther.  Her  first Bolshoi performance was as Carmen, one of her greatest roles.  The Bolshoi became her operatic home and she sang all her greatest roles there.
Here is a splendid rendition of Caccini's Ave Maria:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Radu Marian

Radu Marian

Born in 1977 in Romania, Marian is quite popular in a historical repertoire he has helped bring back to the modern classical music scene. He has been the recipient of many awards and singing prizes, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia. He is much respected, and is commonly featured at important music festivals throughout Europe.

Radu Marian is a true soprano, "soprano" being a vocal part, not a gender. Because of a medical condition, he never went through puberty, so his voice did not change. He was a boy soprano who became an adult soprano. The result is his clear, pure and high sound that makes his singing so very attractive and beautiful. Here is Radu Marian singing "Lascia ch'io pianga," Almirena's aria from Rinaldo: