Arthur Endreze – An American in Paris
by Darren Seacliffe
America has long been known to be a fertile breeding ground for opera singers. From Lilian Nordica at the close of the nineteenth century to today’s ‘’Rossinian’’ couple, Lawrence Brownlee and Ms Joyce DiDonato, American opera singers have attained resounding success in almost every genre of opera from baroque to modern. There is no vocal fach or category of singer which does not have an American among its leading representatives. Since the dawn of the record age, America has been blessed with world-class female opera singers. Three of the singers who took part in the legendary ‘Night of the Seven Stars’ Met performance of Les Huguenots were American (Lilian Nordica, Emma Eames and Edyth Walker). However, a considerable period of time would elapse before America produced its first great male opera singers. One of them was the legendary American baritone Lawrence Tibbett, widely considered to be the first son of America to break into the musical circuit of opera hitherto dominated by Europeans and to rise to the top of his profession. I can still remember how enthusiastic and excited the author of The American Opera Singer was in recounting the Met performance which gave Tibbett his big break, the Falstaff where Tibbett’s Ford stole the show from Scotti’s Falstaff. On the other hand, a debut by another American son across the Atlantic some time later, no less significant than Tibbett’s, was sadly given not as much attention. The name of this son of America was Arthur Endres Kraeckmann, better known by his stage name, Arthur Endreze, of whom I will speak in this article today.
It’s an irony that Arthur Endreze is now better remembered in his adopted country, France, than in the place of his birth. However, this isn’t surprising given the fact that Endreze spent more of his career on the Continent than he did at home. It would be my hope to eventually contribute to the restoration of Arthur Endreze’s name to its rightful place in the pantheon of illustrious American opera singers whose names continue to be fondly remembered by the American opera connoisseur.
Arthur Endreze was born as Arthur Endres Kraeckmann on 28 November,1893, in Chicago. Endreze was at first an amateur singer until he attracted the attention of the conductor Walter Damrosch, who persuaded him to go to Europe to pursue his studies in music. In 1921, Arthur Endreze joined the Conservatoire Americain in Fontainebleau, where he studied singing with Amedee Louis Hettich, a singing teacher at the Paris Conservatoire. (One of his classmates at the Conservatoire Americain was the great American composer Aaron Copland.) After taking first prize in singing at the Conservatoire, Arthur Endreze decided to stay in Paris where he would give his first recital on 8 May, 1922. The recital was a considerable success, where Endreze not only received good reviews but a letter of introduction to the top French tenor of the previous century, Jean de Reszke, who eventually accepted Endreze as his last important pupil.
Under Jean de Reszke’s tutelage, Arthur Endreze would eventually become the baritone who continues to be regarded by the French as one of their greatest baritones from the inter-war era. His recordings of extracts from the standard French baritone roles like Valentin and Escamillo have a degree of authority and authenticity which is not to be taken lightly. Even though I personally feel that Valentin and Escamillo weren’t the French baritone roles that showed him to his greatest advantage, being the French baritone roles my readers would most likely be familiar with, I thought it would be best if I used Endreze’s extracts from Faust and Carmen as an introduction to his art.
(For Faust, where Endreze sings Valentin, I have chosen his rendition of ‘Mort de Valentin’ [Death of Valentin). Don’t you think the way Endreze’s Valentin sings his last words to Marguerite makes you sympathize with his character? Endreze truly sounds as though his character is in his death throes towards the end of the aria. It was Endreze’s gift for tragedy that makes this performance literally tug at your heartstrings.)
(For Carmen, instead of the better known Toreador Song, I have selected the duet between Escamillo and Don Jose ‘’Je suis Escamillo’’, where Endreze is partnered by the great Corsican tenor Gaston Micheletti. Endreze’s Escamillo is noble and refined but it lacks the flamboyance we’re so used to seeing in characterizations by many other great baritones. It’s a pity Endreze is a bit too reserved as Escamillo. If he was more emotionally involved, given Micheletti’s tastefully exciting Don José, this would have been a performance for posterity.)
After listening to the two extracts, don’t you find that there’s nobility and elegance in Endreze’s singing? Such refinement was typical of French opera singers of his day. It was a characteristic unique to the French school of singing which has recently become extinct. When you listen to singers of the old school from Edmond Clement in the first half of the twentieth century to Alain Vanzo in the second half, you’ll notice that their singing is generally lyrical. The words tend to flow from them more smoothly and evenly. If you want to have a better idea of this distinct feature of the French school of singing, I would like to refer you to recordings of the staple French operas like Manon, Werther, Faust and Carmen with all-French or predominantly French casts. More accessible examples of such recordings would be the Manon by Victoria de los Angeles and Henri Legay as well as the Werther by Georges Thill and Ninon Vallin. This style of singing gave the performances charm, which singers from other schools have in most cases been unable to replicate. A lack of charm could severely compromise performances of operas by certain composers like Jules Massenet and Ambroise Thomas, for charm is needed to make their music come to life.
In an era where refinement was commonplace among French singers, nobility and elegance alone would not be enough for Arthur Endreze to rise above his colleagues. There must have been something more. What was it? For me, the qualities which made Arthur Endreze different from other leading French baritones of his time, like Vanni-Marcoux and Hector Dufranne, were his beautiful, warm and rich voice (Vanni-Marcoux’s voice sounds ordinary in comparison), his penchant for high tragedy and his emotional and dramatic sensitivity to the underlying nature of the operas he sang. (Dufranne can be moving but his singing doesn’t leave the same amount of impact Endreze does, probably because of his lighter voice). In addition, through the training Arthur Endreze received under Jean de Reszke, it is highly probable that Endreze would have been schooled in the way to perform French operas according to the way their composers intended them to be sung. (Jean de Reszke premiered Massenet’s Le Cid and it is believed he may have taught Endreze to sing the role of Hamlet and Nelusko [L’Africaine] like his friend, Jean-Baptiste Faure, who created these roles.) To showcase these attributes of Arthur Endreze’s singing, I have chosen 3 recordings from the French repertoire so central to his career.
(Arthur Endreze’s rendition of Athanael’s aria from Massenet’s Thais: ‘’Voila donc la terrible cite’’. Not only does he sing the aria with earth-shaking gravity, he makes it sound so beautiful as well. A first-class performance which few baritones can match.
(Arthur Endreze and Yvonne Gall sing the Duo de l’Oasis from Massenet’s Thais. Endreze is very much the religious fanatic besotted with his new follower. There’s nothing much I can say after hearing this poetically beautiful duet.)
(Arthur Endreze sings Nelusko’s aria ‘’Fille des Rois’’ from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine. Unlike the role of Athanael, he seems not to have performed the role on stage but it is believed that he may have studied this role with his teacher de Reskze. It is commendable that Endreze was not only able to sing the aria at a time when this opera was no longer in the standard French repertoire, but he was also able to execute the trills with reasonable flexibility and smoothness. I believe that such technical skill was rare for singers of that period.)
Besides giving Arthur Endreze vocal instruction, Jean de Reszke introduced his pupil to one of the leading musical personages of the time, Reynaldo Hahn, who was then in charge of the opera season at Cannes. It was Hahn who would arrange for Endreze’s debut as an opera singer, in the role of Escamillo at Cannes on 18 December 1925. During his time at Cannes, Arthur Endreze’s repertoire expanded considerably, to include roles like Valentin, the High Priest in Samson et Dalila, Tonio (Pagliacci), Alfio (Cavalleria), Rigoletto, Scarpia, Athanael, d’Orbel (the French version of Germont), Nilakantha (Lakme) and Hamlet.
By the time Arthur Endreze made his debut at the Opéra-Comique in Paris as Karnak in Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys on 4 October 1928, Endreze had already a sizable repertoire under his belt through his work at Cannes. In less than a year, he would make his debut at Paris’ other great opera house, the Opéra, in the role of Valentin, on 12 September 1929. His debut received rave press reviews from the critic Raymond Ballimand, who praised Endreze for his ‘’convincing conception of the role’’, his ‘’experience, intelligence and ease’’, his ‘’fine musicality’’ and his ‘’clear declamation’’. After listening to the musical excerpts above, I feel that the reader would have to agree with the critic’s opinion of Endreze’s musical virtues.
After his debut at the Opéra, Arthur Endreze would go from strength to strength. The turning point in his career came when he was asked to participate in the premiere of Magnard’s Guercoeur on 24 April 1931, in which Arthur Endreze sang the title role. His excellent performance eventually made him the star baritone of the Paris Opéra. Though Tibbett’s rise to stardom at the Met was certainly praiseworthy for paving the way for future American male opera singers to succeed in opera, I honestly feel that Endreze’s conquest of one of the peaks of opera, the Paris Opéra, was no less significant a milestone in America’s musical history. (The Paris Opéra was then one of the top opera houses on the Continent, which had seen numerous premieres. Some of these operas like La Favorita and Don Carlos continue to hold their places in the repertoire. You can imagine how significant the Opéra was in terms of culture.) At a time when Europeans still regarded Americans as the new kids on the cultural scene, Endreze must have achieved a great triumph for America by earning recognition from the French as a great opera singer.
As a star baritone of the Paris Opéra, Arthur Endreze was given the honor of being included in the cast of world premieres like Milhaud’s Maximilien in 1932 and Christophe Colombe in 1936 as well as Honegger’s and Ibert’s L’Aiglon in 1937 and Sauguet’s La Chartreuse de Parme in 1939. He would also have the chance to sing alongside several legendary guest opera singers of the time like Frida Leider, Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior. At the same time, there were operas which were revived to be star vehicles for him; operas such as Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet. Arthur Endreze would be the last important baritone to have the role of Hamlet in his active repertoire. For anyone who wishes to have an idea of how big Endreze was as an opera star, here are 2 excerpts from 2 of Endreze’s star’s vehicles, Hamlet and Guercoeur. After hearing the 2 performances below, I think the reader can understand how critical Endreze’s championship was for the survival of these operas in the repertoire.
(Arthur Endreze sings the most famous excerpt from Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet, the Drinking Song. It is sad that unlike the other great Shakespearian tragedies, Otello and Macbeth, Hamlet has not been set to music by a composer capable of realizing its dramatic potential. By the time Hamlet came into Ambroise Thomas’ hands, the librettist had reduced Hamlet from one of Shakespeare’s 4 great tragedies to the level of a singer’s vehicle that did not have much to its credit. The only redeeming features as far as I can see are Ophelia’s coloratura displays and Hamlet’s arias. )
(‘’Etre ou ne pas etre’’ from Thomas’ Hamlet and the better of the 2 extracts Arthur Endreze recorded from Magnard’s Guercoeur, ‘’Ou suis-je’’. In my humble opinion, even when Arthur Endreze is placing all his artistic and vocal gifts at the disposal of these 2 arias, there is little more he can do other than to make these 2 arias acceptably interesting to the listener. If placed into the hands of a less talented baritone, you can imagine how the arias would turn out, let alone the operas where they come from. It’s hardly surprising that Guercoeur and Hamlet both dropped out of the repertoire after Endreze’s retirement. Even though Hamlet has been revived recently, its status is no longer what it used to be in Endreze’s time. Now, it’s more of a soprano showpiece than a baritone showpiece. If it were a baritone showpiece, I’m sure Hvorostovsky would have sung the role by now, which I doubt he has.)
If you look at Arthur Endreze’s repertoire, a large part of it would be made up of French opera roles, something natural for a French baritone like him. Other parts of his repertoire were dedicated to Italian operas by Verdi and the verismo composers like Leoncavallo, Mascagni and Puccini and German operas by Wagner. Though Arthur Endreze did sing Wagner in German when he was partnering guest singers like Flagstad, Leider and Melchior, most of the time he sang the operas of Wagner and the above-mentioned Italian composers in French. After all, during his time, it was the norm for opera houses in Europe to stage operas in their native language rather than the original. (This practice would continue till as late as the early 1960s, possibly even later in Russia and Eastern Europe). I foresee that some opera connoisseurs may not take kindly to listening to opera sung in languages other than their original so they may underestimate Endreze’s work in these operas. In response, let me point out that language does not bear any relation to the quality of a performance. There are great singers of the past who have left recordings of Italian opera arias in French, German and Russian that measure up to the standards set by their Italian counterparts in every aspect. The same applies to Wagner. The French, German, Italian and Russian singers of the past had styles of singing unique to their respective countries. Thus, an opera performance in French can sound quite different from the same opera in German, Italian and or Russian since the differences in the schools of singing of these countries result in variations in the way these operas are interpreted and sung. If you don’t believe me, try a popular opera you know well like Carmen or Traviata in the original, German and Russian. To the untrained ear, they may appear to sound the same but to the trained ear; there are some slight differences which can be perceived. As a result, one piece of music like Rigoletto or Tosca can take on so many different incarnations. It’s indeed a great loss to the genre that internationalization has taken all this away.
After listening to Arthur Endreze’s Verdi recordings, I sincerely feel that in general, Verdi’s baritone roles truly fit him as nicely as well-made gloves. Most of Verdi’s baritone roles, if I’m not mistaken, all have either noble pedigrees or high-class backgrounds. With his aristocratic singing, Endreze was capable of doing more than adequate justice to the music written for them. Nevertheless, this has a slight drawback. If you listen to his Iago (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X5o_tStN5I), you’ll find that there’s something missing despite his beautiful singing. In comparison to several Italian baritones like Apollo Granforte, Aldo Protti and Tito Gobbi, his Iago doesn’t generate the same amount of excitement theirs do. His Iago sounds like a gentleman villain compared to the wolf in sheep’s clothing these baritones make Iago sound to be.
There are 3 extracts which I have selected to exhibit Arthur Endreze’s work in Verdi:
(Arthur Endreze sings the classic baritone aria ‘Di provenza il mar’ from La Traviata in French. Based on my experiences in listening to his recordings, I find that roles which were father-figures were those he was best at. There is a certain amount of authority in his singing which lends power to his renditions of extracts from such roles. Together with his beautiful and rich voice, such power’s bound to leave its mark on the listener.)
(Simply put, this was one of Arthur Endreze’s most beautiful and noblest moments on record. Arthur Endreze sings ‘Eri tu’ from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera in French with a refinement most baritones would envy.)
Arthur Endreze sings ‘’Pari siamo’’ in French from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Endreze sings well here, but I have to say that many great French baritones sing it as well. The competition of singers such as Michel Dens, Ernest Blanc, Robert Massard, and others is formidable!
To oblige any opera connoisseurs who truly love the ‘’blood-and-guts’’ style of verismo, here are 2 extracts of Arthur Endreze’s work for them to hear him try his hand at this genre:
(Arthur Endreze sings ‘Il cavallo scalpita’ in French from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. In most cases, he doesn’t give me much excitement but I have to confess that this is one surprising exception. Perhaps the invigorating music of the cabaletta might have roused Endreze into giving such a thrilling performance.)
(I think this scene is Scarpia’s Death Scene from Tosca. It sounds like it. I can make out Scarpia’s last moments. Scarpia was one of Arthur Endreze’s most acclaimed roles. Here, you have one of the best French sopranos of all time, the great singing actress, Ninon Vallin, facing off with Arthur Endreze in this duet. By all accounts, this is definitely worth listening to.)
Though Arthur Endreze’s reputation today may largely be based on his work in the French repertoire, to tell you the truth, I genuinely feel that the best examples of his work on record are not his recordings of his French opera roles, beautiful and dramatic as they may be. The recordings which I consider to be Arthur Endreze’s best are his Wagner ones. I’m pretty certain that Endreze had the benefit of Jean de Reszke transmitting his knowledge and experience in singing Wagnerian operas to him. Unlike his successor at the Met, Enrico Caruso, Jean de Reszke, Arthur Endreze’s teacher, had been a noted Wagnerian tenor who notched successes in Heldentenor roles like Lohengrin, Siegfried, Walther von Stolzing (Meistersinger) and Tristan
(For anybody who wants to hear what Endreze’s teacher was like, if he or she’s okay with straining his or her ears a bit, here is a video:
During the course of his career, Endreze spent a considerable amount of time singing Wagner Heldenbariton roles like Telramund (Lohengrin), of Kurwenal (Tristan und Isolde). Though it’s a great loss that he did not commit anything from these 2 Wagner operas to disc, we are very lucky that he made these recordings which I shall be sharing below:
(Arthur Endreze sings Wotan’s Farewell from Wagner’s Die Walkure in French. This is truly a magnificent performance, don’t you think? Endreze’s formidable Wotan not only radiates authority but also expresses his love for his daughter Brunnhilde with such poetic beauty. I reckon that the quality of this performance is more than equal to the recording made by his predecessor Marcel Journet.)
(Arthur Endreze sings the Dutchman’s monologue, ‘’Die Frist ist Um’ from Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander, in French. If you think Endreze can’t give a performance better than the Wotan’s Farewell just now, this video will prove you wrong. Of all Endreze’s recordings, this was the one I liked most. Even though Endreze may have been singing the Dutchman’s monologue in French, there are few singers I have heard who have been able to convey the tragedy in the character as strongly as he did here. Rather than sounding remorseful and world-weary like Friedrich Schorr, Endreze’s Dutchman sounds as though the doom awaiting him is his way of doing penance for his sins. It’s a waste that Arthur Endreze never recorded any more extracts from this opera. This is one of the best examples of the aria you can find.)
Arthur Endreze’s career at the Paris Opéra in the 1930s was a relatively smooth one, despite a period of time when he ran into personal difficulties that forced him to take a leave of absence from the stage from late 1933 to early 1934. It has been said that this could have been a nervous breakdown on the part of the singer, which could possibly have been connected to the death of his first wife. Reviews of the singer’s performances after his comeback to the stage show that his musical talents and dramatic gifts were not impaired in any way by this tragedy. This is proven by the Wagner recordings Endreze made after his return.
Despite the outbreak of World War II, Arthur Endreze continued to sing at the Paris Opera as before, until between late 1942 and 1943 when he was apprehended by the Gestapo or by French policemen obeying their commands. As an enemy alien due to Germany’s ongoing war against the United States, Endreze was eventually confined at Compiegne. In early 1944, Endreze would find himself deported to America, where he would stay till 1945.
By the time Arthur Endreze returned to France in 1945, he was already past 50. It was only a matter of time before the singer decided to call time on his thriving career. On 20 October 1946, Arthur Endreze gave his swan-song at the Palais Garnier, which had hosted several of his past successes, in Mehul’s Joseph as Jacob. Not long after, Arthur Endreze would give his last performance of a complete opera on 27 June 1947, when he sang Jorgen in the opera Le Pays by Guy Ropartz. After that, Endreze returned to the United States where he had a teaching stint at the University of Kansas from 1948 to 1950. In 1950, he decided to return to Paris where he carried on with his activities as a vocal pedagogue. It was only after the passing of his second wife in 1973 that Endreze would decide to return to America for good. Two years later, on 15 April 1975, in Chicago, the legendary French baritone would breathe his last.
To round off this essay, let me show you one of Arthur Endreze’s rare excursions into the comic repertory: Mercutio in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. Unlike most of his peers, operetta and comic opera were not part of his repertoire. When I was listening to this aria (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGMbdjxNyhE), I could see the sword of Damocles hanging over his character in my mind.