The Great Suzanne Balguerie
Born in Le Havre in 1872, Balguerie—easily one of the greatest of Frech sopranos, began her studies as a girl at the Conservatoire National de Paris. In spite of her early studies, her original appearances came late. Part of the reason for this was that she was, almost from the beginning, most interested in contemporary concert music. The result of this was a limited venue and a very small audience. She was greatly praised and much appreciated by such an audience as existed at that time, but in that period it was almost always opera that was the short and sure road to popular success, especially for a young and beautiful woman, with a voice as stunning as that of Balguerie. This being the case, it was not until the early 1920’s that she appeared on the operatic stage, first at the Opéra-Comique, home of so many great debuts, as Ariane in Dukas’s Ariane et Barbe-bleu. She remained a member of this opera house for more than twenty years—as well as at the Paris Grand Opéra, often in contemporary roles. She also developed a reputation as a superb singer of Wagnerian roles. Her voice was that of a dramatic soprano, with an upper register that was remarkably elegant for so dramatic a voice. She was very popular indeed in France, and—perhaps as a result—seldom sang outside France. She sang until 1950, when she retired and became a successful voice teacher. She died in Grenoble in 1973. Here she is in a Verdi aria, “O Patria Mia,” that clearly shows why she was also so successful in this repertoire:
Isn’t that simply lovely! The elegance and lyrical flow of the opening lines of music is simply remarkable. Seldom if ever is so beautiful a tone joined to so remarkable a legato line. The upper register is equally remarkable because is so restrained. Still, it is there, with power a-plenty, simply waiting to be called upon!
It was within the Wagnerian repertoire, however, that this spectacular voice found so much of its early operatic acceptance. Here is “La Mort d’Isolde.”
Power, elegance, and style—but mostly elegance. The building blocks of the voice of one of the greatest sopranos of the 20th century, without doubt!