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Friday, February 6, 2015

Agustarello Affré



[I am very pleased today to present some additional comment from Father Cornelius Mattei, whose knowledge of French opera and opera singers is simply extraordinary, far beyond what I have or could ever hope  to have.  Any comments from Father end with (FC).  Edmund]

Agustarello Affré (1858-1931) was a French operatic tenor who possessed a powerful and ringing voice, owing to which he was nicknamed the "French Tamagno"  after the great Italian tenor. He was one of the outstanding operatic tenors in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. He spent the last years of his career singing and directing operas in the United States, most particularly in New Orleans.  After World War I, he lived in retirement in France.

Born in Saint-Chinian, Affré was trained at the Conservatoire de Toulouse and the Conservatoire de Paris. He studied singing with Edmond Duvernoy and Pierre Gailhard.  After singing in theatres in the French provinces, he made his debut in Paris at the Opéra in 1890 as Edgardo in Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor opposite Nellie Melba in the title role, who was also making  her debut . He remained a leading tenor at the Opéra  for the next 20 years, portraying such roles as Arnold in William Tell, Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, Eléazar in La Juive, Fernando in La favorita, Jean de Leyde in Le prophète, Rhadames in Aida, Raoul de Nangis in Les Huguenots, Renaud in Gluck's Armide, Vasco da Gama in L'Africaine, and the title roles in Lohengrin and Sigurd. He created the role of the Touranien prisoner in the world premiere of Jules Massenet's Le Mage in 1891.   

It seems that Affré is everywhere described as a “heroic” or “dramatic” tenor.  Such categorizations, however, in 1908 or 1910, have little or no meaning. Affré’s world was basically that of bel canto. Terms such as “dramatic ” just as often refer to acting style, or to the various excesses of verismo. 

Here is “Ah, Parais, “ from Massenet’s Le Mage:

OK.  Let’s talk terminology here.  Is that a dramatic tenor? A heroic tenor?  Perhaps.  What CAN be said is that Affré had  a strong tenor voice, very well trained,  with a wide range.  Simply, he knew what he was doing,  and he was an excellent musician and stylist.  He did NOT scream and shout.  The French have always prized  elegance and precision above almost all else.  Affré was no exception.  Here is something eye-opening.  Manrico is a stellar example of a dramatic tenor role.  One thinks immediately of Corelli or  Giacomini.  Let’s see how a famous French tenor called “dramatic” handles “Ah si ben mio” 111 years ago.  I particularly call your attention to the trills, something you are not likely to hear today, at least not at this spot in the libretto.  Remember, this is the age of bel canto:

     I would not call that a dramatic tenor, at least not by contemporary  standards.  Maybe “spinto.”  I’ll give you that.  One thing is for sure, and that is that this is about  as fine an example of classy singing as  you are likely ever to hear in Trovatore!  Here is Father Cornelius’ observation:

 “Hey, somebody had to preserve those trills....and the French tenors seem to have been among the keepers thereof…Dalmorès, for example. As in most of his recordings, Affré   shows that a big voice need not sacrifice a finely sculpted sostenuto line(FC)   

      Here is another  role commonly sung by dramatic tenors:

“ always with Affre, firm tone, spot-on intonation in consequence, freed by his technical mastery, able to express the text very Eleazar's exaltation, despite his fears, is plainly evident and contagious....not forgetting the pellucid enunciation... no need for supertitles...well, if you understand French.  Not always apparent in recordings...his daughter's recollections about the difficulties inherent in recording this big, vibrant voice are instructive....the top tones shone like a big diamond, hovering over the stage and the auditorium.  Lucky New Orléans, where he sang, and even directed the old French Opera House before it burned to the ground. Merci, cher maître.” (FC)

 I am no master compared to you, FatherJ  but I  appreciate  your comments,  which are excellent.. 

     And now, here is something from Romeo and Juliet, a more clearly lyric repertoire, at which Affré excelled equally.  This is truly beautiful:

Finally, a few words need to be said about the very early date of some of Affré’s recordings, and also about his final days.  He was something of a recording pioneer, and performed on some of the  earliest opera recordings, including 4-minute cylinders made in Paris.

Some of his earliest recordings highlight excerpts from the roles of  Don José in Carmen (1911) and,  as we just heard, of Roméo in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette (1913).

In 1911, Affré moved to the United States, where he was heard in operas in New Orleans, San Francisco, and in Havana. He became director of the French Opera House in New Orleans in 1913 when it came under the ownership of Tulane University,and remained there until 1915. He died in Cagnes-sur-Mer in 1931 at the age of 73  is buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

This was a truly great tenor from long ago, in whom the best traditions of the distant past, both vocal and dramatic, were permitted to survive into the modern period.  I truly believe that it will not be long before the era of verismo opera will be seen to have been more short-lived than the preceding era of bel canto , signs of which are now beginning to re-emerge in the unexpected revival of 18th century opera.

                                                                       Fr. Cornelius Mattei


Edmund St. Austell said...

First, let me thank Father Cornelius for his sage observations. I think we can look forward to hearing more from
Father in the near future! And again, please let me know if you have any problems with the comments section. Remember, it takes a while for them to appear, as I have to approve them before they are published. Thanks, Edmund

JD Hobbes said...

This is another fine contribution to your blog. Father C. is indeed a valuable resource and a man to be admired for his knowledge. It would be interesting to compare the earliest recordings to later ones for the tone of the singing. I think much of the "dramatic" quality results from the mechanics of early recording procedures.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thanks, Mr. Hobbes. As always, an excellent observation.I would certainly agree that the old tin recording horns made their little contribution to the recording,
sometimes good(John McCormack, Fritz Kreisler etc,sometimes bad (Csaruso, often) Affre comes off pretty well, actually. As is the casw with early film, the French were ahead of the game in many ways, Melies in film and Pathe in cylinders and disks. Many of these early French recordings really left Edison in the dust....

Anonymous said...

A very fine voice indeed, full and expressive with a whole lot of French elegance, and without the Italian verismo drama, which I suspect Affre had the vocal ability to do but chose not to. Thank you Edmund, and thank you Father Cornelius, for your analytic comments and great musical insight.
- Annie

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you, Annie. GREAT comment. I am so lucky. I have the best audience in classical music on the web. I know of no other blog that beats it. The comments are dignified, knowledgeable, and respectful. People like you, Annie!

Anonymous said...

Остается только поблагодарить достопочтимых авторов комментариев, Отца Корнелиуса Маттеи и г-на Сент-Астелла за их глубокие и профессиональные замечания по поводу Аффре, высказанные ими с той же элегантностью, которая присуща его пению.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Спасибо Вам большое за вдумчивый комментарий. Cornelius и я очень ценю это! Добро пожаловать на блог. Я надеюсь, что вы придете снова!

Unknown said...

Puisque vous parlez aussi explicitement de notre ami Cornelius, je voudrais en profiter pour lui dire publiquement merci. Merci, mon père, pour votre culture immense, intensive dans le détail et extensive dans ses objets. Merci d'avoir renouvelé mon oreille, ce qui m'a permis de découvrir et surtout re-découvrir tant de trésors avec vous. Merci aussi pour votre humour parfois un peu canaille, mais toujours tendre et généreux.Enfin, merci pour votre délicieuse gentillesse.
Merci à vous, ami Edmund, d'avoir ouvert ces espaces de dialogue et de rencontre, sur les larges ailes de la musique.

CurzonRoad said...

Affre is amazing. While the largeness of voice is at times overwhelming, it is the elegant finish that stops us in our tracks, prompting us to return again and again to his unique sound... a rare, true relic from another age, another world. Many thanks to you, Edmund, and to Father Cornelius for this, another fine presentation.

Edmund St. Austell said...

That's a very fine comment, Doug, and I really appreciate it! And I agree about Affre. Edmund

Edmund St. Austell said...

For Matthieu Degott:Merci beaucoup, mon cher ami. Je apprécie vraiment votre commentaire. Je ai tellement appris de vous et du Père au cours de l'année dernière. Je ai été sur quelque chose d'une croisade depuis plusieurs années à de promouvoir la grande musique classique français. Tout dans ce pays est principalement en italien et nous avons vraiment besoin d'une voix sur le web la promotion des gloires de la grande musique française. Je apprécie les contributions importantes que vous faites et le Père à travers votre vaste correspondance.

Charlotte Figleaf said...

Thank you so much for this tribute to a wonderful singer- my favourite singer, in fact. I began writing a comment which quickly became so long that I had to make it into a blog post in its own right. If you are interested, you can read it here:
I would very much like to know what you and Fr Mattei make of the 'miracle' which happened to the singer on his deathbed, which is related by his daughter in a letter to the Record Collector in 1948. I have included in my blog post a brief summary of what she wrote.
Thank you once again for writing about this marvellous and underrated artist!

Charlotte Tarskikh

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank YOU my friend, for a fine comment!

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