Three Tenors of the OpÈra-Comique
This release opens with recordings by Louis Cazette, an important tenor at the Paris OpÈra-Comique during the early 1920s. In fact, this issue includes all of Cazette's recordings, consisting of only eleven 78 rpm sides. The limited number of recordings by Cazette was no reflection of his abilities, which were in fact considerable. Rather, it was the result of an almost surreal turn of events that led to his tragic death at the age of only 34.
Many explanations have been advanced to explain the onset of tetanus that caused Louis Cazette's death on April 30, 1922. But according to the version given by Cazette's daughter-in-law (referred to in the accompanying booklet as "the most authoritative statement"), the tenor died after being accidentally cut by a trident during a rehearsal of Gounod's Mireille. It appears that the circumstances of his death may have been withheld to protect the career of baritone AndrÈ BaugÈ, the man who held the trident when the horrible accident occurred.
By many accounts, Cazette may not have been the most compelling figure on stage. But he certainly used his superb lyric tenor voice with passion and artistry. As with most French tenors of that era, Cazette understood the value of exquisite diction, flowing legato and a well-supported mezza-voce. The hushed rendition of "Le rÍve" from Massenet"s Manon, seductively tender, is French lyric tenor singing of the highest level. The ensuing "Ah, fuyez, douce image" proves that Cazette could also summon adequate reserves of power when necessary. But these are just two examples of consistently engaging vocalism. Each of the eleven selections, recorded from 1920-22, is a delight. They remind us that Cazette's untimely death was most certainly a major loss to the opera world.
Completing this "Three Tenors" disc are recordings by Charles Friant and Jean Marny. Friant, a fine singing-actor (and an accomplished dancer), was particularly acclaimed for his interpretations of Massenet's Werther and Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame. Both roles are represented on this CD. Friant admirably portrays Werther's reverie in the poet's entrance aria, as well as the desperate passion of his second-act soliloquy. Jean's apostrophe to liberty from Le Jongleur is likewise admirably delivered.
Jean Marny may be heard as a fine Chevalier des Grieux on another Marston issue, the 1923 first complete recording of Massenet's Manon (52003). Five Marny PathÈ recordings are included on this CD. All of them document another prime example of the kind of French lyric-tenor that could be found in abundance at the beginning of the 20th century, but is now all but extinct.
The transfers by Ward Marston are quite fine, with the HMV recordings by Cazette and Friant offering particularly compelling presence and definition. This disc is a must for its inclusion of Louis Cazette’s complete recordings. The Friant and Marny selections offer a considerable bonus.
K.M. (Sept. 2000)