25 Aug 2006


This is a most sympathetic performance, though perhaps being a Fleming helps. In my small country on the frontier of Northern and Southern European influences, many musical styles made their entrance and became popular.

Until the seventies, Bel Canto on the radio meant broadcasts of Italian, French, German and Russian opera, operettas, zarzuela, the token Gilbert and Sullivan, canzoni napolentane and American love songs. Because of the eclectic mix, “O wie so trügerisch” and “Comme la plume au vent” sounded as familiar as “La donna è mobile” performed in half a dozen different languages.

And then there was Henri Goraieb, a well-known French pianist who programmed a Bel Canto program on France Musique, which was immensely popular all over Western Europe. Almost every week Goraieb presented selections from a seemingly inexhaustible collection of radio performances given in France from the forties until the sixties. Rarely recorded artist such as Marthe Luccioni, Georges Noré, Odette Turba-Rabier, Jeanne Guyllama, Raphael Romangioni, and many others now became household names. Even great names like Alain Vanzo became greater still with the broadcast of performances of the prime, and even exhumed recordings thought to be lost forever. Even the lesser “starry” singers were busily employed at French radio that they had almost a year’s workload. Singers like Joseph Peyron, Lucien Lovano and Geneviève Moizan found that a radio career was ideally suited to their personal needs.

Hence, this Snegurochka is somewhat of a feast of recognizance for this reviewer, who maybe is somewhat less objective than ought to be. This is not my first choice, however, if one absolutely needed an authentic and complete Russian version. There are some cuts in the performance, and the sound is a bit constricted, favoring the voices, which makes it difficult to judge the role of conductor Charles Bruck. Yet the ensembles go smoothly without hesitation, which may be due in part to strict rehearsals.

The performance begins with Solange Michel, a fine voice and a truly authentic Carmen, which nevertheless is only the second mezzo in the cast accompanying Rita Gorr in the role of Lel. For Gorr admirers, the voice is at its best with the well-known lush sound without stridency. The title role, sung b Janine Micheau, a fine lyric soprano with somewhat sweet and sour timbre French sopranos are famous for. Her voice is still fresh and beautiful, far less wooden that later recordings. Yet vocal honors certainly are awarded to Geneviève Moizan as Kupava. Her sound is wonderfully lyric, clear, and personal, a sound, which makes the listener sit up and take notice. Michel Roux is a sonorous and convincing Mizgir, and tenor Jean Giaudeau’s role is completely suited to his particular talents. All these singers have excellent pronunciation. Even the women are almost always clearly understandable.

So, if you want to know what French singing was all about before the run for original language performances, this is the recording for you. Hopefully Ponto will further delve into the rich heritage of French radio in the future.

Jan Neckers