Arias by Berlioz, Bizet, Gounod, Massenet and Puccini. Various orchestras and conductors. Malibran CDRG 194
Outside her homeland, the singing of French lyric soprano Géori Boué has always been an acquired taste. Blame that on narrow, excessively bright timbre, as well as hardness of tone in the upper octave. With this disc, even non-French listeners will give Boué her due. Most of her performances here present lovelier vocalism than I've heard in any of her other recordings, while offering memorable artistry that overcomes any vocal imperfections.
Born in 1918, Boué began her career as a teenager in her hometown, Toulouse, singing lyric mezzo roles frequently taken in France by sopranos (Urbain, Siébel, Stephano). By 1942, the young singer was a star at Paris's two major houses. She was heard in the gamut of French roles (from Micaela and Ophélie to Thaïs, Mélisande and, in late career, Carmen), plus heroines of Verdi, Puccini and Tchaikovsky. A glamorous figure onstage, Boué was born for operetta; among her triumphs in that realm were Lehár's Hanna Glawari, Offenbach's Hélène and the trouser role of Mozart in the comédie musicale of that name by Reynaldo Hahn and Sacha Guitry.
The majority of the performances on Malibran's disc were recorded from 1942 to 1949, when Boué was at her most elegant, invariably enhancing her innate musicality with immaculately clear diction. Repeatedly she delights the ear with a magical soft attack: listen, for example, to "comme une demoiselle" in Marguerite's jewel song. Boué gives that thrice-familiar aria one of its finest recorded performances, notable for easy trills, perfectly articulated runs and captivating youthful femininity.
Very affecting are two arias from Mireille, even if the biggest moments of the formidable Crau scene tax Boué's resources unduly. Unlike so many other Manons, her enchanting characterization never exaggerates the liveliness of "Je suis encore" (delicious "floats" in the opening phrases) or the sadness of the "Adieu." Among the portrayals sung in French translation are Cherubino (a bit dainty), Susanna ("Deh, vieni," disappointing only in the uncertain high A) and Cio-Cio-San (not the right instrument for this role, but convincing nonetheless). She offers "Mi chiamano Mimì" in both Italian and French — with the latter, truly the essence of charm, standing as the preferable performance. Boué's lighter-than-usual Desdemona manages "Salce, salce" — or rather, the "Air du Saule" — with much poise, and the Ave Maria could hardly be more angelically sung.
The soprano isn't heard to particular advantage in an undated "Vissi d'arte." Three tracks from 1957 (Carmen, Berlioz's Marguerite, Massenet's jongleur Jean), although satisfactory, lack the radiance of the earlier material.
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