Recordings > Historical

Alain Vanzo: "Airs Français"

spacer Arias from Faust, Mireille, Roméo et Juliette, Richard Coeur-de-Lion, Benvenuto Cellini, Mignon, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, La Jolie Fille de Perth, Le Roi d'Ys, Lakmé, Manon, Werther, La Navarraise, Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Don Carlos, plus popular songs.Various orchestras and conductors; also includes spoken interview. MalibranCDRG 201

VanzoCD

France in recent years has produced many excellent tenors for Baroque works and opérettes, but few to do justice to the mid-to-late-nineteenth-century "core" repertoire for French lyric tenor — the heroes in operas of Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, Thomas, Offenbach and Delibes. Alain Vanzo (1928–2002) is widely acknowledged as the last truly outstanding native exponent of those roles, an artist who maintained extremely high vocal standards throughout a lengthy international career.

Born in Monaco to French and Mexican parents, the teenage Vanzo sang popular music with a band before undertaking serious vocal training in Paris. In 1954, his success at a competition in Cannes led to contracts with both of Paris's major houses. Many other prestigious European companies welcomed him for a wide variety of French and Italian lyric roles, well into the 1980s. He made sporadic North American appearances, including a 1985 Faust in Philadelphia that showed the fifty-seven-year-old tenor still capable of a stunning diminuendoon high C (check it out on YouTube). He sang two valedictory concerts just a few months before his death at the age of seventy-three.

France's Malibran label has released a disc devoted exclusively to early Vanzo, with live and studio performances recorded from 1954 to 1962. His voice is always firmly focused, with a bright, penetrating timbre exuding a distinctive, unforced sweetness. Among Vanzo's other vocal assets are luminous mezza voce and a consistently secure lower register. At its most youthful, his sound can lose color and turn a bit reedy at higher dynamics above the staff, but later on Vanzo is increasingly able to produce impressively ringing tone whenever a climactic passage requires it. Some added "shadow vowels" notwithstanding (for example, "amour" is often "amour-ah"), this singer's textual communication is eloquence itself.

The "desert-island" performance here, Gerald's Act III aria from Lakmé, exhibits a glorious effortlessness, whether the voice is floating or full out. Nearly as memorable are the arias of Roméo (a splendid "Ah! lève-toi," including a morendo on the final "Parais!"), Vincent in Mireille (projecting a manly tenderness common to many Vanzo portrayals), Nadir (masterful control of those seemingly endless phrases), Cellini, Faust, des Grieux and Wilhelm Meister. "Pourquoi me réveiller" is a lovely souvenir of Vanzo's Werther, a role he discusses in a brief, late-career interview that reveals a wonderfully light, melodious speaking voice.

Two Verdi soliloquies — from Les Vêpres Siciliennes and Don Carlos — find Vanzo sustaining a taut yet elegant line, with the recitative preceding Henri's "O jour de peine" exhibiting the detailed, line-by-line expressiveness that only a born singing actor commands. The tenor's instrument is a superb match for the disc's only genuinely unfamiliar aria, the title role's stirring "Si l'univers entier m'oublie," from Grétry's Richard Coeur-de-Lion. Quite unexpected are two non-operatic tracks, hugely different stylistically but each a joy as performed by Vanzo — Georges Krier's lively, march-like "Le rêve passe," composed in 1906, and Alain Barrière's soulful "Elle était si jolie," a number made famous by the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest. spacer

ROGER PINES

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Current Issue: August 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 2