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Janine Micheau: “Operatic Recital”

spacer Orchestre National de l’Opéra, Erede; Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris, Desormière; London Symphony Orchestra, Mathieson.  No texts or translation. Decca 480 8166

Recordings Operatic Recital Janine Micheau Cover 515

“The Paris Opéra is having a bad century,” Rudolf Bing once quipped, before the radical overhaul of the company that would occur in 1977. Nevertheless, individual French singers of the mid-twentieth century stand out as admirable artists in their own right and exemplars of a specific style and tradition. Despite omissions and duplications, this reissued sampling of the work of lyric-coloratura soprano Janine Micheau (1914-76) can be recommended on both those grounds.

While high coloratura sopranos often move gradually into lyric repertoire, she reversed the process. She was admired for her Mélisande before she added roles such as Rosina or Titania to her repertoire and before she became the first Zerbinetta in France. Besides French lyric and coloratura parts, she performed in Mozart operas and sang Anne Truelove in the French premiere of The Rake’s Progress in addition to a few other new works. Rarely heard in the United States, she performed Marguerite and Violetta in Chicago in 1946.

The major surprise here is her vibrant “Depuis le jour” (from Charpentier’s Louise), in which the subtly ignited high notes seem to expand indefinitely and the timbre manages to suggest a sensuality beyond its actual Gallic coolness. In three selections from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles, we gain a clear sense of the singer’s dramatic intensity and her full-bodied middle register. Such adventures in lyric or lyric-spinto territory offer a real contrast to the mechanical manner she captures in Olympia’s aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann and the rhythmic vitality she maintains in the silly bravura waltz “O légère Hirondelle” from Gounod’s Mireille, while loading each repeated rising line with more and more notes — with a final explosion of glinting, spiky staccatos. 

In other florid material, her fast, wordless vocalises can sound a little more pushed than fluid. You might fault Rosina’s “Una voce poco fa” for its slurred divisions, which blunt the sense of mischief. But she is usually precise and expert; her even, smooth trills are as impressive as the native French diction and style. She is above all an ideal Gounod soprano, equal to a diversity of demands — including considerable agility — that are rarely found united in one artist. 

Most selections are conducted very effectively by Roger Desormière and Alberto Erede; the pacing is especially alluring in the six selections led by Desormière, a conductor remembered from the first full-length recording of Pelléas et Mélisande and as one of the few mentors acknowledged by Pierre Boulez.

On a single CD, it seems wasteful to duplicate any offerings, but we get two versions each of the waltz from Mireille and the Micäela-like “Me voilà seule dans la nuit” from Les Pêcheurs de Perles. Moreover, Micheau’s complete Mireille is still available; it pairs her with stronger colleagues (including Nicolai Gedda) than the tenor who joins her in one excerpt here. The inclusion of four selections from Mireille on this disc deprives us of other material that might have enriched this Micheau mini-portrait. spacer 


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