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A survey of the discography of Robert Massard Part II
by Ralph Moore

In my first survey of the discography of the celebrated French baritone Robert Massard, I covered fifteen complete operas and a compilation recital album. I have since received from him no fewer than fourteen further recordings from his private collection, which I have supplemented with two more from my own shelves. Some of them are still available, either commercially or on those websites which offer unofficial recordings of live performances; sadly, quite a few have been discontinued but second-hand copies can still be found on eBay and elsewhere, and several are on YouTube or may be bought as downloads from websites such as House of Opera. There is plenty of Grand Opera here but also some operetta or opéras comiques which are now rarely performed.

M. Massard also kindly sent me a selection of photographs of his performances, some of which I reproduce here to illustrate his handsome and commanding stage presence.

[image]
Robert Massard with Shirley Verrett in Samson et Dalila, at La Scala, Milan, in
1970; see the previous survey for my review of this fine performance.

M. Massard auditioned for the Paris Opéra on the 8th June 1951, the same day as Nicolai Gedda and Victoria de los Ángeles and ended up holding the record for the greatest number of performances there: 1003 (appropriately enough for someone who included Don Giovanni among his roles!). Elsewhere, in the French provinces and internationally, he made a further 1113 appearances; this astonishing work-rate is typified by his tally for 1958, when he performed no fewer than 158 times in that one year. He had over a hundred roles in his repertoire, sung over a thirty-two year-career. Very few singers have managed their career and preserved their voices so judiciously, especially bearing in mind that he was still in perfect voice when he retired and by his own estimation was singing well into his 80’s. He attributes his vocal longevity to having followed the advice he was given when he arrived at the Opéra by the veteran baritone Charles Cambon, who took the young Robert under his wing, saying, “Petit, chante toujours avec les intérêts, ne chante jamais avec le capital” (Young man, always sing on the interest of your voice, never on its capital”). That, and moderation in all things, allowed him to pursue so long a career so successfully and perhaps, too, to preserve his health into an advanced age; he is celebrating his 96th birthday this month as I write (August 2021).

The Recordings

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride
Carlo Maria Giulini – 1952 (live composite; mono) MDV Classics; Profil Hänssler; BnF
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Paris; Chorus - Ensemble Vocal de Paris
Iphigénie - Patricia Neway
Oreste - Pierre Mollet
Pylade - Léopold Simoneau
Thoas - Robert Massard
Diane - Micheline Rolle
Une prêtresse - Arlette Roche
Une prêtresse - Ann-Marie Carpenter
Un scythe - Georges Abdoun
Ministre de Thoas - Robert Lamande
Une grecque - Simone Codinas

This is a composite recording assembled from two live performances at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. The sound is limited mono but sufficient to allow us to hear everything; Gluck’s audacious and incredibly modern chromatic dissonances in the storm music, for example, come through with startling clarity. What a noble and stirring work it is, and this recording does it honour.

This was only the second professional appearance on stage by the young Robert Massard, as Thoas, a role normally sung a bass or bass-baritone. Although he sings his two arias beautifully, he considers his performance there “scarcely satisfying”; by his own admission, as he had not yet even mastered the solfège (music theory skills) he would require to follow a professional career and was flying by the seat of his pants. He hardly sounds here like the singer he later became; the lower register frequencies of his voiced are not yet fully developed and he still sounds like a baryton-martin, slightly thin and nasal of timbre but already with the easy, tenorial top notes which were to serve him so well throughout his career and he attacks Thoas’ declamatory music with great passion. Of course, he later migrated to the bigger role of Oreste which he sang in Edinburgh, Covent Garden and El Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, as per below.

The two revelations here, despite the fairly primitive sound, are the coruscating conducting of Giulini and the brilliance of Patricia Neway’s singing as Iphigénie; known to many as the Abbess in the original stage-production of The Sound of Music, for which she won a Tony award, she was evidently as gifted in classical opera as she was in Broadway roles. Her rich, flexible voice is even throughout its range and she sings with great power and feeling, delivering an account to set alongside classic recordings by Callas, Gorr and Crespin (with whom Massard sang in the same opera in Buenos Aires). It is a voice you can simply drink in. The verve of Giulini’s direction is infectious and serves Gluck well, preventing him from sounding stuffy; there is no sense in which this recording sounds old-fashioned.

The other famous name here is that of French-Canadian tenor Léopold Simoneau, alongside another Canadian (adoptive – he was of Swiss origin), Pierre Mollet; both are elegant singers in the best Gallic tradition. Simoneau’s account of “Unis dès la plus tendre enfance” is one of the most beautiful “bromance” arias in opera and he sings it exquisitely. Mollet is similarly light and refined of voice, in the Souzay tradition, and sings “Le calme rentre dans mon coeur” with just the right ambiguity – because, as Gluck said, he is trying to convince himself of the truth of what is in fact an illusion.

A peculiarity in the MDV issue is that Iphigénie en Tauride has been prefaced, without explanation of its provenance or purpose, with the overture from Iphigénie en Aulide, grafted on from a modern, stereo, traditional instrument recording. I think it was filched from a Czech Philharmonic Orchestra overture recital disc conducted by Karel Ančerl – goodness knows why, although it’s a grand, stately account, in the Klemperer mould.

Individual tracks of this recording may also be heard on YouTube.

Darius Milhaud: Christophe Colomb
Manuel Rosenthal – 1956 (live; mono) Disques Montaigne
Orchestre Radio Lyrique; Choeurs de la RTF
Christophe Colombe I - Robert Massard
Christophe Colombe II - Xavier Depraz
La reine Isabelle - Janine Micheau
Messenger - Xavier Depraz
Prosecutor - Jean Davy
Spoken voice of Christophe Colombe - Jean Davy
Le roi d'Espagne - Lucien Lovano
The ship's captain - Lucien Lovano
Sailors' spokesman - Lucien Lovano
Cook - Jean Giraudeau
Major-domo - Jean Giraudeau
Narrator - Jean Marchat

I quote here with acknowledgements the following from this website:

“A major new cache of French radio material has become available to patrons of specialty classical-music stores. It consists of 10 compact-disk sets, each containing two or three CDs of performances mostly from the 1950s and 60's recorded by the French national radio network at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. There are some striking performances here, along with one major score never previously available on disks. That is Darius Milhaud's epic opera CHRISTOPHE COLOMB. One of the composer's many collaborations with the poet Paul Claudel, it was first performed at the Berlin State Opera under Erich Kleiber in 1930, but has been only rarely heard since. Other than its rather convoluted dramatic structure (two parts that cover some of the same ground) and extreme scenic demands, it's difficult to understand why this intensely theatrical, impassioned score has been so neglected (one half was given in San Francisco some 25 years ago, with great success). This French concert performance under Manuel Rosenthal's direction makes a stirring case for the music.”

Interestingly, after this radio broadcast in which he created the lead role, Massard gave just one more concert performance of it in 1974. I have to admit that I cannot regret the rarity of this opera as, unlike the author of the above description, I derive no pleasure at all from its content - but I can say that I admire the skill, determination and expertise of the singers who were able to learn the score of such diffuse, tuneless music. You may make up your own mind by listening to this same recording – or one of the others also available - here on YouTube.

Henri Tomasi – Il poverello
Manuel Rosenthal – 1957 (radio broadcast; mono)
Orchestre Radio Lyrique; Choeurs et Ensembles Féminin de la Radiodiffusion Française
Saint François d’Assise – Robert Massard
Saint François (speaking part) – Paul-Émile Delber
Frère Léon – Jean-Pierre Henneby
La mère de François – Denise Scharley
Claire – Geneviève Moizan
Pierre de Catane – Hyéronimus
Bernard de Catavel – Gilbert Giraud
Le père de François – Gilbert Moryn
L’orgeuil – Jacques Pruvost
La gourmandise – Colette Ripart
La luxure – Madeleine Marion
Bonus: Robert Massard à l’Opéra de Kiev (1963)
Extracts from Le barbier de Séville (Rossini) & Invocation de Valentin from Faust (Gounod)

The libretto of this opera is derived from Little Flowers, stories and legends about the life of St Francis of Assisi (Il poverello – The Little Poor One) and this is a record of Massard’s creation of the eponymous lead role. Unlike the Milhaud opera, it sometimes spookily atmospheric - especially in the Temptation Scene where three of the Deadly Sins taunt François - but also often frankly melodic with some folksy, even naïve, tunes and lots of jolly, percussive dance airs, even though its idiom is identifiably modern. The music is interspersed with extensive spoken dialogue. Unfortunately, it is recorded in very dim, muffled mono and I am unable to find any source for the recording; I assume from the proximity of the speaking voices that it is a recording of a radio broadcast but I do not know.

Both Massard and Denise Scharley are in sovereign voice and this is obviously of historical interest but the amount of spoken French dialogue makes it of limited interest to anyone who does not understand the language.
 
The bonus items are significant as Massard cites his concerts in Russia in 1963 as being among the most treasured memories of his career. Hearing the Barber in French is a trifle odd - his fellow singers sing in Russian! - but he vocalises magnificently and the audience reaction is highly enthusiastic. The extracts conclude with Valentin’s aria from Faust, a number expressly designed to show off the best qualities of his voice.

Edmond Audran: La poupée - highlights
Marcel Cariven - 1958 (radio broadcast; mono) Gilles Perny Productions
Orchestre et Chorale Lyrique de l'ORTF
Alésia - Huguette Hennetier
Lancelot - Joseph Peyron
Reverend Père Maximin - Robert Massard
La Chanterelle - Michel Hamel

This is fifty minutes of charmingly fluffy highlights from an operetta whose plot is a variation on the Don Pasquale theme and unmistakably in the school of Offenbach’s operettas, featuring a mechanical doll like Olympia from Les contes d’Hoffmann. It is in admirably clear, if slightly harsh, mono sound, beginning with a frantically jolly overture. The chorus is gloriously enthusiastic and the first solo voice we hear is Massard’s instantly recognisable, resonant, faintly nasal baritone, followed by the light, attractive tenor of Joseph Peyron. The numbers here are divided among Massard, who sings the Reverend Father Maxim, Peyron as the monk Lancelot and the beguiling soprano Huguette Hennetier as the artful Alésia. All three principal singers are closely recorded and have such impeccable diction that the absence of a libretto for the admittedly banal text is hardly an issue if you have a bit of French. A synopsis is provided and there is an English track listing on Wikipedia.

There are lots of flowing waltz tunes, none lasting more than three or four minutes; number after number trips by most entertainingly as long as the listener is not looking for anything very demanding. Regarding the focus of this survey, Massard’s contributions are a delight, showcasing the famous ease of his baritone in alt.

This recording has been issued on CD but is also available as a download.
 
(The duet for Lancelot and Alésia on track 15 has been mislabelled as being sung by Maxim.)
 
Robert Planquette: Les cloches de Corneville
Jean-Claude Hartemann – 1960 (live radio broadcast; mono)
Orchestre Lyrique et Choeur de l'O.R.T.F.
Marquis - Robert Massard
Grenicheux - Joseph Peyron
Germaine - Lina Dachary
Serpolette - Christiane Harbell
Gaspard – Lestel Ly
Le Bailli – René Lesnotil
Le Tabellion - Pierre Roi

The Wikipedia entry for this opéra-comique is full and informative, with a synopsis and a list of the musical numbers. It was once very popular in France and even in Britain - Robert Massard sang it 26 times in the earlier part of his career, the last performance being in 1963 - but it is not hard to see why its appeal has waned over the years as it is rather of its time with quite a lot of dialogue, comedy that wears thin, a convoluted plot and music which is often facile and trivial – or delightfully innocent and uncomplicated, depending on your taste. The succession of catchy tunes and bouncy rhythms reminds me of Gilbert and Sullivan, and as I am not a fan of the Savoy operettas, I am no great judge. The singing is excellent, however, in a cast led by Massard’s lean, penetrating baritone sailing above rest.

The mono sound is clear, peaky mono, hard on the ears but acceptable. There was an LP issue of a different recording of stereo highlights in 1962 with some of the same cast and the same conductor but clearly this is the tape of an earlier radio broadcast.

Georges Bizet: Les pêcheurs de perles
Jésus Etcheverry - 1961 (studio; stereo) excerpts – Mode Vogue
Orchestre Symphonique et Choeurs
Leila - Renée Doria
Nadir - Alain Vanzo
Zurga - Robert Massard
Nourabad - Jacques Scellier

As I progressed through these recordings chronologically, I must confess that I was snobbishly relieved to get beyond the clutch of opéras comiques above and move on to “real opera” especially as this is a commercial, studio recording in stereo; one can weary of thin, mono, radio broadcasts. Unfortunately, this is only excerpts amounting to 47 minutes of music but it is the work of three of the finest French singers of their generation; one can only regret the lost opportunity to record the whole opera.

This was originally released as a mono LP on the Orphée label but then reissued as per here in stereo in 1972 before being transferred to CD in 1987. All three principal singers are in best, youthful voice: Massard plucks a perfectly placed top A out of the air in the récit on track 3; Vanzo sings his famous Romance with extraordinary sweetness and a touch of the nasality which typifies the authentic French sound, concluding in a soft falsetto; Doria negotiates Leïla’s coloratura in a round, bell-like tone, despatching roulades and trills with facility.

Once gain I revel in the evenness of Massard’s vocal production throughout its range and the intensity of his way with words in is big aria “L’orage s’est calmé”. The tenor-baritone friendship duet never disappoints when it is sung by voices this fine and the final trio is suitably rousing.

I am never sure why this opera is denigrated in some quarters as I find it to be both musically and dramatically highly satisfying, especially when it is sung as well as it is here.

You may hear this in its entirety on YouTube.

Claudio Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea
Bruno Bartoletti – 1961 (live; mono) ORTF broadcast
Orchestre de Chambre de Hollande; Choeurs du Conservatoire de Paris
Poppea – Jane Rhodes
Nerone – Robert Massard
Ottavia – Teresa Berganza
Ottone – Rolando Panerai
Seneca – Giorgio Tadei
La Damigella – Mariella Adani
Arnalta – Carol Smith
Lucano – Michel Hamel
Il Valetto– Jane Berbié
Liberto – Michel Lecocq
Primo soldato - Michel Hamel
Secondo soldato – Pierre Violier

This was recorded live at the Aix-en-Provence festival and a glance at the roster here will confirm that it had a distinguished cast, but it is sung in a severely abridged version prepared by Gian-Francesco Malipiero and lasting only 95 minutes; furthermore, the allocation of Ottone and Nerone to lower male voices goes against modern informed practice, so it is a little disconcerting to hear first the young Rolando Panerai sounding uncomfortable singing in the bass register. Robert Massard sounds much more convincing as the Nero to Jane Rhodes’ rich, sensual Poppea, delivering a virile and impassioned account of the role; his argument with Seneca is highly dramatic – though probably more verismo than baroque! The macabre “Cantiam’, Lucano” duet celebrating Seneca’s death is delivered with agility and elan. Obviously a baritone/mezzo-soprano pairing rather compromises the composer’s original intentions for sonorities, but these were early days in the early music revival.

There are other lovely voices here, especially Carol Smith as Arnalta, who sings her lullaby absolutely beautifully, Teresa Berganza as the despised Ottavia and Giorgio Tadei as a superbly sonorous Seneca; a highlight is the passage in Act 2 as he prepares to commit suicide, beginning with “Solitudine amata”, followed by “Amici, è giunta l'ora” and the celebrated chorus “Non morir, Seneca, no!”, ending with him delivering a wonderfully resonant low D. The final coronation scene begins with some robust and full-throated choral singing but then, inexplicably and very disappointingly, the final celebrated duet “Pur ti godo” is missing. To conclude, the cast receives prolonged and enthusiastic applause over the overture, repeated as a postlude.

Bartoletti’s conducting is fleet and well-sprung and the orchestra is much reduced so there is nothing “soupy” about the instrumental playing. There is a narrative commentary which operates over the introductory music to scenes, which is a bit insensitive. This might not be complete or authentic but it affords considerable pleasure if one approaches it in the right indulgent spirit.

You may hear this in its entirety on the Opera on Video website or on YouTube. I did not include it in my survey of this opera but nonetheless recommend it as a rewarding supplement, very much of its era.


Robert Massard as Nerone

Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride
Georges Sébastian - 1964 (live; mono) Gala, Le Chant du Monde, Opera Depot
Orchestra & Chorus: Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires)
Iphigénie - Régine Crespin
Oreste - Robert Massard
Pylade - Guy Chauvet
Thoas - Victor De Narké
Diane - Marta Benegas
Un scythe - Guy Gavardo

As per above, in 1952, Robert Massard made his debut in Iphigénie en Tauride at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in the rather unlikely bass role of Thoas, but subsequently the more suitable part of Oreste in the same opera was his debut role at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Royal Opera House, London, and the Edinburgh Festival.

The distant, somewhat distorted, live mono sound seems at first as if it will be something of a trial but this is the only souvenir we have of roles important in the careers of the three principal singers here all in very good voice, and it is strange how the ear soon adapts to the sonic limitations. Tempi are leisurely by modern standards but one can hardly expect period awareness from performances of this era and Sébastian secures playing from the Argentinian orchestra which preserves both the stately dignity and emotional directness of Gluck’s music – even if Iphigénie’s “D’une image, hélas! trop chérie” comes close to dragging. Crespin is not a singer I always enjoy but here is in the best voice I have ever heard her, in a role which suits it perfectly; the notes in the Gala issue confirm that she felt a special affinity with it.

This was approvingly reviewed by Robert Hugill back in 2004 but he found fault with Massard’s “sense of line”, which is surprising, especially as it became something of a signature role for him over a number of years. I concede that he is sometimes a little over-virulent in his vocalisation and pounces on words too vehemently to accommodate Gluck’s classical style; Chauvet’s restraint is more apt. On the other hand, Massard brings Oreste vividly to life and vocalises as impressively as ever; he is particularly powerful in the recitatif “Dieux! Protecteurs de ces affreux rivages” then touching in “Le calme rentre dans mon coeur”, in that the agitation detectably perturbing his smooth vocal line effectively illustrates Gluck’s own observation that Oreste is unsuccessfully trying to convince himself that he has steadied his emotions.


Robert Massard as Oreste in Iphigénie en Tauride, Buenos Aires, 1964

Ravel: L’heure espagnole
Georges Sébastian – 1964 (live; mono) House of Opera download only
Orchestra & Chorus: Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires)
Concepción – Denise Duval
Ramiro – Robert Massard
Gonzalve – George Shirley
Torquemada – Nino Falzetti
Don Inigo Gomez – Angel Mattiello

The live mono sound here is so good that in fact, for a moment on first hearing, I thought this was stereo. Initially, there is a bit of audience coughing but they eventually settle down.

The main draw here is Massard as a virile Ramiro and George Shirley as a sweet-voiced, seductive rival for the affections of the clockmaker’s flirtatious wife, but Nino Falzetti, too, sings very brightly and firmly and acts convincingly as the put-upon husband and Angel Mattiello is a bold, resonant Don Inigo. Denise Duval is suitably pert, scornful and manipulative, completing the small, first-rate cast. The diction of all five singers is so pellucid as almost to render a libretto redundant if you have a bit of French but it is, in any case, easily accessed online.

It is undoubtedly a peculiar opera: farcical, whimsical, concluding with a quintet which “breaks the fourth wall” in the metafictional fashion typified by the coda to Don Giovanni. There are no arias as such; it is through-composed and Ravel’s orchestration of the accompaniment to what is essentially melodic recitative is often quite heavy, complex and percussive but the singers are never over-powered; balances are very good.
 
This is available on YouTube but has unfortunately been uploaded at low volume; the MP3 download from House of Opera is much better.


Robert Massard as Ramiro
 
Rabaud: Mârouf, savetier du Caire (Mârouf, the Cobbler of Cairo)
Jean Fournet – 1966 (live; stereo) Omega Opera Archive; House of Opera
Orchestra & Chorus: Teatro Colón (Buenos Aires)
Mârouf - Robert Massard
La Princesse Saamcheddine - Florence Raynal
Fattoumah la Calamiteuse - Adriana Cantelli
Le Sultan de Kaitan - Victor De Narké
Le Vizir - Rolf Telasko
Ali - Guy Gallardo
Le Fellah ou Genni - Nino Falzetti
Le Chef des Marins - Orazio Mastrango
Ahmad le pâtissier - Eduardo Ferracani
Le Câdi - Tulio Gagliardo
Un ânier – Victor Tavini
1er Marchand – Italo Pasini
2ème Marchand - Ricardo Yost
Muezzin 1 - José Nait
Muezzin 2 - Per Drewsen
1er Mamelouk – Walter Maddalena
2ème Mamelouk – Pino de Vescovi
3ème Mamelouk – Tulio Gagliardo
4ème Mamelouk/Homme de police – Guerrino Boschetti
2ème Homme de police – Carlos Giusti

This opéra comique, based on a tale from The Arabian Nights, was a success at its premiere in 1914 and is still occasionally revived. The listener is immediately struck by two pleasant surprises here: the excellence of the narrow stereo sound – coughing and audience intrusion are minimal - and the beauty of Massard’s singing of Mârouf’s melismatic opening number. The music is an attractive admixture of Arabic/Oriental exoticism, French refinement and sinuous, flowing melody punctuated by percussive outbursts. Rabaud was a Wagnerian but my amateur ears do not detect any such especially obvious influence – unless the appearance of a magic ring in the fifth and final Act is an oblique reference. There is surely more of Massenet in general and specifically Debussy’s Pelléas et MéIisande about the love music for Mârouf and Saamcheddine, the latter very prettily sung by Florence Raynal. I confess that against my expectations I find this to be most enjoyable and those who find the extensive spoken dialogue of earlier operettas tedious will prefer the fact that it uses recitative. The symphonic/tone poem/ballet interludes in Act 3 are very attractive, too.

Mârouf has by far the greatest share of the music which allows us to hear the range, flexibility and sensitivity of Massard’s singing and we must overlook the fact that he is a successful bigamist. I especially like his soft, sensuous singing of the poem “Viens, mon épouse fleurie” in Act 4. Even if I am unfamiliar with their names, I find the singing from the supporting cast to be uniformly praiseworthy from the principal singers down to the smaller roles such as Victor Tavini’s cameo as the donkey-driver and Nino Falzetti’s genie, Victor de Narke, is particularly impressive as the Sultan.

There will of course be no problem with Jean Fournet as conductor and we already know the Teatro Colón to be a fine opera orchestra.

I recommend this as what is now a comparative rarity but was once deservedly mainstream. it is available on CD from House of Opera. Here is further background information and a synopsis, courtesy of the Opéra Comique and derived from their revival of Mârouf in 2013.


 
Gounod: Faust - 1966 (studio; stereo) Decca
London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
Ambrosian Opera Chorus & Highgate School Choir
Faust - Franco Corelli
Méphistophélès - Nicolai Ghiaurov
Marguerite - Joan Sutherland
Valentin - Robert Massard
Siébel - Margreta Elkins
Marthe - Monica Sinclair
Wagner - Raymond Myers

One immediately notices Massard’s trademark ease in the high tessitura of Valentin’s music and his clarity of diction. He is certainly not put in the shade by his illustrious co-singers, despite the size and grandeur of their voices; he cuts a virile figure as Marguerite’s sympathetic and protective brother. Where he scores over them is in the unmistakably authentic Gallic style he brings to his music and of course his impeccable French – which cannot be said for Franco Corelli, even if one forgives him much for the sheer visceral thrill of his singing. The young Joan Sutherland is as you would expect, exhibiting brilliant coloratura, power-a-plenty in alt and a splendid trill, and Ghiaurov is a tower of strength in a role for which he was famous.

[image]
 
Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut
Istvan Kertesz – 1968 (live; mono)
Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House; Children from Hillcroft School
Edmondo – Stuart Burrows
Des Grieux – Robert Ilosfalvy
Lescaut – Robert Massard
Geronte – Forbes Robinson
Inkeeper – Paul Statham
Manon – Marie Collier
A Singer – Elizabeth Shelley
Dancing Master – David Lennox
Sergeant – David Kellly
Lamplighter – Ermanno Mauro
Naval Captain – Eric Garrett

The first voice we hear is that of the young Stuart Burrows and we could wish he were singing the lead tenor role rather Robert Ilosfalvy, as Burrows has the more beautiful voice and a less obtrusive vibrato.

The sound is rather harsh, distant and blaring but bearable. However, apart from a few incidental beauties, among which I number Massard’s Lescaut, there is not a lot here to excite the listener. Marie Collier is an unwieldy Manon – I would not have thought this was really her role, as she was renowned for singing Tosca and Santuzza. The combination of Ilosfavy’s pulsing unvarying emission of pulsing, bland tone and her big, spinto sound is not always felicitous when it comes to portraying young love. The supporting cast of Covent Garden stalwarts is solid but not very interesting. In terms of this survey, it bears witness to Massard’s versatility and I know he enjoyed singing in London where he was highly esteemed but otherwise this is not really a performance to recommend over many others.

I am unable to find a source for this recording; it was presumably taped either live or off the radio.
 
Vicenzo Bellini: I puritani
Gianfranco Rivoli – 1974 (live; mono) House of Opera; Premiere; Opera Depot
Orchestra & Chorus - L'Opéra de Marseille
Elvira - Christiane Eda-Pierre
Arturo Talbot - Alfredo Kraus
Sir Riccardo Forth - Robert Massard
Sir Giorgio Walton - Pierre Thau
Enrichetta di Francia - Martine Dupuy
Bruno Robertson – Philippe Bénanzal
Gualtiero Walton – Lucien Cattin

It is a pity that a recording made as late as 1974 should be in remote mono but obviously we have no choice other than to listen through the poor sound and seek out its virtues. Nonetheless, it was clearly made by an audience members and extraneous noises can be more immediate than what is going on on-stage – except, of course, it does not help that at first the singing takes place off-stage, intensifying that sense of separation and we hear nearby coughing much more clearly. After the distant choral ensemble and quartet, the aural perspective improves somewhat and it is a treat to hear Massard sings my favourite Bellini baritone aria “Ah! per sempre” so smoothly and expressively, ending on a splendid A flat. His singing throughout is free, open and impeccably tuned.

The fact that the cast here is distinguished makes the poor sound all the more regrettable. What sounds like a change of tape machine for track 5, CD 1, which brings greater depth but more rumble and no improvement in immediacy, emphasises a weakness in the singing of Christiane Eda-Pierre’s soprano: she tends to occasional flatness; otherwise set pieces such as “Son vergin vezzosa” are richly and agilely sung.

Arturo was one of Alfredo Kraus’s favourite roles. I am not personally a great admirer of what I hear as his rather squeezed timbre but I know others enjoy it more than I and if his voice appeals you will hear him on good form, with a secure top D in “A te, o cara”.

As with the previous recording, its sonic limitations reduce its appeal but once again, Massard’s contribution in particular is sterling and it is a good record of the best of Kraus. The audience applauds vociferously, confirming that it must have been a great experience to have been in the auditorium that evening.


Robert Massard as Sir Riccardo Forth

Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff
Georges Sébastian – 1974 (live; mono)
Orchestre Lyrique et Choeur de l'O.R.T.F.
Falstaff – Peter Glossop
Alice Ford – Eva Marton
Ford – Robert Massard
Mistress Quickly - Oralia Dominguez
Nanetta – Elian Manchet
Meg Page – Anita Terzian
Fenton – Alain Vanzo
Dr Cajus – Michel Hamel
Bardolfo – Rémy Corazza
Pistola – Louis Hagen Williams

Several Verdi roles ideally suit Robert Massard’s lean, penetrating baritone with its easy upper extension: he performed Rigoletto, Rodrigo in Don Carlo and Germont in La Traviata many times, but the part of Ford, too, with its combination of rage and humour also seems tailor-made for his vocal and dramatic gifts. Massard’s Ford is elegantly voiced but with a dangerous edge and the high-flying phrases of his music present no difficulties at all. I love his falsetto mimicking of Alice in “Guai se mi tocchi” but he switches effortlessly to the quasi-tragic intensity of “È sogno? O realità?” rising to a great, climactic top G then switching again back to the slapstick comedy of Ford and Falstaff’s exaggerated deference as they debate which one of them should first exit.

Once again, we can hear this only in cloudy, distorted mono sound although the voices emerge clearly enough even if the orchestra is muddied in the resonant acoustic. The compensation here resides in the assembly of a cast of famous names. Peter Glossop has just the right “fat” voice for Falstaff; he is genuinely humorous and his exchanges with his excellent cronies go swimmingly, aided by Sébastian’s flexible, idiomatic accompaniment. I had no idea that this was such a successful role for the distinguished British baritone and his interpretation ranks with the likes of Geraint Evans, Valdengo and Gobbi. It is a bonus to have Alain Vanzo’s ideal lyric tenor singing Fenton, matched with a feisty but sweet-voiced Nanetta.

Indeed, the array of female voices matches the quality of the men, even though it is a surprise to encounter Eva Marton as Alice – she is rather hefty but her large voice is apt when matched with big-hitters like the great Oralia Dominguez who is a perfect Mistress Quickly and had already been singing the role for nearly two decades.

How I wish that this had been recorded in better sound. I have not found a source or purchasing outlet for this or the next recording reviewed; they are presumably privately made recordings.
 
Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo
Georges Prêtre – 1975 (live; mono)
Orchestra & Chorus: Opéra de Paris
Filippo II – Nicolai Ghiaurov
Don Carlo – Veriano Luchetti
Rodrigo – Robert Massard
In Grande Inquisitore – Jules Bastin
Un frate – Fernand Dumony
Elisabetta de Valois – Katia Ricciarelli
Eboli – Fiorenza Cossotto
Tebaldi – Regina Marheineke
La comtessa d’Aremberg – Janine Cadet
Il Conte di Lerma – Michel Sénéchal
Un araldo – Jean Dupouy
Voce del Cielo – Christiane Eda-Pierre

The sound here is mono and similar to that of the preceding Falstaff but voices are remote, especially in the opening scene and then intermittently throughout proceedings they are so far away as to make the listener strain. There is also some flutter and wavering of pitch on the original tape – for which I have not found a source – and sometimes the “wibbling” becomes intrusive. The sound is especially feeble in the final duet.

Once again, the cast could hardly be more distinguished; I have always thought Veriano Luchetti to be under-rated and he featured in a number of major studio recordings proving his pre-eminence. His voice is on a par with several other great, contemporary tenors who have sung the demanding eponymous leading role: he is as good, if not better than, the young Carreras and Domingo.

Interestingly, the incisive nature of the frequencies of Massard’s baritone means that it cuts through the muddy recorded sound better than any of the other singers and he demonstrates how perfectly Verdi’s melodic line and demand for sustained legato suit its characteristics. “Per me giunto” and “Io morro” are object lessons in Verdi singing. How I wish his performance were preserved in sound superior to this.

Ricciarelli’s sweet, gentle lyric soprano was always a fragile instrument – one often of great beauty but easily over-parted and it is arguable that Elisabetta was a bridge too far. Her distinctive, plangent, even plaintive, sound is right for a character who suffers unrelievedly and she is on best form here; this is one of the best things I have heard her do and the audience several times breaks into spontaneous applause. She and Luchetti float beautifully in their final duet; it is a pity we cannot hear them more distinctly.

Nicolai Ghiaurov never fails to impress as the king, a favourite role, and his exchanges with Massard’s Rodrigo and Jules Bastin’s Grande Inquisitore are vocally and dramatically central.

Prêtre is generally on good behaviour but occasionally, as in the introduction to Eboli’s first garden scene, yields to his besetting bad habit of pressing too hard so that the lovely music simply sounds rushed and even frantic. I cannot imagine that the formidable Ms Cossotto thought much of that and gets the tempi she wants for her solos. She is, however, more imposing than seductive.

This was obviously a great evening at the opera, so again it is regrettable that it was not caught in better sound.


Robert Massard as Rodrigo

Giacomo Meyerbeer: Les Huguenots
Henri Gallois – 1976 (studio radio broadcast; stereo) De Plein Vent; House of Opera; Live Opera Heaven
Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique; Choeurs de Radio France.
Marguerite de Valois - Louise Lebrun
Valentine de Saint-Bris - Katie Clarke
Urbain, le page de la reine - Della Jones
Raoul de Nangis - Alain Vanzo
Compte de Nevers - Robert Massard
Compte de Saint-Bris - Jules Bastin
Marcel - Will Roy

This recording preserves Massard’s sole performance of this opera. I will come clean and confess that I am no admirer of Meyerbeer’s operas in general, finding them mostly mundane and overblown, but I concede that they contain some striking arias and duets best enjoyed as excerpts or concert items.

There have only been two studio recordings, the earlier one in mono - and featuring Charles Cambon, the baritone who gave Massard wise advice as quoted in my introduction – and a stereo version by Bonynge and Sutherland in 1970 with an impressive cast, apart from the unfortunate casting of a tenorino in the role of Raoul – whereas here we have Alain Vanzo, so often Massard’s regular partner and a huge improvement. The sole recording on my own shelves is the 1962 live recording conducted by Gavazzeni with a stunning cast headed by Sutherland, Corelli, Simionato, Cossotto, Ghiaurov, Ganzarolli and Tozzi - but that is the Italian version, Gli Ugonotti.

The sound here from the radio broadcast is superb – how I wish that had been the case for the preceding two recordings – as good as a studio recording, with only a very few faint background coughs and applause for arias.

The first voice we hear is unmistakably that of Massard, as the Count of Nevers, as ever singing powerfully and stylishly but his is not a large role. Vanzo sings his aria about the unknown lady he rescued and fell in love with (of course) confidently and elegantly, despite its high tessitura. Unfortunately, bass Will Roy is a poor Marcel: lugubrious, unsteady and tonally uningratiating; I find his “Piff! Paff!” aria ridiculously banal, especially when he groans it out so unpleasantly but then Della Jones raises the quality of singing admirably with her “Nobles seigneurs!”. I am unfamiliar with Canadian Louise Lebrun but she sings divinely in a manner to rival Joan Sutherland, having a big, flexible coloratura soprano which copes admirably with the ornamentations in the queen’s music and her duets with her page are delightful; she rightly receives generous applause. Katie Clarke is a fine, if slightly anonymous, Valentine and I wish she would not pronounce the “n” at the end of words like “mon”, but her duet with Raoul, “Tu l’as dit” – one of the most celebrated passages in the opera and including a beautifully prolonged and sustained high falsetto D from Vanzo – goes very well. Stalwart Jules Bastin is as dependable as ever.

I do not find it hard to understand why this opera has waned in popularity but if you respond more readily to this music than I and can overlook the weak Marcel, there is much to recommend this recording, starting with a fine cast and excellent sound.

Conclusion
The most striking features of all these recordings above are their range of genres and styles and the consistently high quality of Robert Massard’s contributions throughout. I cannot imagine that he ever gave a performance which fell beneath his own high standards; I am only sorry that not all of the recordings here are of sufficient technical quality to do full justice to demonstrating his dedication to his art. Nonetheless, even in those in mediocre sound, much of his artistry may still clearly be heard.

For me, the most interesting discovery was Mârouf, which can be recommended for the excellence of the sound, the quality of the ensemble and the fact that Robert Massard is so often on stage, we get to enjoy plenty of his fine singing.

Ralph Moore
August 2021



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