Cher Public

Nadir at zenith

vanzoA year ago the Met enjoyed a big success with its first production in a century of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles. Today’s “Trove Thursday” revisits that opera with an impressive Francophone cast headed by the superb Nadir of Alain Vanzo, one of my favorite tenors. 

Vanzo was the premier French lyric tenor of the post-war era excelling in roles like Roméo, Werther, and Des Grieux (he also sang Puccini’s). Occasionally he took on heavier roles like Raoul in Les Huguenots and Don José and such non-French rarities as Adolar in Weber’s Euryanthe, but he mostly stayed with the parts which made him famous which he continued to perform with stylish finesse throughout his long career.

Never a glamorous stage figure, Vanzo rarely sang in America and never at the Met. No doubt his most famous (and only?) New York appearance was as Gennaro in American Opera Society’s Lucrezia Borgia opposite Montserrat Caballé the night of her celebrated U.S. debut. More than thirty years ago at age 56 he appeared as Faust with the Philadelphia Opera opposite Valerie Masterson and James Morris, a production later televised on PBS.

Of his relatively few complete opera recordings he is probably best known for his Gérald in Delibes’s Lakmé opposite Joan Sutherland–he had been Edgardo at her Paris Opêra debut in 1960.

He finally got to record Nadir in 1977 for EMI with Ileana Cotrubas, but today’s 1959 French Radio performance finds him in notably fresher voice. His Lëila here, Janine Micheau, is featured in EMI’s previous Pêcheurs recording with Nicolai Gedda as her Nadir.

Although he never recorded the role, around the time of his Met debut Gabriel Bacquier sang Zurga in the US—twice with the Philadelphia Opera alongside Adriana Maliponte and Ferruccio Tagliavini (!)/Richard Verreau.

A reminder that “Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition, this Bizet performance, last week’s Alceste and all previous fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

  • simonelvladtepes

    Can someone recommend a site where I can upload performances in red book resolution (about 1GB per performance) and in 96/24 (about 4 -- 7 GB per performance) to post links easily on websites like this? I have hundreds of never published, never traded recordings. I don’t want to post MP3’s.

    • La Cieca

      Are you willing to pay for server space? How many recordings say per month would you be uploading?

      • simonelvladtepes

        Yes, but no more than $10/month for at least 100 GB. If this goes smoothly I’ll upload about an opera a week.

  • Thank you, Chris. Looking forward to listening to this one.

  • cielo e mar

    Vanzo did get to sing Faust at the Met — under the auspices of Paris Opera when they visited in 1976.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    I keep hoping that Sony will reissue the Vanzo/Popp recording of Massenet’s La Navarraise, so much better than the RCA Victor recording that was.

  • I saw Vanzo do Faust at the Met, and had seen him earlier do the role in Philadelphia. He alternated with Gedda on a visit by the Paris Opera. They offered Freni (loud, gorgeous tone, horrific French) and poor Roger Soyer (style, beautiful French, no tone). I know this board has denizens who discourage discourse about singing and singers. But it is worth suggesting that Vanzo at that Met appearance especially, exemplified a much older school of singing. He floated a beautiful tone on the breath, completely free of laryngeal manipulation, and the artificial inflation of sound. Far from being small, his voice in that vast space soared out effortlessly with a breathtaking caressing sweetness. His words were abundantly clear and through pointing the words on a tone that was very responsive rhythmically, his declamation had color, climaxes had plenty of sound and softer singing was breathtaking. There are a number of wonderful recordings, most of them taped live. But hearing him in the flesh was a revelation.

    He was up against Gedda who was no slouch, but who by that time (I think it was 1976 might have been ’77) was starting to sound a little thin. I remember the production which was radical by the standards of those days (I recall the ending where Marguerite has died in a trench and Faust mourns over her invisible body while a little girl comes hop-scotching downstage until the lights fade when Mephisto grabs Faust. I think they had modified some things for New York. The most fun ending of Faust was Corsaro’s at City Opera, where Beverly Sills thought she was being escorted to paradise by an angel who in fact was the executioner. He dragged her to the scaffold from which a double was hanged! A frisson went through the house. The Dowager sitting next to me --I had stolen the seat but she was very companionable — remarked, “why, fancy that, Faust with a happy ending. Sills killed!”).

    Everyone with an interest in Vanzo should hear his incredible singing on a live Land of Smiles (Pays du Sourir, 1970) where he inserts all kinds of extra high notes to stunning effect. He composed operettas himself. I’ve been told, with what truth I can’t say, but many repeated it, that he didn’t have a bigger career because he was really nuts. But he stood at the bottom of the stairs in the Met lobby on the Gedda night, grey hair VERY HIGH, and greeted EVERYONE. He seemed quite sweet. (Mr. Gedda’s wife of that time, who I knew, was NOT pleased, nor was he, backstage).

    • grimoaldo2

      I saw Vanzo as Faust in Paris, my god, sooooooooooo many years ago (1979?)(I was of course a mere child at the time) with the utterly divine Valerie Masterson and Jose van Dam. I agree with what you say about hearing him live,a revelation indeed. Masterson and van Dam were also incredible, Masterson partnered with him quite a bit, in France and other places, they made an unforgettable team.

      • Luvtennis

        Jose van Dam. I love him sooooooo much. What a great singer! He is too often overlooked. His forays into Wagner on record were …. but what a beautiful timbre married to a masterful legato technique.

        I wonder what those who heard him live think of him????

        • grimoaldo2

          Well.I heard him live, several times. (Mephistopheles and Phillip II and others).
          I thought he was wonderful.

        • Very good singing actor. I saw him often, right up to his 2010 Don Quichotte. My blog only runs back to 2003 but there are half a dozen entries, though of course they cover his last years on stage, not his zenith.

    • Juicy Bjoerling

      “he didn’t have a bigger career because he was really nuts.”

      that didn’t stop pavarotti or battle from becoming stars…


    I love Vanzo and he was so superb on that Lakme with Sutherland. The most glorious float and spin combo in the Act I aria. So hard to do on a note just on the passagio. A paragon of style.

    • fletcher

      That’s the only studio recording I have of his, along with the Airs Français collection. There’s a really wonderful live R&J from Paris with Vanzo and Huguette Rivière under Le Conte that I found on Google Music, broadcast narration and all -- best balcony scene I’ve ever heard. I’ve been hunting for the Martinon L’Enfance du Christ for a while (Krunoslav posted a lovely clip a few weeks ago), along with a Baudo Damnation from Vienna in 1983 (with Felicity Palmer!).

      • rapt

        I also like his live Pearl Fishers from 1959.

  • Luvtennis

    Vanzo starred in a number of operas preserved from French radio broadcasts, including a cut Huguenots. I would urge everyone to seek them out.