Cher Public

O heureuse Iphigénie

Our old, old, old friends at Opera Depot are belatedly celebrating the birthday of regal Régine Crespin by discounting all of her recordings at 50% off as well as offering a free download of a brand new compilation featuring the French diva in excerpts from Iphigénie en Tauride, Die Walküre, Parsifal, Fedra and Werther.

  • Camille

    Hmmmm…..have i heard that Fedra? I don’t think so. She gave the prima mondiale of this work if I am not sadly, badly mistaken. Mebbe I can find that HérodiadeHighlights which has disappeared, too??? Decisions, decisions.

    My goodness but Régine surely must have kept an eyeliner company or two from bankruptcy. Apply and apply, again and again!

  • I talked with Regine about Fedra (and Mama Rose in Gypsy, she’d been offered it in French!) at the party thrown for her and the greatest Alfredo Kraus by Herbert Breslin with his male lover, wife and children and a group of “industry” heavies. It was after the matinee Werther in 1979. I’d been to them all. I LOVED Alfredo.

    I had known Regine since I was a youngster and had seen her and Jon in Walkeure in Philly in 1961. That was an incredible experience. I had seen it before and read through the score measures at a time at the piano but had never realized it could be like that. After act one the entire audience stood and screamed (this was Philly, remember) and yelled and stamped all the way through the intermission. Not many of those present even went to pee, and in those days THERE WERE DOWAGERS.

    Jon and Regine took about twenty bows before feeling they had had enough but the audience kept on going, right into the start of act two. And then came her “O hehrstes Wunder!” in act three. This immense glorious voice went soaring around the Academy on endless breath with a heart stopping exaltation and abandon I scarcely imagined was possible. The audience stopped the performance again.

    Afterwards I was wandering around backstage and ran smack into Robert Lawrence. He was a wonderful man (and a good conductor who founded The Friends of French Opera) who was pals with one of my teachers. I had met him before. “Come and meet Regine,” he said — I knew her for thirty years after that. She was utterly delightful and we had a drink (I got soda) for about a half hour afterward (he had driven her from NY and was driving her back). Of course there were other sides to her… oo la la… WERE there!

    She and Jon did exactly the same thing in 1963. In any case I went to the Werther soiree and she patted the sofa beside her. “Is eet because you are ‘omosexual that you preFAIR Alfredo?” she asked. “You spend more time in ‘is dressing room, than mine.” She may have been teasing (and maybe not). But I changed the subject to Fedra, of which I had just gotten a reel from La Scala. “I MUST ‘ave eet!!” Copy eet and give eet to me tomorrow!!” (I did). “It was TERRIBLE to sing, pi-pi-pi-pi, and when would MY moMENT come? NEVAIR!!!!!!! Ze Italians, they have lost, HAVE LOST, the thread of melody, NON?” (It’s actually a nice opera with some good opportunities, and she had had a big success in it. It was her Scala debut).

    Then she asked, “you are an American ‘omosexual, so tell me, is Gypsy SERIOUS?” It turned out that a French impresario was after her to star in a French revival in Paris. We went back and forth about it until Terry McEwen (of London Records) joined us and yelled. “No! You must record Amneris!!”
    She rolled her eyes. “I will NOT record that. That opera is bad LUCK for me!! You ‘omosexuals!!! I am a soprano, no mezzo roles. Carmen and Charlotte are SOPRANO roles. It ees a conspiraCY that the mezzos sing them!”

    All the homosexual stuff was hypocritical as both Terry and I knew. She swung plenty during her life, and stopped with men altogether later. Her funniest mot was in talking about her two marriages. The first and more important to the aggressive hetero Lou Bruder, who taught her German, and the second to an utterly devoted but totally gay man. Zinka (with whom she studied for a bit and who she described as “Ze MOST stupide bitch in the world” had blessed the second marriage, evidently saying to her, “The queers will adore you and do all your life work and ask nothing.”

    But in later years, thinking back, Regine had had it with marriage. “Zees men, zey either want to fuck you ALL THE TIME, or NEVAIR want to fuck you! BalANCE, life is BalANCE!”

    For all her wickedness (there is more but it’s not for me to repeat) she was one of the greatest singers I’ve ever encountered and in her absolute vocal prime (say to ’69) absolutely in the line of 20th century miracles.

    • Armerjacquino


      Amazing. Someone should have asked Modl to play Mutti Rosa, too.

    • PCally

      I was late on the crespin bandwagon. A lot of her commercial recordings aren’t as easy to come by as her contemporaries and I also think studio recordings probably prevented me from getting a real sense of the scope of her sound. I simply cannot believe that someone with so powerful a voice could sing so lyrically and with so many colors. There’s a Kennst du das land from 1967 where her voices sounds so ridiculously immense that I can’t imagine how the people upfront didn’t go deaf. Yet it’s also such an expressively detailed rendering as well.

      YouTube also has a complete Iphigenie that is (literally) staggering.

      • That is THE HUNTER COLLEGE recital!!! I was there and taped it (and gave her a copy) and I have it on reel and CD. It was perhaps the most astounding recital I’ve ever seen (not to slight many miracles by Souzay, heartbreaking, Fishy-Dishy, overexposed but when on, amazing, Seefried, vocally a little threadbare when I heard her, but irresistible, Ameling, so dead on in intonation that even in songs one knew well one had to think — “you mean THOSE are REALLY the pitches?”, the mad but glorious Jorma Hynninen, two very late Hotter recitals that were life changing, a few Caballe evenings that were unforgettable, and one GREAT Evil Incarnate recital at Yale) but Regine just POURED out sound of improbable beauty, handled the words with tremendous insight, FELT every song and blew the entire audience away with that “Kennst du das Land”. it was a cathartic life-experience.

        • PCally

          Don’t forget auger either as well (totally different kind of singer of course but as long as we are listing great interpretations)

          I will have to track down the complete recital (I think all the songs are individually up on YouTube)

          • Bill

            PCally -- I saw Auger only once in recital
            in Carnegie Hall and she gave an exquisite
            lieder recital -- there was a freshness
            in her voice with extremely natural interpretations. I met her afterwards and mentioned I had seen her first ever Marie in the Regiment’s Tochter (La Fille de Regiment) but auf Deutsch and she said “Talk about Nerves.” -- she had moved into the production after Reri Grist and had to contend with Seefried and Welitsch both of whom were known to hog the stage even in their minor roles. After some years in Vienna Auger departed to mostly sing in the USA -- as a Bach singer she was superb. Actually she was probably superb in much of what she sang -- certainly one of the finest Konstanzes on disc, And as Marie she was quite tomboyish in a very natural manner. I think her only Met appearance was as Marzelline in Fidelio at the request of Dr. Boehm.

            • Well, I didn’t want to go on and on. Auger, De Gaetani and Popp were wonderful recitalists and there have been others of course, some with more exposure in America or longer primes than others (I saw Haefliger give an unbelievably beautiful Schubert recital but I think it was one of very few appearances he made in NY).

              I thought Auger and Moll made the first scene of those Fidelios far more magical than one ever thought possible. Both were incredible musicians with beautiful voices. But Auger was small for the Met and I suspect many other American opera houses. I happened to see the Alcina in London where she was irresistible and sang with incredible beauty. I also saw a number of master classes where she was really thoughtful and helpful.

            • Bill

              Ms. JC -- The Ernst Haefliger all Schubert
              Liederabend in Carnegie Hall was one of the most magical lieder recitals in my experience. In the second half or part of the second half he had a small men’s chorus singing along with him in appropriate Schubert songs like the Staendchen flocked around the piano -- it was absolutely the most exquisite Schubert singing one could ever hear. I love much of Haefliger one can encounter -- mostly on DGG in Mozart and also his wonderful Florestan (Fricsay) on DGG -- beautifully sung though perhaps he did not sing it on stage or only in Zurich or in
              Munich, Haefliger seems not to have tried to make a big international career -- he was preceded by Patzak, Dermota,
              Simoneau and then was contemporary in part with Wunderlich, Schreier (a singer hardly ever mention on these pages)
              and I would surmise that Haefliger
              (like the others mentioned) hardly ever
              offered an ugly sound. I had somewhat forgotten about this Schubert recital at Carnegie and thanks for reviving the memory which now suddenly stands
              vividly in my mind. .

            • PCally

              I actually just listened to her figaro countess, having heard mixed things about it, and was suprised as how close she comes to being one of my personal favorites (and I am not totally sold on the performance as a whole). I don’t know how she would have sounded live in the role and a bigger orchestra, but it’s really a lovely and really melancholy interpretation and effortlessly sung.

            • Auger’s Alcina was one of the most breathtaking experiences I ever had in the theatre.

            • grimoaldo2

              Yes, I saw that too, a very precious memory. Also will never forget a Prom in London with Auger as the Queen mother Nitocris in Handel’s magnificent dramatic oratorio :Belshazzar. As well as her beautiful and expressive singing, I remember a look she shot at the incomparable Anthony Rolfe-Johnson as her wastrel,blaspheming son, a mix of reproach, disdain and hope that he would come his senses and change his ways.

            • Did he?

            • grimoaldo2

              No, he came to a sticky end. He should have listened to his mother!

        • Bill

          Mrs. JC -- I saw that Hunter College Recital of
          Crespin -- is that the one where she ‘ poured’ herself into a bright pink dress ? Don’t know how she managed to walk onto the stage Her Kennst Du das Land was absolutely remarkable and she turned on the volume which other great exponents of the song, Seefried (also with the NY Philharmonic under Solti) and Schwarzkopf could never ever muster. The walls just shook. .

    • Dame Kenneth

      Mrs. JC,
      I loved reading your recollections of Crespin. Your piquant descriptions of her remind me so much of what Terry McEwan recounted to me about her. I have no doubt that you have painted for us an accurate picture of what sounds to have been quite a character.
      McEwan loved her, both as an artist and a person. They were great friends and he had so many funny, bawdy stories about her. He always talked about her as one of the 5 living (at the time anyway) singers to whom he most loved listening. (Freni, Jones and Lorengar also made the list.)
      Just one question: Was the male lover and the wife related to Kraus or to Herbert Breslin? It’s a little confusing as written. (Enquiring minds, that kind of thing…)

      • Thank you, Dame Kenneth. Breslin had the male lover, wife and children. Alfredo had the wife, a ball buster espagnole. I did love him. He was the sweetest man and a very great tenor (even Scotto thought so). There are stories about him but… (relevant Tallulah Bankhead quote here).

        Yes, Regine was a complicated person, with a dark side but with such charisma and humor she was hard to resist unless she was coming at you with an ax.

        I learned that she had studied with Suzanne Cesbron-Viseur and John Ardoin sent me a tape of the COMPLETE Cesbron-Viseur. So I made a copy for Regine and gave it to her all wrapped up. She was delighted at the wrapping and undid it with grace and charm. I hadn’t indicated what it was. I suggested she put it on. She did. It took her 28 seconds to scream deafeningly, take off her shoe, and hurl it at me.

        I was surprised. “Wasn’t she your teacher?” I gasped.

        “LE CON!!!” She screamed (That cunt). She ripped the tape out of the cassette holder and threw it out the window.

        “In ‘Er STUPIDE class she treat me badly and then she ask us, the students, to pick a piece to sing for ‘Er. I stood up and said, “Madame, I will sing Shéhérazade of Ravel.”

        She ‘OWL with deRISION!!!!” SHE ‘OWL!!!! Oh, the laughTER, impossible. She scream, “I originate these songs, you will neVAIR, neVAIR, NEVAIR sing them!”

        “I scream at ‘Er, vas te faire foutre, vieille bique! They transfer me to Jouatte’s class with, repriMAND!!! I make the reCORD with Ansermet. World raves and so on. And I think, I send it to that old con, maybe it KILL ‘er. And you know? She WRITE ME BACK that it was great!!! You see. SHE WAS WEAK!!!!”

    • Camille

      I loved Alfredo, TOO!!! You can’t have him!

      There is currently a little retrospective of the Yale Repertory Theatre in NYPAL with one of the photos being The Idiots Karamazov and featuring the name of your twin, Mrs JC.

      Just saw it today and thought you’d like to know of it, if for some reason you did not already. Quite a wall of stars, as it were.

      I can’t find my old recording of Crespin’s Hérodiade highlights and I am DESOLATE! That has always been one of my all-time favorites.

  • Luvtennis

    I adore Crespin! Her sense of fantasy, her glorious diction in French and German music, the timbre -- warm, cool, bright, dark, and so voluptuous, and most of all her phrasing, which somehow managed to be elegant, classically simple, yet totally idiosyncratic, evocative and jazz-infused at the same time. Like a combination of Sarah Vaughn and Ella. The Rossini Cat Duet with Lee is incredible -- they were mutual admirers and possessors of the sexiest soprano voices I have ever experienced. Yeah, sexy is a good description of Crespin’s voice.

    Her performances of Asie and Traume changed my life. God, how I envy those who experienced her live in her glorious prime.