Sunday, July 17, 2011

Two Great Singers as Pelleas: Jacques Jansen & Francois Le Roux

Jacques Jansen

Bastille Day got us thinking about French music and it prompted some great emails. One suggested that we explore Pelléas, which has had some great barihunk exponents. The reader’s email was prompted by his memories of seeing Fracois Le Roux in the role and thinking that he had to be the greatest Pelleas ever. When he told his voice teacher, the elderly man said, “I would agree,  except that there was Jacques Toupin and the role sounded like it was written for him.”

Of the people involved with this site, only one of us had ever heard of him, but after hearing him sing, we can understand the voice teacher’s point.

Jacques Jansen was born in Paris in 1913 and died there in 2002. He became associated with the role of Pelléas like no other singer in history, as his light, high-baritone was perfectly suited for the role. He spent thirty years performing the role around the world and critics marveled at his crystal clear enunciation of the text.

He also made quite a mark in operetta, singing Eisenstein in “Die Fledermaus,” Duparquet in Reynaldo Hahn's “Ciboulette,” and Count Danilo in Léhar's “The Merry Widow,” which he performed nearly 1,500 times. His original dream was to be an actor, and during World War II, he was featured in a number of movies, including  Sacha Guitry's “La Malibran.” He  dubbed the singing voice of Alain Cuny in Marcel Carné's “Les Visiteurs du soir” and Jean Marais in “Le Lit à colonnes.”

In 1942, he recorded what many consider to be the classic version of Pelléas, sung opposite the Mélisande of Irène Joachim and conducted by Roger Desormière.  After World War II, he performed outside of France, including roles in Vienna, Dublin, Amsterdam, London’s Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and Milan’s La Scala. After his retirement, Jansen taught voice until his retirement in 1982.

Francois Le Roux as Pelléas in Lyon
Francois Le Roux, who we’ve been featuring in our survey of French music, has been dubbed as the greatest Pelléas of this generation. He has performed the role over a 100 times since his debut in 1985 and recorded the role under the baton of Claudio Abbado. In recent years, he switched to the role of Golaud. We couldn’t find a clip of Le Roux singing Pelléas, so here he is as Golaud under the baton of Georges Prêtre.

Le Roux is considered both one of the leading exponents of French music, as well as one of the foremost experts. In the same way the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has been an advocate for German music and Thomas Hampson for American music, Le Roux has been in the forefront of promoting French music. He is the author of the book “Le Chant Intime,” which is the seminal work on interpreting French song. He is artistic Director of the "Académie Francis Poulenc in Tours", where young singers learn about the interpretation of French Song. He also organized the "French Song Concert Season of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France" in Paris between 1997 and 2002.

His recording of French music are a must for any serious lover of the artform. He has recorded the complete songs of Faure and Duparc, as well as selections by Saint-Saëns, Séverac and Durey. Many consider him to be the successor the the great Gerard Souzay.

A reader asked if it's true that Francois Le Roux was the first male opera singer to appear completely nude onstage. We believe that to be true. He stripped off his clothes in Birtwistle's "Gawain" and had buckets of blood poured over his body. There is a pirate DVD of the opera if anyone is interested.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these two great discoveries. There needs to be a greater appreciation of French music outside of the French speaking countries. Jansen's voice is pure liquid gold and you can understand every word, something that is rare in the French language. Le Roux, too, is an exceptional artist. All I can say is...more, please.