Jean de Reszke (Jan Mieczislaw, Warsaw, 1850 to Nice, 1925)

Jean de Reske, was the most celebrated tenor of his time.  He became even more renowned as an operatic voice teacher.  He had studied with two legendary singers and teachers, Francesco Ciaffei (Warsaw) and Antonio Cotogni (Milan).  He began singing as a baritone, but his younger brother Edouard advised him to change to a tenor. Under Giovanni Sbriglia’s guidance Jean became the greatest (French) tenor of the later part of 19th century.

This is what he sounded like, recorded on a wax cylinder.  The sound is particularly bad, but these are the only types of recordings that we have:

Two of his students:

Maggie Teyte

The sheet music is in the youtube video, with words in English and French.

Beau Soir

Lorsque au soleil couchant les rivières sont roses
Et qu’un tiède frisson court sur les champs de blé,
Un conseil d’être heureux semble sortir des choses
Et monter vers le coeur troublé.

Un conseil de goûter le charme d’être au monde
Cependant qu’on est jeune et que le soir est beau,
Car nous nous en allons, comme s’en va cette onde:
Elle à la mer, nous au tombeau.

Beautiful Evening

As the sun sets rivers run pink
A lukewarm shudder runs through fields of wheat
Advice to be happy seems to draw things out
Comes close to a troubled heart

Advice to taste the charm of being in the world
While we are young and the evening still beautiful
Because we disappear, as this wave goes away
It to the sea, we to the grave

Bidu Sayão

Bachiana Brasileira No.5

Tarde uma nuvem rósea lenta e transparente.
Sobre o espaço, sonhadora e bela!
Surge no infinito a lua docemente,
Enfeitando a tarde, qual meiga donzela
Que se apresta e a linda sonhadoramente,
Em anseios d’alma para ficar bela
Grita ao céu e a terra toda a natureza!
Cala a passarada aos seus tristes queixumes
E reflete o mar toda a sua riqueza…
Suave a luz da lua desperta agora
A cruel saudade que ri e chora!
Tarde uma nuvem rósea lenta e transparente
Sobre o espaço, sonhadora e bela!

Bachian Brasileira No. 5

Evening, a rosy, translucent cloud, slowly crosses
The drowsy, beautiful firmament!
The moon gently rises into infinity,
Adorning the evening, like a sweet maiden
Dreamily getting ready, making herself beautiful,
In her soul’s yearning to become beautiful
Cries out to heaven and to earth to all of Nature.
She silences the birds’ melancholy laments,
And the sea reflects all her treasures…
Gentle moonlight awakens now,
A cruel longing that laughs and weeps!
Evening, a rosy, translucent cloud, slowly
Crosses the drowsy, beautiful firmament!

Jean de Reske

I will not give much detail as to de Reske’s career.  He is more known today for whom he taught and the style of singing that he taught.

He made his debut in London at the Drury Lane Theatre in 1874. From 1876 he appeared as Jean de Reszke. Soon afterwards he retired for almost five years to relearn to sing as a tenor, under Giovanni Sbriglia. He made his tenor debut in the title role of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, at the Teatro Reale Madrid, in 1897. It was not until 1884, when he made a triumphant reappearance as Jean in the first Paris performance of Massenet’s Hérodiade (which by the way is a wonderful opera – it’s too bad that it is not done frequently). The following year he created the title role in Massenet’s Le Cid at the Grand Opéra. He was to sing there five seasons, appearing as Radames, Vasco da Gama in Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine and in the title roles of Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète and Gounod’s Faust. During the next years he sang regularly at Covent Garden. His first Wagnerian role was Lohengrin, singing it in Italian as well as in German. It was in this role he made his American debut at Chicago in 1891. The same year, he garnered tremendous success as Roméo at the Met. His repertory also included Werther, Riccardo, Don José, Siegmund, Young Siegfried and Siegfried in Götterdämmerung, Walther von Stolzing, Canio and Tristan, among many others.

Students: Mme Charles Cahier, Richard Bonelli, Felicie Kaschowska, Carmen Melis, Arthur Endrèze, Mary Lewis, Albert Lindquest, Rachel Frease-Green, Johannes Sembach, Maggie Teyte and Bidu Sayão, others.

In 1891, de Reszke sang in the United States for the first time. From 1893 to 1899 he starred in every season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, virtually duplicating his London list of operatic roles and having an equally charismatic effect on trans-Atlantic audiences. One of De Reszke’s colleagues, the Australian lyric soprano Nellie Melba, became a close personal friend of his during this period. She replaced the ageing star Adelina Patti as the most celebrated of his various stage partners, and she speaks admiringly of him in her memoirs.

Magie Teyte

Dame Maggie Teyte was born Maggie Tate on April 17, 1888, in Wolfverhampton, England. After studies at home, she went to Paris, where she became a pupil of the celebrated tenor Jean de Reszke who had given up his career in 1900 to teach. She changed the spelling of her last name so that the French would not mispronounce it.  In March 1906, she made her debut in a series of Mozart concerts conducted by Reynaldo Hahn and in 1907 became a member of the Paris Opéra-Comique. After a few small parts, she was cast as Mélisande, replacing the celebrated originator of the role, Mary Garden . To prepare for Pelléas et Mélisande, Teyte was sent to study with Debussy himself, every day for six months! By reputation he was a terror and a strict disciplinarian, but according to Teyte, he rarely corrected her; in fact he hardly spoke to her at all. “It was Bonjour, Monsieur Debussy and Bonsoir, Monsieur Debussy,” she later recalled. Clearly he appreciated her talents, both the natural beauty of her voice and her instinctive interpretation of his music. In 1910, she conquered London audiences with her portrayals of Cherubino in Marriage of Figaro, Blonde in Abduction from the Seraglio, and Mélisande, all under the baton of Sir Thomas Beecham. When Sir Paolo Tosti was asked his impression of the young soprano, he replied, ”she is the only singer today who can sing.”

Despite her early successes, Teyte had a difficult time finding a place for herself in the main opera houses of the world. She developed a following in Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, and sang in America through the end of World War I, but did not appear in New York. She married in 1921 and went into a period of semi-retirement. Upon the disruption of her marriage in the early 1930s, Teyte faced difficulties to resume her career after an absence of nearly a decade. An Australian tour was a financial fiasco. Twice she attempted an American comeback, but managers, though kind and sympathetic, were reluctant to hire her. It seemed that the public had forgotten her.

After difficulty in reviving her career, she ended up performing music hall and variety (24 performances a week) at the Victoria Palace in London. Finally, in 1936, her recordings of Debussy songs accompanied by Alfred Cortot attracted attention, and recordings remained an important factor in her renewed fame, as she gained a reputation in England and the United States as the leading French art song interpreter of her time. She sang at the Royal Opera House in 1936–37 in Hansel and Gretel, as Eurydice in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice and as Butterfly in Madama Butterfly. In 1938–39 she broadcast performances of Massenet’s Manon in English, in addition to Eva in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. She also appeared in operetta and musical comedy between the wars.

She made her first New York appearances in 1948, including a Town Hall recital followed by performances of Pelléas at the New York City Center Opera. She continued to record and perform in opera until 1951, making her final appearance in the part of Belinda (to Kirsten Flagstad’s Dido) in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Mermaid Theatre in London. Her final concert appearance was at the Royal Festival Hall on 22 April 1956, aged 68. She spent her last years teaching. She died in London in 1976, aged 88.

Bidu Sayão

Balduína “Bidu” de Oliveira Sayão (May 11, 1902 – March 13, 1999) was a Brazilian opera soprano. One of Brazil’s most famous musicians, Sayão was a leading artist of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1937 to 1952.

Bidu Sayão was born to a cultured family in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. Her father died when she was five years old and her mother struggled to support her daughter’s costly pursuit of a singing career. At just eighteen, the gifted Bidu Sayão made her major opera debut in Rio de Janeiro. Her acclaimed performance led to an opportunity to study with the famous Elena Teodorini, first in Brazil, then in Romania; and then to study with the renowned Polish tenor and tutor, Jean de Reszke, in Nice. During the mid-1920s and early 1930s, she performed in Rome, Buenos Aires, Paris, as well as in her native Brazil. While at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, she met impresario Walter Mocchi (1870–1955). After his wife, soprano Emma Carelli, died in 1928, the two became romantically involved and were married. However, the marriage did not last and in 1935 Sayão married Italian baritone Giuseppe Danise (1883–1963).

In 1930, she debuted at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and in the next year she sang a successful Juliette, in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, at the Paris Opera. In the same year, she gained a great success with her debut at the Opéra Comique as Lakmé. She soon became one of the leading lyric coloratura sopranos in Europe, especially in Italy and France. Her repertoire included Lucia di Lammermoor, Amina in La Sonnambula, Elvira in I Puritani, Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and Cecilia in Il Guarany (a Brazilian opera sung in Italian), among other roles.

Bidu Sayão made her U.S. debut in a recital at Town Hall in New York City on December 30, 1935. Her U.S. operatic debut followed on January 21, 1936 in Washington D.C. A few months later she sang La Demoiselle Élue by Debussy with the  New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall with Arturo Toscanini conducting.  Toscanini would become her greatest supporter and lifelong friend.

She sang her first performance at the Metropolitan Opera as Manon on February 13, 1937, replacing the Spanish soprano Lucrezia Bori.

Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos had an artistic partnership with the diva that lasted many years. He made a number of recordings of his compositions, including a famous recording of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.

Bidu Sayão and her husband Giuseppe Danise purchased an oceanfront property in Lincolnville, Maine. After fifteen years with the Metropolitan Opera, she gave her last performance in 1952, choosing to retire from opera while still at the top of her form. For the next two years she was a guest performer throughout the U.S., but in 1957 she decided to retire completely from public performance; two years later she made her final recording as the soprano soloist on Villa-Lobos’ world premiere stereo recording of his cantata Forest of the Amazon with the composer conducting the Symphony of the Air.  She died in 1999.