Miguel Villabella, lyric tenor

Based solely on recordings, I would say that Villabella is one of the greatest tenors who ever lived. The ease of voice production, his ability to singing mezzo piano and piano, his ability to infuse whatever he was singing with emotion, such a singer does not exist today. His tone and the breath travel unimpeded to the resonating cavities of his head, and the overtones that are produced are beautiful. He also does not over nasalize the French, which is a feat that many singers in French find hard to do.

Vainement, ma bien aimée

Puisqu’on ne peut fléchir ces jalouses gardiennes,
Ah! laissez-moi conter mes peines

Et mon émoi !
Vainement, ma bien aimée,
On croit me désespérer :
Près de ta porte fermée.
Je veux encore demeurer !
Les soleils pourront s’éteindre,
Les nuits remplacer les jours,
Sans t’accuser et sans me plaindre,
Là je resterai toujours !
Je le sais, ton âme est douce,
Et l’heure bientôt viendra,
Où la main qui me repousse.
Vers la mienne se tendra!
Ne sois pas trop tardive
A te laisser attendrir !
Si Rozenn bientôt n’arrive,
Je vais, hélas mourir!

Vainement, ma bien aimée

Since these jealous retainers will not be softened
ah, let me tell you of my suffering

and my emotion!
In vain, my beloved,
do they think they can put me off:
close by your shut door
I am determined to stay!
The stars may fade,
nights replace days,
without blaming you and without complaining
I shall stay here forever!
I know what a sweet soul you are,
and the hour will soon come
when the hand which now pushes me away
will reach out towards mine!
Do not take too long
to allow yourself to melt;
If Rozenn does not appear soon,
Alas, I shall die!

Rossini’s opera, the Barber of Seville, was originally written in Italian. Many changes were made to it in the original score. Here, we have Miguel Villabella singing the Count’s cavatina in French. This aria takes place in Act I. Knowing translations as I do, I have not even tried to find the French version of this aria. I have given the original Italian and the English.

I have given Alfredo Kraus and Juan Diego Florez as comparisons. Kraus was a legendary singer who was singing professionally well into his 70s. Florez has been a popular singer for many years. See if you can tell the difference between Villabella, Kraus, and Florez. You must take into account the quality of the recording. See if you can hear a ping (lo squillo in Italian) in Florez’s voice. Hint – it is not there, and the voice is spread rather than focused.  He puts most of his high notes right into his nose, and there is no resonance.

CONTE
Ecco, ridente in cielo
spunta la bella aurora,
e tu non sorgi ancora
e puoi dormir così?

Sorgi, mia dolce speme,
vieni, bell’idol mio;
rendi men crudo, oh Dio,
lo stral che mi ferì.

Oh sorte! già veggo
quel caro sembiante;
quest’anima amante
ottenne pietà.

Oh istante d’amore!
Oh dolce contento!
Felice momento
che eguale non ha!

COUNT
Lo in the smiling sky,
the lovely dawn is breaking,
and you are not awake,
and you are still asleep?

Arise, my sweetest love,
oh come, my treasured one,
soften the pain, oh God,
of the dart which pierces me.

Oh joy! Do I now see
that dearest vision:
has she taken pity
on this soul in love!

Oh, moment of love!
Oh, moment divine!
Oh, sweet content
which is unequalled!

Pearl Fishers Duet

Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) is an opera in three acts by the French composer Georges Bizet, to a libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré. It was premiered on September 30, 1863 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris and was given 18 performances in its initial run. Set in ancient times on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the opera tells the story of how two men’s vow of eternal friendship is threatened by their love for the same woman, whose own dilemma is the conflict between secular love and her sacred oath as a priestess. The friendship duet “Au fond du temple saint”, generally known as “The Pearl Fishers Duet”, is one of the best-known in Western opera.

At the time of the premiere, Bizet (born on October 25, 1838) was not yet 25 years old: he had yet to establish himself in the Parisian musical world. Modern critical opinion has been kinder than that of Bizet’s day. Commentators describe the quality of the music as uneven and at times unoriginal but acknowledge the opera as a work of promise in which Bizet’s gifts for melody and evocative instrumentation are clearly evident. They have identified clear foreshadowings of the composer’s genius which would culminate, 10 years later, in Carmen. Since 1950 the work has been recorded on numerous occasions, in both the revised and original versions.

Zurga: C’était le soir !
Dans l’air par la brise attiédi,
Les brahmines au front inondé de lumière,
Appelaient lentement la foule à la prière !

Nadir: Au fond du temple saint
paré de fleurs et d’or,
Une femme apparaît !

Zurga: Une femme apparaît !

Nadir: Je crois la voir encore !

Zurga: Je crois la voir encore !

Nadir: La foule prosternée
La regarde, étonnée,
Et murmure tout bas :
Voyez, c’est la déesse
Qui dans l’ombre se dresse,
Et vers nous tend les bras !

Zurga: Son voile se soulève !
Ô vision ! ô rêve !
La foule est à genoux !

Both Oui, c’est elle !
C’est la déesse
Plus charmante et plus belle !
Oui, c’est elle !
C’est la déesse
Qui descend parmi nous !

Both: C’est elle, c’est la déesse
Qui vient en ce jour nous unir !
Oui, partageons le même sort,
Soyons unis jusqu’à la mort !

It was in the evening!
In the air cooled by a breeze,
The brahmanes with faces flooded with light,
Slowly called the crowd to prayer!

At the back of the holy temple,
decorated with flowers and gold,
A woman appears!

A woman appears!

I can still see her!

I can still see her!

The prostrated crowd
looks at her amazed
and murmurs under its breath:
look, this is the goddess
looming up in the shadow
and holding out her arms to us.

Her veil parts slightly.
What a vision! What a dream!
The crowd is kneeling.

Yes, it is she!
It is the goddess,
more charming and more beautiful.
Yes, it is she!
It is the goddess
who has come down among us.

Yes, it is she, the goddess,
who comes to unite us this day.
Yes, let us share the same fate,
let us be united until death!

Miguel de Villabella

Miguel Villabella was born at Bilbao on the December 20, 1892. He spent his entire youth listening to his father, a baritone who was famous in Spain in the Zarzuela theaters. In 1916, he met the French baritone Lucien Fugère who invited him to Paris and generously offered him lessons. At the end of the war, he completed his studies with Jacques Isnardon and worked intensively on his stage skills, refining his natural dramatic talent. He made his debut at Poitiers in 1918 in “Tosca” (Cavaradossi), then at the Opéra-Comique on the August 1, 1920, again in “Tosca”, but this time in the small role of Spoletta. He had to compete with the resident tenors; Fernand Francell, Louis Cazette, Emile de Creus,etc. He soon triumphed in all the roles in his repertoire; Gérald de Lakmé, Le Postillon de Longjumeau, Almaviva, Daniel in the Chalet, and above all in Georges Brown in “La Dame Blanche”, in which he took part in the centenary Gala in 1926, with Germaine Feraldy. His success, the ease of his high notes and also of his sensational soft tones brought him to the Opéra. There he sang Faust Roméo, Rigoletto, Traviata, Le Barbier de Séville, and in May 1933 he participated in a revival of Don Juan(Ottavio), under the baton of Bruno Walter with Pernet, Cabanel, Germaine Lubin, Gabrielle Ritter-Ciampi et Solange Delmas. In 1935 he sang in a revival of Castor et Pollux (Castor), and recorded arias by Lully and Gluck. He sang in several performances of Manon at Brussels in 1933. He appeared at Monte-Carlo from 1930. Une nuit à Venise (J. Strauss), Le Domino Noir d’Auber (Horace), La Fille de Madame Angot de Lecoq (Ange Pitou).. He was billed in 1935 at the Florence May Festival in Castor et Pollux.

After the war, Villabella devoted himself largely to teaching. He died in Paris on June 28, 1954, after a minor operation.

The name of this Spaniard, who happily left numerous recordings, remains indelibly inscribed in the anthology of fine French singing.