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Henri Legay, French light lyric tenor

By June 8, 2020March 19th, 2023No Comments

Parisian-born Henri Legay (1920–1992) won first prize at the conservatoire in 1947 but began his career singing in musical shows before making his operatic début in Brussels in 1950. He made his first major Parisian appearance as Gérald (Lakmé) in April 1952. His career was predominately a French-based one and centred at the opéra-comique and the provincial theatres.

This is a light voice, but it extremly well-placed. By this I mean that the voice procedes unimpeded to the resonating areas in the head. This gives it the “ping” to cut through an orchestra and to be heard.

Pearl Fishers Duet
Sung by Michel Dens and Henri Legay

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.

The duet starts at 2:30.

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 !
Son voile se soulève
Et la foule est à genoux !
Nadir Mais à travers la foule
Elle s’ouvre un passage !
Zurga Son long voile déjà
Nous cache son visage !
Nadir Mon regard, hélas !
La cherche en vain !
Zurga Elle fuit !
Nadir Elle fuit !
Mais dans mon âme soudain
Quelle étrange ardeur s’allume !
Zurga Quel feu nouveau me consume !
Nadir Ta main repousse ma main !
Zurga Ta main repousse ma main !
Nadir De nos cœurs l’amour s’empare,
Et nous change en ennemis !
Zurga Non, que rien ne nous sépare !
Nadir Non, rien !
Zurga Que rien ne nous sépare.
Nadir Non, rien !
Zurga Jurons de rester amis !
Nadir Jurons de rester amis !
Zurga Jurons de rester amis !
Both Oh oui, jurons de rester amis !
Oui, c’est elle ! C’est la déesse !
En ce jour qui vient nous unir,
Et fidèle à ma promesse,
Comme un frère je veux te chérir !
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 prostrate 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.
Her veil has parted
and the crowd is kneeling.
But through the crowd
she makes her way.
Already her long veil
hides her face from us.
My eyes, alas!
Seek her in vain!
She flees!
She flees!
But what is this strange flame
which is suddenly kindled in my soul!
What unknown fire is destroying me?
Your hand pushes mine away!
Your hand pushes mine away!
Love takes our hearts by storm
and turns us into enemies!
No, let nothing part us!
No, nothing!
Let nothing part us!
No, nothing!
Let us swear to remain friends!
Let us swear to remain friends!
Let us swear to remain friends!
Oh yes, let us swear to remain friends!
Yes, it is she, the goddess,
who comes to unite us this day.
And, faithful to my promise,
I wish to cherish you like a brother!
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!

I am guilty of posting this aria too frequently, sung by different people. But I just love it.

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!

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!

This recording is supposed to be THE Manon recording. Here is the duet “en fermant les yeux”.

En fermant les yeux, je vois là-bas une humble retraite,
une maisonnette toute blanche au fond des bois!
Sous ses tranquilles ombrages,
les clairs et joyeux ruisseaux,
où se mirent les feuillages,
chantent avec les oiseaux!
C’est le Paradis!
Oh! non! Tout est là triste et morose,
car il y manque une chose:
il y faut encore Manon!

C’est un rêve, une folie!

Non! là sera notre vie,
si tu le veux, ô Manon!

When I close my eyes I see far away a modest retreat,
a little cottage lost in the middle of the woods!
Under the quiet shade,
the clear and joyous streams,
in which the leaves are reflected,
sing with the birds!
It’s Paradise!
Oh no, everything there is sad and melancholy,
because one thing is missing:
Manon ought to be present!

That’s only a dream, a folly!

No, our life will be there,
if you want it, oh Manon!

Henri Legay

Henri Legay (July 1 ,1920 in Paris – September 16, 1992 in Paris) was a French operatic tenor. He was primarily French-based as his light lyric voice was especially suited to the French operatic repertoire.

Legay studied in Brussels and Paris, and won First Prize at the Conservatoire de Paris in 1947. To support himself he sang in cabarets to his own guitar accompaniment, also playing for Piaf and Montand, and also composing his own songs.

He began his career singing operetta. He made his operatic début at La Monnaie in Brussels in 1950, also appearing in Lausanne.

He began a long association with the Opéra-Comique in 1952, as Gérald in Lakmé, quickly establishing himself as one of the leading tenors of his time, other roles included; Nadir, Meister (singing in the 2,000th performance at the Salle Favart), des Grieux, Julien, etc. He made his debut at the Palais Garnier, as Damon in Les Indes galantes, other roles there included: Faust, Werther, Almaviva, Duke of Mantua, Alfredo, etc.

He left a few recordings, Les pêcheurs de perles, Le roi d’Ys, and most notably, the famous 1955 recording of Manon, opposite Victoria de los Ángeles and conducted by Pierre Monteux, widely regarded as the definitive recording of Massenet’s opera.