Charles [Auguste Louis] Panzéra (Geneva, February 16, 1896 – Paris, June 6, 1976) was a Swiss operatic and concert baritone. He is “one of the greatest classical voices of the 20th century”.
Panzéra’s studies at the Paris Conservatory under the tutelage of Amédée-Louis Hettich were interrupted by his volunteering into the French Army during World War I. Twice wounded, he was nevertheless able to complete the course and make his operatic début as Albert in Massenet’s Werther at the Opéra-Comique in 1919. He remained there for three seasons, excelling in several rôles, notably Jahel in Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys, Lescaut in Massenet’s Manon and, most permanently, Debussy’s Pelléas. He was to sing this part numerous times in several countries through 1930.
While still a student at the Conservatoire he had met both its then Director, Gabriel Fauré, who oriented him towards the interpretation of vocal chamber works, and a fellow student, pianist Magdeleine Baillot, who would become his wife and lifelong accompanist.
Fauré dedicated to Panzéra his song-cycle, L’horizon chimérique, composed in the autumn of 1921. The young baritone’s creation of the new score at a concert of the Société Nationale de Musique, on 13 May 1922, was a resounding success and made Panzéra’s name.
A marvelous lyric baritone, Panzéra’s beautiful, warm and expressive instrument was perfectly at home in the subtle world of the art song (mêlodie in French, Lieder in German). He became a world-renowned interpreter of the mélodie and the lied, touring extensively for nearly forty years. Besides Fauré, he worked personally with and sung the premières of works by Vincent d’Indy, Albert Roussel, Guy Ropartz, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and many others.
In 1949, he was appointed a professor at the Paris Conservatory, remaining till 1966. He also taught voice at the École Normale de Musique de Paris. Among his notable pupils were the composer Gabriel Cusson, the musicologist Alain Daniélou, the opera singer Pierre Mollet and the soprano Caroline Dumas.