Charles Panzéra was the leading baritone exponent of French song between the wars. French song in French is called mélodie. He had a lovely resonant voice. Unfortunately, this is hard to hear in the recordings that I have posted (mainly recorded in the ’20s).

The first piece is by Duparc based on an poem by Baudelaire from Les fleurs du mal. The next set was written by Gabriel Fauré.

This kind of singing has, unfortunately, disappeared. We do have singers today who present Lieder/Mélodie/Art Song recitals, but the quality of the singing and the lack of interpretation of any kind fails to create a moving experience for the audience/listener.

L’invitation au Voyage

Mon enfant, ma sœur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble ;
— Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble !
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
Si mystérieux
De tes traîtres yeux
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

Des meubles luisants,
Polis par les ans
Décoreraient notre chambre ;
Les plus rares fleurs
Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l’ambre,
Les riches plafonds,
Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale,
Tout y parlerait
À l’âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

Vois sur ces canaux
Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l’humeur est vagabonde ;
C’est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu’ils viennent du bout du monde.
— Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D’hyacinthe et d’or ;
— Le monde s’endort
Dans une chaude lumière.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

Invitation to the voyage

My child, my sister,
dream of the sweetness
of going there to live together!
–To love at leisure,
to love and to die
in a country that is the image of you!
The humid suns
of those blurry skies
have for my mind the same
mysterious charm
as your betraying eyes
shining through their tears.

There, all is order and beauty,
luxury, calmness and voluptuousness.

Gleaming furniture
polished by the years
would decorate our bedroom;
the rarest of flowers
mixing their fragrances
with the hazy scent of amber;
the rich ceilings,
the deep mirrors,
the splendor of the East –
everything would speak
to the soul secretly
in its sweet, mother tongue

There, all is order and beauty,
luxury, calmness and voluptuousness.

Look on the those canals
The ships are sleeping,
their nature is to wander,
It is to satisfy
your smallest desire,
That they have come from the ends of the earth.
–The setting suns
cover the fields,
the canals, and the entire city
with hyacinth and gold.
–The world falls asleep
in a hot light.

There, all is order and beauty,
luxury, calmness and voluptuousness.

Here is the music, for anyone who cares to follow.

Sung by Charles Panzéra

Lydia

Lydia sur tes roses joues
Et sur ton col frais et si blanc,
[Que le lait, coule étincelant]1
L’or fluide que tu dénoues;

Le jour qui luit est le meilleur,
Oublions l’éternelle tombe.
Laisse tes baisers de colombe
Chanter sur ta lèvre en fleur.

Un lys caché répand sans cesse
Une odeur divine en ton sein;
Les délices comme un essaim
Sortent de toi, jeune déesse.

Je t’aime et meurs, ô mes amours.
Mon âme en baisers m’est ravie!
O Lydia, rends-moi la vie,
Que je puisse mourir toujours!

Lydia

Lydia, on your pink cheeks
And on your neck so cool and white
There rolls gleaming
The liquid gold that you unloose.

Let us forget the eternel tomb.
Let your dove-like kisses
Sing upon your flowering lips.

A hidden lily unceasingly spreads
A divine fragrance on your breast;
Pleasures, like a swarm
Emanate from you, young goddess.

I love you and die, o my love.
My soul has been carried away by your kisses!
O Lydia, give me back my life,
That I might die forever.

Automne

Automne au ciel brumeux, aux horizons navrants.
Aux rapides couchants, aux aurores pâlies,
Je regarde couler, comme l’eau du torrent,
Tes jours faits de mélancolie.

Sur l’aile des regrets mes esprits emportés,
-Comme s’il se pouvait que notre âge renaisse!-
Parcourent, en rêvant, les coteaux enchantés,
Où jadis sourit ma jeunesse!

Je sens, au clair soleil du souvenir vainqueur,
Refleurir en bouquet les roses deliées,
Et monter à mes yeux des larmes, qu’en mon coeur,
Mes vingt ans avaient oubliées!

Autumn

Autumn of misty skies and heartbreaking horizons,
Of brief sunsets, of pale dawns,
I watch your days made of melancholy,
flow like torrents of water.

My spirits borne away on the wings of regret,
– as if it were possible for our time to be reborn-
Roam in dreams of the magical hillsides,
Where before my youth smiled!

In the bright sunlight of conquering memory
I feel the untied roses reblooming in bouquets;
And tears well up in my eyes, tears which my heart
In my young years at twenty had already forgotten!

Aurore

Des jardins de la nuit s’envolent les étoiles,
Abeilles d’or qu’attire un invisible miel,
Et l’aube, au loin tendant la candeur de ses toiles,
Trame de fils d’argent le manteau bleu du ciel.

Du jardin de mon coeur qu’un rêve lent enivre
S’envolent mes désirs sur les pas du matin,
Comme un essaim léger qu’à l’horizon de cuivre,
Appelle un chant plaintif, éternel et lointain.

Ils volent à tes pieds, astres chassés des nues,
Exilés du ciel d’or où fleurit ta beauté
Et, cherchant jusqu’à toi des routes inconnues,
Mêlent au jour naissant leur mourante clarté.

Dawn

The stars fly away from the gardens of the night,
Golden bees that are attracted by an invisible honey,
And dawn, stretching out the candor of her canvases,
Weaves silver threads into the blue mantle of the sky.

From my heart’s garden in which a dream slowly intoxicates
My desires fly with the morning’s steps,
Like a delicate swarm summoned on the coppery horizon,
By a plaintive song, eternal and far away.

They fly to your feet, stars that have been chased from the sky,
Exiled from the golden firmament in which your beauty blooms
And, seeking for unknown routes to reach you,
They mingle their dying light with the day being born.

En sourdine

Calmes dans le demi-jour
Que les branches hautes font,
Pénétrons bien notre amour
De ce silence profond.

Mêlons nos âmes, nos cœurs
Et nos sens extasiés,
Parmi les vagues langueurs
Des pins et des arbousiers.

Ferme tes yeux à demi,
Croise tes bras sur ton sein,
Et de ton cœur endormi
Chasse à jamais tout dessein.

Laissons-nous persuader
Au souffle berceur et doux
Qui vient, à tes pieds, rider
Les ondes des gazons roux.

Et quand, solennel, le soir
Des chênes noirs tombera
Voix de notre désespoir,
Le rossignol chantera.

Muted

Calm in the half-daylight
That the high branches create,
Let us thoroughly soak our love
In this profound silence.

Let us mingle our souls, our hearts
In ecstatic senses,
Among the vague langors
Of the pines and the shrubs.

Half close your eyes,
Cross your arms across your chest,
And from your sleeping heart
Drive forever away all purpose.

Let us abandon ourselves
To the rocking and gentle breeze
That comes to your feet to wrinkle
The waves of auburn lawns.

And when, solemnly, the evening
Will fall from the black oaks
Voice of our despair,
The nightingale will sing.

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.