Today, few singers are associated with a particular company and few companies have particularly distinguishing features. This was not the case at the turn of the 19th century, and no company was more steeped in its own traditions than the Opéra-Comique. Dating back to 1715 and until its dissolution in the early 1970s, the opéra-comique tradition (French opera with spoken dialogue) was one of the most distinctive and best- maintained forms of French artistic expression. The Opéra-Comique roster of artists was extensive and the list of extraordinary performances, countless. Three outstanding tenors of the Opéra-Comique who flourished during the 1920s were: Louis Cazette, Charles Friant and Jean Marny. Cazette was a singer with a supple voice who used it with charm, elegance and skill. His early death was one of the tragedies in the chronicles of the French operatic theater and his short life produced only eleven rare recorded sides. Friant was known for his articulation, musical sensibility and exquisite phrasing. His dramatic sense of reality made the characters he portrayed unforgettable. Marny was a cross between a lyric and dramatic tenor. He sang the part of Le chevalier des Grieux and created one of the greatest Werthers of his time. Three Tenors of the Opéra-Comique preserves true exemplars of the now almost lost French style of singing.
Of the two women referred to in the title, one, Ninon Vallin, has been covered in a post dated 8/11/2018. Emma Luart (1892-1968) was a Belgian soprano, but sang in a very French manner. Luart’s voice may at first seem just a degree too French for the aural comfort of other nations; but wait. She more than redeems herself.
One thing that I should like to highlight is the way in which Friant conveys emotion. He does it through paying attention to the music. Today, we have singers who make an attempt at imposing a meaning on the music, and they end up giving an “emotional” performance. By this, I mean that today’s singers manipulate the voice and tense the throat and the swallowing muscles such that something emotional comes out. But this is not the same thing as serving the music and letting the music generate the necessary emotions. As a member of the audience, I want to know what the music says and not what the singer’s emoting tells me. Here, I will get off my soap box.