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.

No 27 – Duo et choeur final
CARMEN
C’est toi?

JOSÉ
C’est moi.

CARMEN
L’on m’avait avertie
Que tu n’étais pas loin,
Que tu devais venir,
L’on m’avait même dit
De craindre pour ma vie,
Mais je suis brave
Et n’ai pas voulu fuir.

JOSÉ
Je ne menace pas, j’implore, je supplie;
Notre passé, Carmen,
Notre passé je l’oublie,
Oui, nous allons tous deux
Commencer une autre vie,
Loin d’ici, sous d’autres cieux.

CARMEN
Tu demandes l’impossible,
Carmen jamais n’a menti,
Son âme reste inflexible,
Entre elle et toi, tout est fini.
Jamais je n’ai menti;
Entre nous tout est fini.

JOSÉ
Carmen, Il en est temps encore,
Oui, il est temps encore …
O ma Carmen, laisse-moi
Te sauver, toi que j’adore,
Et me sauver avec toi.

CARMEN
Non, je sais bien que c’est l’heure,
je sais bien que tu me tueras.
Mais que je vive ou que je meure
Non! Non! Non! Je ne céderai pas.

JOSÉ
Carmen! Il est temps encore.
Oui, il est temps encore …
Ô ma Carmen, laisse-moi te sauver,
Toi que j’adore!
Ah laisse-moi te sauver
Et me sauver avec toi,
O ma Carmen, il est temps encore …
Ah! Laisse-moi te sauver, Carmen,
Ah laisse-moi te sauver, toi que j’adore!
Et me sauver avec toi!

CARMEN
Pourquoi t’occuper encore
D’un cour qui n’est plus à toi?
Non, ce cour n’est plus à toi.
En vain, tu dis Je t’adore!
Tu n’obtiendras rien, non rien de moi,
Ah! C’est en vain …
Tu n’obtiendras rien de moi!

JOSÉ
Tu ne m’aimes donc plus?
Silence de Carmen et Don José répète
Tu ne m’aimes donc plus?

CARMEN
Non, je ne t’aime plus.

JOSÉ
Mais moi, Carmen, je t’aime encore;
Carmen, Carmen, moi je t’adore.

CARMEN
A quoi bon tout cela?
Que de mots superflus!

JOSÉ
Carmen, je t’aime, je t’adore!
Eh bien, s’il le faut, pour te plaire,
Je resterai bandit, tout ce que tu voudras,
Tout, tu m’entends, tout,
Tu m’entends … Tout.
Mais ne me quitte pas,
O ma Carmen.
Ah! Souviens-toi, souviens-toi du passé!
Nous nous aimions naguère!
Ah! Ne me quitte pas, Carmen,
Ah ne me quitte pas!

CARMEN
Jamais Carmen ne cédera,
Libre elle est née
Et libre elle mourra.

CHOEUR
dans le cirque
Viva! Viva! La course est belle.
Sur le sable sanglant
Le taureau, qu’on harcèle
S’élance en bondissant
Viva! Bravo! Victoire!

Pendant ce choeur, silence de Carmen et de Don José..
Tous deux écoutent … En entendant les cris de Victoire, victoire, Carmen a laissé échapper un Ah! d’orgueil et de joie … Don José ne perd pas Carmen de vue … Le choeur terminé, Carmen fait un pas du côté du cirque.

JOSÉ
se plaçant devant elle
Où vas-tu?

CARMEN
Laisse-moi.

JOSÉ
Cet homme qu’on acclame,
C’est ton nouvel amant!

CARMEN
voulant passer
Laisse-moi … Laisse-moi .

JOSÉ
Sur mon âme,
Tu ne passeras pas,
Carmen, c’est moi que tu suivras!

CARMEN
Laisse-moi, Don José! …
Je ne te suivrai pas.

JOSÉ
Tu vas le retrouver, dis …
Tu l’aimes donc?

CARMEN
Je l’aime, je l’aime, et devant la mort même,
Je répéterai que je l’aime.

CHOEUR
dans le cirque
Viva! Bravo! Victoire!
Frappé juste en plein coeur!
Le taureau tombe!
Gloire au Toréador vainqueur!
Victoire!

JOSÉ
Ainsi, le salut de mon âme,
Je l’aurai perdu pour que toi,
Pour que tu t’en ailles, infâme!
Entre ses bras, rire de moi.
Non, par le sang, tu n’iras pas,
Carmen, c’est moi que tu suivras!

CARMEN
Non! Non! Jamais!

JOSÉ
Je suis las de te menacer.

CARMEN
Eh bien! Frappe-moi donc
Ou laisse-moi passer.

CHOEUR
dans le cirque

Victoire!

JOSÉ
Pour la dernière fois, démon,
Veux-tu me suivre?

CARMEN
Non! Non!
Cette bague autrefois
Tu me l’avais donnée, tiens.

Elle la jette à la volée.

JOSÉ
le poignard à la main, s’avancant sur Carmen.
Eh bien, damnée …

Carmen recule… José la poursuit… Pendant ce temps fanfares et choeur dans le cirque.

CHOEUR
dans le cirque
Toréador, en garde, Toréador, Toréador,
Et songe bien, oui songe en combattant
Qu’un oeil noir te regarde
Et que l’amour t’attend,
Toréador, l’amour
L’amour t’attend!

JOSÉ
Vous pouvez m’arrêter
C’est moi qui l’ai tuée.

Escamillo paraît sur les marches du cirque… José se jette sur le corps de Carmen.
Ah! Carmen! Ma Carmen adorée!

No 27 – Duet and final chorus
CARMEN
It’s you?

JOSÉ
It’s me.

CARMEN
I had been warned
That you were not far,
That you had to come,
I had even been told
To fear for my life,
But I am brave
And did not want to run away.

JOSÉ
I do not threaten, I implore, I beg;
Our past, Carmen,
Our past I forget,
Yes, we are both
Start another life,
Far from here, under other skies.

CARMEN
You ask the impossible,
Carmen never lied,
His soul remains inflexible,
Between her and you, everything is over.
I have never lied;
Between us everything is finished.

JOSÉ
Carmen, There’s still time,
Yes, it’s time yet …
O my Carmen, leave me
To save you, I adore you,
And save me with you.

CARMEN
No, I know it’s time,
I know you will kill me.
But whether I live or die
No! No! No! I will not give in.

JOSÉ
Carmen! It’s time again.
Yes, it’s time yet …
O my Carmen, let me save you,
I adore you!
Ah, let me save you
And save me with you,
O my Carmen, it’s time yet …
Ah! Let me save you, Carmen,
Ah, let me save you, you whom I adore!
And save me with you!

CARMEN
Why are you still busy
Of a court that is no longer yours?
No, this court is no longer yours.
In vain do you say I adore you!
You will not get anything, not anything from me,
Ah! It’s in vain …
You will not get anything from me!

JOSÉ
Do not you love me anymore?
Silence of Carmen and Don José repeat
Do not you love me anymore?

CARMEN
No, I do not love you anymore.

JOSÉ
But I, Carmen, I still love you;
Carmen, Carmen, I adore you.

CARMEN
What good is all this?
What superfluous words!

JOSÉ
Carmen, I love you, I adore you!
Well, if you have to, to please you,
I’ll remain a bandit, whatever you want,
Everything, you hear me, everything,
You hear me … everything.
But do not leave me,
O my Carmen.
Ah! Remember, remember the past!
We loved each other a little while ago!
Ah! Do not leave me, Carmen,
Oh, do not leave me!

CARMEN
Carmen will never give up,
She was born
And free she will die.

CHOIR
in the circus
Viva! Viva! The race is beautiful.
On the bloody sand
The bull, harassed
Rushes leaping
Viva! Bravo! Victory!

During this choir, silence of Carmen and Don Jose ..
Both listen … Hearing the cries of Victory, victory, Carmen let out an Ah! of pride and joy … Don José does not lose Carmen by sight … The choir finished, Carmen takes a step on the side of the circus.

JOSÉ
standing in front of her
Where are you going?

CARMEN
Leave me.

JOSÉ
This man who is acclaimed,
This is your new lover!

CARMEN
wanting to pass
Leave me … Leave me alone.

JOSÉ
On my soul,
You will not pass,
Carmen, it’s me you’ll follow!

CARMEN
Leave me, Don José! …
I will not follow you.

JOSÉ
You’ll find him, say …
Do you love him?

CARMEN
I love him, I love him, and before death,
I will repeat that I love him.

CHOIR
in the circus
Viva! Bravo! Victory!
Struck right in the heart!
The bull falls!
Glory to the victorious Toreador!
Victory!

JOSÉ
So, the salvation of my soul,
I will have lost it so that you,
For you to go away, infamous!
In his arms, laugh at me.
No, by the blood, you will not go,
Carmen, it’s me you’ll follow!

CARMEN
No! No! Never!

JOSÉ
I am tired of threatening you.

CARMEN
Well! Hit me then
Or let me go.

CHOIR
in the circus

Victory!

JOSÉ
For the last time, demon,
Do you want to follow me?

CARMEN
No! No!
This ring once
You gave it to me.

She throws it on the fly.

JOSÉ
dagger in hand, advancing on Carmen.
Well, damned …

Carmen backs off … José pursues her … Meanwhile, fanfares and choir in the circus.

CHOIR
in the circus
Toreador, on guard, Toreador, Toreador,
And think well, yes think fighting
A black eye is watching you
And that love is waiting for you
Toreador, love
Love is waiting for you!

JOSÉ

You can stop me
I killed her.

Escamillo appears on the steps of the circus … José throws herself on Carmen’s body.
Ah! Carmen! My beloved Carmen!

Massenet, Manon, Act I

DES GRIEUX
sans la voir

J’ai marqué l’heure du départ,
j’hésitais … chose singulière!
Enfin, demain soir au plus tard
j’embrasserai mon père!
Mon père!
Oui, je le vois sourire,
si mon cœur ne me trompe pas!
Je le vois, il m’appelle et je lui tends les bras!
(involontairement Des Grieux s’est tourné vers Manon, il la regarde d’abord avec étonnement, puis avec extase et comme si une vision lui apparaissait)
Est-ce la folie?
D’où vient ce que j’éprouve?
On dirait que ma vie va finir… ou commence!
Il semble qu’une main de fer
me mène en un autre chemin
et malgré moi m’entraîne devant elle!
(Peu à peu et involontairement il s’est rapproché de Manon)
Mademoiselle!

MANON
Eh, quoi?

DES GRIEUX
Pardonnez-moi! Je ne sais, j’obéis, je ne
suis plus mon maître, je vous vois, j’en suis
sûr, pour la première fois, et mon cœur
cependant vient de vous reconnaître!
Et je sais votre nom…

MANON
On m’appelle Manon.

DES GRIEUX
Manon!

MANON
à part
Que son regard est tendre!
Et que j’ai de plaisir à l’entendre!

DES GRIEUX
Ces paroles d’un fou, veuillez les pardonner !

MANON
Comment les condamner?
Elles charment le cœur en charmant les oreilles!
J’en voudrais savoir de pareilles
pour vous les répéter!

DES GRIEUX
Enchanteresse!
Au charme vainqueur!
Manon!
Vous êtes la maîtresse de mon cœur!

MANON
Mots charmants!

DES GRIEUX
Ô Manon!

MANON
Enivrantes fièvres,
enivrantes fièvres du bonheur!

DES GRIEUX
Vous êtes la maîtresse,
Vous êtes la maîtresse de mon cœur!
(après un long silence)
Ah! Parlez-moi!

MANON
Je ne suis qu’une pauvre fille.
Je ne suis pas mauvaise,
mais souvent on m’accuse dans ma famille
d’aimer trop le plaisir.
On me met au couvent tout à l’heure.
Et c’est là l’histoire de Manon Lescaut!

DES GRIEUX
Non! Je ne veux pas croire à cette cruauté!
Que tant de charmes et de beauté
soient voués à jamais à la tombe vivante.

MANON
Mais c’est, hélas! La volonté
du ciel dont je suis la servante!
Puisqu’un malheur si grand ne peut être évité.

DES GRIEUX
Non! Non!
Votre liberté ne sera pas ravie!

MANON
Comment?

DES GRIEUX
Au Chevalier Des Grieux
vous pouvez vous fier!

MANON
Ah! Je vous devrai plus que la vie!

DES GRIEUX
Ah! Manon! Vous ne partirez pas,
même si devrais-je aller chercher au bout du monde
une retraite inconnue et profonde
et vous y porter dans mes bras!

MANON
À vous ma vie et mon âme!
À vous toute ma vie à jamais!

DES GRIEUX
Enchanteresse!
Manon!
Vous êtes la maîtresse de mon cœur!

(À ce moment, le postillon à qui Guillot a dit précédemment de se tenir aux ordres de Manon paraît dans le fond. Manon le regarde, réfléchit et sourit.)

MANON
Par aventure, peut-être avons-nous mieux:
une voiture,
la chaise d’un seigneur…
Il faisait les doux yeux à Manon…
Vengez-vous!

DES GRIEUX
Mais comment ?

MANON
Tous les deux, prenons-la!

DES GRIEUX
(au postillon, qui se retire)
Soit, partons!

MANON
troublée
Et quoi, partir ensemble?

DES GRIEUX
Oui, Manon!
Le ciel nous rassemble!
Nous vivrons à Paris tous les deux!
Et nos cœurs amoureux…
l’un à l’autre enchaînés!
Pour jamais réunis,
n’y vivront que des jours bénis!

MANON
Tous les deux! À Paris! À Paris!
Nous n’aurons que des jours bénis!

MANON, DES GRIEUX
À Paris! À Paris, tous les deux!
Nous vivrons à Paris! Tous les deux!

DES GRIEUX
Et mon nom deviendra le vôtre!
Ah! pardon!

MANON
Dans mes yeux… vous devez bien voir
que je ne puis vous en vouloir,
et cependant, c’est mal!

DES GRIEUX
Viens! Nous vivrons à Pari !

MANON
Tous les deux!

DES GRIEUX
Tous les deux!
Et nos cœurs amoureux…

MANON
À Paris!

DES GRIEUX
… l’un à l’autre enchaînés !

MANON
À Paris!

DES GRIEUX
Pour jamais réunis!

MANON, DES GRIEUX
Nous n’aurons que des jours bénis!
À Paris! À Paris, tous les deux!
Nous vivrons à Paris! Tous les deux!

Massenet, Manon, Act I

DES GRIEUX
without seeing Manon

I noted the time of departure,
I was hesitating… what a strange thing!
After all, tomorrow evening at the latest
I’ll embrace my father!
My father!
Yes, I see him smiling,
and my heart is not playing me false!
I see him, he calls to me and I hold out my arms to him!
Unknowingly, Des Grieux has turned towards Manon. He stares at her astonished and, then, as though seeing a vision, in ecstacy.
Good Heavens! Is this a dream?
Is this madness?
Where does this feeling come from?
One might say that my life is ending… or just beginning!
It seems as if an iron hand
were leading me on to another path,
and it spite of myself it draws me straight to her!
Involuntarily, Des Grieux has approached Manon, step by step.
Mademoiselle!

MANON
Yes, what?

DES GRIEUX
Forgive me! I do not know… I am obeying, I’m no longer my own master. I am seeing you, surely, for the very first time, yet my heart feels as if you were a long-lost acquaintance!
And I know your name…

MANON
My name is Manon.

DES GRIEUX
Manon!

MANON
aside
How gentle his expression is!
And what a delight it is to listen to him!

DES GRIEUX
These words of a madman, please excuse them!

MANON
Why condemn them?
They enchant my heart and delight my ears!
I should like to know
similar words so as to repeat them to you!

DES GRIEUX
Enchantress!
With an overpowering spell!
Manon!
You are the mistress of my heart!

MANON
Charming words!

DES GRIEUX
Oh Manon!

MANON
The intoxicating fevers,
the intoxicating fevers of happiness!

DES GRIEUX
You are mistress,
you are mistress of my heart!
after a long silence
Ah, speak to me!

MANON
I am only a poor girl.
I am not bad,
but often my family accuses me
of liking pleasure too much.
Now I’m being put into a convent.
And there you have the story of Manon Lescaut!

DES GRIEUX
No, I will not believe in this cruelty!
That so many ravishing charms
should be vowed forever to a living tomb.

MANON
But that, alas, is the will of heaven,
and I am its servant!
For so great an unhappiness cannot be avoided.

DES GRIEUX
No! No!
Your freedom shall not be taken from you!

MANON
But how?

DES GRIEUX
You can put your trust in the
Chevalier Des Grieux!

MANON
I will owe you more than life itself!

DES GRIEUX
Ah, Manon, you shall not leave,
even should I have to go to the ends of the earth seeking an unknown, dark sanctuary, to which I would carry you in my arms.

MANON
My life and soul belong to you!
To you, my life is yours forever!

DES GRIEUX
Enchantress!
Manon!
You are the mistress of my heart!

At this moment the postilion, told earlier by Guillot to await Manon’s orders, appears in the background.

MANON
Just by chance, perhaps we have a better way:
a coach,
a nobleman’s post-chaise…
He was flirting with Manon…
Take revenge!

DES GRIEUX
But how?

MANON
The two of us, let’s take it!

DES GRIEUX
to the postilion, who goes off
Fine, let’s be off!

MANON
troubled
You mean, leave together?

DES GRIEUX
Yes, Manon!
Heaven is joining us together!
We shall live together in Paris!
And our loving hearts,
chained to each other,
joined forever,
will live only blessed days!

MANON
Both of us! In Paris! In Paris.
We’ll have only blessed days.

MANON, DES GRIEUX
In Paris! In Paris, both of us!
We’ll live in Paris! Together!

DES GRIEUX
And my name will become yours!
Ah, forgive me!

MANON
In my eyes… you should see very well
that I am not angry with you.
But yet, it’s wrong!

DES GRIEUX
Come! We shall live in Paris!

MANON
The two of us together!

DES GRIEUX
Both of us, together!
And our loving hearts…

MANON
In Paris!

DES GRIEUX
… chained to each other!

MANON
In Paris!

DES GRIEUX
Joined forever!

MANON, DES GRIEUX
We’ll have only blessed days!
In Paris! In Paris, both of us!
We shall live in Paris! Together!

Auguste Charles Paul Friant
January 12, 1890 – April 22, 1947

Friant was born in the Montmartre district of Paris. His father was a principal ballet dancer, and his grandfather a professor of ballet at the Paris Opéra. While a boy, Charles Friant sang in the opera chorus, and appeared in the premiere of Vincent d’Indy’s opera L’Etranger in 1902. Friant attended ballet school in Paris from 1901-1906. He met his wife to be, Mademoiselle Mougot, at the ballet school where she taught an acting course in which Friant enrolled. He then trained as an actor with Sarah Bernhardt, joining her company touring Europe 1908-1909. This included performing opposite Bernhardt in Edmond Rostand’s L’Aiglon. In 1910 it was discovered he had a tenor voice, and he went to the Conservatoire de Paris to study singing with noted baritone Léon Melchissédec. On graduating in 1914, he was awarded a first prize in singing as a pupil of Alphonse Leduc Hettich and a first prize in opéra-comique as a student of Melchisédec.

His operatic debut, postponed by illness and World War I was as Spakos in the first French performance of Jules Massenet’s Cléopâtre at the Théâtre Lyrique du Vaudeville. One notice stated “here is a young tenor of whom it is possible to expect much, especially if he improves his enunciation”.

Emma Luart (1892-1968) was mentioned above.