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Marcel Journet, French bass

By March 16, 2022March 19th, 2023No Comments

Marcel Journet was categorized as a bass, but, by the timbre of his voice and by the repertory that he sang, he was more of a bass-baritone. This was a great voice. It had power without shouting and was marvellously expressive and musical.

Journet’s career spanned 42 years of increasingly distinguished activity. He was one of the very few singers preserving the voice until his death. He also recorded a lot of duets, trios and ensembles with Caruso, Farrar, Martinelli, Gadski, Ancona, Homer, Scotti, Eames, Dalmorès, Clément, Tetrazzini, Vezzani, Ansseau and Héldy, to name but a few.

Please note that at the time of this recording, Journet was 42.

Madamina, il catalogo è questo
Delle belle che amò il padron mio;
un catalogo egli è che ho fatt’io;
Osservate, leggete con me.

In Italia seicento e quaranta;
In Alemagna duecento e trentuna;
Cento in Francia, in Turchia novantuna;
Ma in Ispagna son già mille e tre.

V’han fra queste contadine,
Cameriere, cittadine,
V’han contesse, baronesse,
Marchesane, principesse.
E v’han donne d’ogni grado,
D’ogni forma, d’ogni età.

Nella bionda egli ha l’usanza
Di lodar la gentilezza,
Nella bruna la costanza,
Nella bianca la dolcezza.

Vuol d’inverno la grassotta,
Vuol d’estate la magrotta;
È la grande maestosa,
La piccina è ognor vezzosa.

Delle vecchie fa conquista
Pel piacer di porle in lista;
Sua passion predominante
È la giovin principiante.

Non si picca – se sia ricca,
Se sia brutta, se sia bella;
Purché porti la gonnella,
Voi sapete quel che fa.

My dear lady, this is the list
Of the beauties my master has loved,
A list which I have compiled.
Observe, read along with me.

In Italy, six hundred and forty;
In Germany, two hundred and thirty-one;
A hundred in France; in Turkey, ninety-one;
But in Spain already one thousand and three.

Among these are peasant girls,
Maidservants, city girls,
Countesses, baronesses,
Marchionesses, princesses,
Women of every rank,
Every shape, every age.

With blondes it is his habit
To praise their kindness;
In brunettes, their faithfulness;
In the white-haired, their sweetness.

In winter he likes fat ones.
In summer he likes thin ones.
He calls the tall ones majestic.
The little ones are always charming.

He seduces the old ones
For the pleasure of adding to the list.
His greatest favourite
Is the young beginner.

It doesn’t matter if she’s rich,
Ugly or beautiful;
If she wears a skirt,
You know what he does.

Please note that at the time of this recording, Journet was 60.

Voilà donc la terrible cité!

Le servitor
Va, mendiant, chercher ailleurs
ta vie!
Mon maître ne reçoit pas
les chiens comme toi!

Mon fils, fais, s’il te plaît,
Ce que je te commande.
Je suis l’ami de ton maître et
Je veux lui parler à l’instant.

Le servitor
Hors d’ici, mendiant!

Frappe si tu le veux,
Mais avertis ton maître! Va!

Voilà donc la terrible cité!
Alexandrie! Alexandrie!
Où je suis né dans le péché;
L’air brillant où j’ai respiré
L’affreux parfum de la luxure!
Voilà la mer voluptueuse
Où j’écoutais chanter la sirène aux yeux d’or!
Oui, voilà mon berceau selon la chair,
Alexandrie! O ma patrie!
Mon berceau, ma patrie!
De ton amour, j’ai détourné mon coeur.
Pour ta richesse, je te hais!
Pour ta science et ta beauté, je te hais! Je te hais!
Et maintenant je te maudis
Comme un temple hanté par les esprits impurs!
Venez! Anges du ciel! Souffles de Dieu!
Parfumez, du battement de vos ailes,
L’air corrompu qui va m’environner! Venez!

So here is the ghastly city!

The servitor
Go, beggar, look for your income
My master does not receive
Dogs like you!

My son, I pray you to do
what I ask of you. I am
a friend of your master and
I would like to speak to him now.

The servitor
Leave, beggar

Strike if you want to.
But, alert your master.

So here is the ghastly city!
Alexandria! Alexandria!
Where I was born in sin;
The glowing air where I breathed
The awful scent of lust!
Here is the voluptuous sea
Where I listened to sing the siren with golden eyes!
Yes, here is my cradle according to the flesh,
Alexandria! O my homeland!
My cradle, my homeland!
From your love, I turned my heart away.
For your wealth, I hate you!
For your science and your beauty, I hate you! I hate you!
And now I curse you
Like a temple haunted by impure spirits!
Come! Angels from heaven! Whispers of God!
Perfume, with the beating of your wings,
The corrupt air that will surround me! Come!

Marcel Journet
July 25, 1868 – September 7, 1933

Marcel Journet probably studied at the Paris Conservatoire for a short period, before studying singing privately with a teacher named Seghettini in Paris. The start of his operatic career is similarly obscure. While he may have made his stage debut at Béziers in 1891 or at Montpellier in 1893, he certainly first appeared at the Brussels opera house, La Monnaie, in 1894 and remained there until 1899, singing roles in traditional repertoire such as Samson et Dalila, Roméo et Juliette, Sigurd, Fidelio, Lohengrin, Faust and L’Africaine. In 1898 he sang Fasolt in the local premiere of Das Rheingold.

Between 1900 and 1907, Journet was a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, singing secondary bass roles while major parts were taken by rivals Édouard de Reszke and Pol Plançon. When these stalwarts retired, to be replaced not by Journet but by Chaliapin, who arrived to acclaim in 1907, Journet diplomatically departed. Similarly, at the Royal Opera House, London where Journet sang from 1897 until 1907 and then 1909, the major bass roles were often shared with de Reszke and Plançon and from 1905 with Vanni Marcoux. Journet’s repertoire in London was typical of the period: it included Italian operas such as Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Bohème, La Gioconda, Loreley, Lucia di Lammermoor and Rigoletto; French operas such as Carmen, Faust, Henry VIII, Les Huguenots, Manon, Messaline, La Navarraise, Philémon et Baucis and Roméo et Juliette, as well as Don Giovanni, Eugene Onegin, Tannhäuser and d’Erlanger’s Inès Mendo.

Journet finally made his debut at the Paris Opera in 1908 (as the King / Lohengrin), appearing in every subsequent season up to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In Paris he was notably active in German opera, singing Hunding / Die Walküre and Fafner / Das Rheingold (1909), Wotan / Die Walküre (1910), Pogner / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1911) and Klingsor / Parsifal (1914). During this period he was also a busy concert singer in Paris.

Between 1914 and 1920, Journet reigned supreme at the Monte Carlo Opera, where he appeared in a large repertoire, the highlights of which included Parsifal (Gurnemanz), La Vivandière, Aida, Rigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor, Samson et Dalila, La Bohème, Ernani, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Platée, Manon, Saint-Saëns’s Étienne Marcel, Gunsbourg’s Maître Manole and Marchetti’s Ruy Blas as well as, unexpectedly and towards the end of this period, the baritone roles of Tonio / Pagliacci and Scarpia / Tosca.

The benefit of vocal development was certainly seen in Journet’s subsequent career at La Scala, Milan where he was first bass from 1917 until 1928 and enjoyed the favor of Toscanini, with whom he sang Hans Sachs / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1922, 1925 and 1928. Other operas in which he appeared here included Lucrezia Borgia, Louise (the Father), Faust (Méphistophélès), Pelléas et Mélisande (Golaud), Carmen (Escamillo) and Khovanshchina (Dosifey). He created the role of Simon Mago in Boito’s Nerone at its premiere in1924 and repeated this role in 1926 and in 1927, all under Toscanini.

Journet returned to Covent Garden in 1927 and 1928 to appear in Carmen and Louise and sang several major roles at the Paris Opera between 1928 and 1930 including Wotan / Siegfried and Hagen / Götterdämmerung. He took major parts in the first Paris performances of Rabaud’s Mârouf (1928) and in two world premieres: Silvio Lazzari’s Le Tour de feu (1928) and Brunel’s La Tentation de St Antoine (1930). He was also active singing in other major opera houses, for instance those of Buenos Aires, Chicago, Madrid and Barcelona.

After 1930 Journet continued to record occasionally but appeared less frequently on stage, although his final appearance was at the Paris Opera as Wotan in 1933, prior to his unexpected death at the health spa of Vittel. He recorded prolifically and as, most unusually, his voice improved with age, his later electrical recordings are among his best. His voice has often been compared to a rare vintage wine that improves with age: certainly on record it has an undeniable attractiveness.

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