One of the nice things about this blog is that I get to find mostly forgotten singers and hear them for the first time. I “discover” a lot of singers in this way. This post will be about a once-very-famous Belgian tenor named Fernand Ansseau. He was called a second Caruso in his time. This is a big voice with very good vocal production. There is no squeezing of the larynx or use of the swallowing muscles to produce a sound. There is no tension in this voice. The first piece is the duo between tenor and baritone from the first act of Gounod’s Faust. Marcel Journet is Méphistophélès.

Faust (Gounod) 1st act Duo

FAUST
Mais ce Dieu, que peut-il pour moi?
Me rendra-t-il l’amour, la jeunesse et la foi?
Avec rage.
Maudites soyez vous, ô voluptés humaines!
Maudites soient les chaînes
Oui me font ramper ici-bas!
Maudit soit tout ce qui nous leurre,
Vain espoir qui passe avec l’heure,
Rêves d’amour ou de combats!
Maudit soit le bonheur, maudite la science,
La prière et la foi!
Maudite sois-tu, patience!
A moi, Satan! à moi!

Méphistophélès apparaissant.

SCÈNE II
Faust et Méphistophélès

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Me voici! – D’où vient ta surprise?
Ne suis-je pas mis à ta guise?
L’épée au côté, la plume au chapeau,
L’escarcelle pleine, un riche manteau
Sur l’épaule; – en somme
Un vrai gentilhomme!
Eh bien! que me veux-tu, docteur!
Parle, voyons! … – Te fais-je peur?

FAUST
Non!

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Doutes-tu de ma puissance?

FAUST
Peut-être!

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Mets-la donc à l’épreuve!

FAUST
Va-t’en!

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Fi! c’est là ta reconnaissance!
Apprends de moi qu’avec Satan
L’on en doit user d’autre sorte,
Et qu’il n’était pas besoin
De l’appeler de si loin
Pour le mettre ensuite à la porte!

FAUST
Et que peux-tu pour moi?

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Tout … Mais dis-moi d’abord
Ce que tu veux; – est-ce de l’or?

FAUST
Que ferai-je de la richesse?

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Bon, je vois où le bât te blesse!
Tu veux la gloire?

FAUST
Plus encor!

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
La puissance?

FAUST
Non! Je veux un trésor
Qui les contient tous! …
Je veux la jeunesse! …
A moi les plaisirs,
Les jeunes maîtresses!
A moi leurs caresses!
A moi leurs désirs!
A moi l’énergie
Des instincts puissants,
Et la folle orgie
Du cœur et des sens!
Ardente jeunesse,
A moi les désirs,
A moi ton ivresse,
A moi les plaisirs!

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Fort bien!
Je puis contenter ton caprice.

FAUST
Et que te donnerai-je en retour?

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Presque rien!
Ici, je suis à ton service,
Mais là-bas, tu seras au mien!

FAUST
Là-bas? …

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Là-bas ….
Lui présentant un parchemin
Allons, signe! – Eh quoi! ta main tremble!
Que faut-il pour te décider?
La jeunesse t’appelle; ose la regarder!

Apparition de Marguerite au Rouet

FAUST
O merveille!

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Eh bien! que t’en semble?

FAUST
Donne! …

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Allons donc! …
Prenant la coupe restée sur la table
Et maintenant,
Maître, c’est moi qui te convie
A vider cette coupe où fume en bouillonnant
Non plus la mort, non plus le poison; mais la vie!

FAUST
prenant la coupe
A toi, à toi, à toi,
Fantôme adorable et charmant!

Il vide la coupe et se trouve métamorphosé en jeune et élégant seigneur. La vision disparait.

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Viens!

FAUST
Je la reverrai?

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Sans doute.

FAUST
Quand?

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
Aujourd’hui.

FAUST
C’est bien!

MÉPHISTOPHÉLÈS
En route!

FAUST
putting down his cup
God! God! God!
He drops back in his armchair
But what can this God of theirs do for me?
Will he give me back love, youth and faith?
A curse on you, O human pleasures!
A curse on the fetters
Which have me grovelling on this earth!
A curse on all that deceives us,
Idle hope which speeds away with the hours,
Dream of love or of battle!
A curse on happiness, a curse on science,
Prayer and faith!
A curse on you, patience!
Satan, come to me!

MEPHISTOPHELES
suddenly appearing
Here I am!
Why are you surprised?
Is my attire not to your taste?
My sword at my side, a feather in my hat,
Money in my purse, a splendid cloak
Over my shoulder; in short,
A real gentleman!
Well, doctor, what do you want with me?
Come now, speak, are you afraid of me?

FAUST
No!

MEPHISTOPHELES
Do you doubt my power?

FAUST
Perhaps I do!

MEPHISTOPHELES
Put it to the test then!

FAUST
Go away!

MEPHISTOPHELES
Pshaw! Is this how you thank me?
Let me tell you that with Satan
One must sing another tune
And that there was no need
To call him such a long way away
Only to show him the door!

FAUST
Well, what can you do for me?

MEPHISTOPHELES
Everything! But first, tell me
What it is you want. Is it gold?

FAUST
What should I do with riches?

MEPHISTOPHELES
Very well! I see where the shoe pinches!
You yearn for glory?

FAUST
More than that!

MEPHISTOPHELES
Power, then?

FAUST
No! I want a treasure
Which contains them all!
I want youth!
Then, pleasure will be mine,
So will young mistresses!
Mine their caresses!
Mine their desires!
Mine the energy
Of powerful instincts
And the mad orgy
Of the heart and senses!
Fiery youth,
I want your desires,
I want your raptures,
I want your pleasures!…

MEPHISTOPHELES
Very well! I can gratify your whim!

FAUST
And what shall I give you in return?

MEPHISTOPHELES
A mere trifle.
Here, I am in your service
But down there, you will be in mine.

FAUST
Down there?

MEPHISTOPHELES
holding out a parchment
Down there! Come now, sign this.
What, your hand is shaking?
What can I find to urge you on?
Youth is calling you, be bold enough to look at it!

He conjures up a vision of Marguerite sitting at her spinning-wheel

FAUST
O marvel!

MEPHISTOPHELES
Well? What do you think of it?

FAUST
taking the parchment
Here!
He signs

MEPHISTOPHELES
We are set!
He takes the beaker from the table.
And now, Master, I myself invite you
To drain this vessel
In which smokes and bubbles
No longer Death, no longer poison, but life!

FAUST
seizing the beaker
To you, divine and bewitching vision!

He drains the beaker and is at once changed into a young and elegant lord. The vision vanishes.

MEPHISTOPHELES
Come!

FAUST
Shall I see her again?

MEPHISTOPHELES
No doubt you will.

FAUST
When?

MEPHISTOPHELES
This very day!

FAUST
Very well!

MEPHISTOPHELES
Away, then!

FAUST and MEPHISTOPHELES
Away!
Pleasure will be mine/yours,
So will young mistresses, etc.

They go out

Ah! Lève-toi soleil, Gounod Roméo et Juliette, Acte II

L’amour, l’amour! Oui, son ardeur
A troublé tout mon être!
Mais quelle soudaine clarté
Resplendit à cette fenêtre?
C’est là que dans la nuit
Rayonne sa beauté!

Ah! lève-toi, soleil!
Fait pâlir les étoiles
Qui, dans l’azur sans voiles,
Brillent au firmament.

Ah! lève-toi! Parais!
Astre pur et charmant!

Love, love! yes, its ardor
Has troubled all of my being!
But, what sudden light
Dazzles at that window?
It is there that in the night
Radiates her beauty!

Ah! arise, sun!
Make the stars pale
Which, in the azure, without cover,
Shine in the sky.

Ah, arise! Appear!
Star, pure and charming!

Here is the sheet music, if you would like to follow.

O Nature Werther

O Nature pleine de grâce, Massenet, Werther, Acte I

Je ne sais si je veille ou si je rêve encore!

Tout ce qui m’environne a l’air d’un paradis;
le bois soupire ainsi qu’une harpe sonore;
Un monde se révèle à mes yeux éblouis.

O nature pleine de grâce,
reine du temps et de l’espace,
daigne acceuillir celui qui passe
et te salue, humble mortel!

Mystérieux silence!… O calme solennel!
Tout m’attire et me plaît!…
Ce mur et ce coin sombre..
Cette source limpide et la fraîcheur de l’ombre
Il n’est pas une haie, il n’est pas un buisson
où n éclose une fleur,
où ne passe un frisson!

O Nature, enivre-moi de parfums!
Mère, éternellement jeune, adorable et pure,
O Nature!
Et toi, soleil,
viens m’inonder de tes rayons

Enivre-moi de tes parfums!
Et toi, soleil,
viens m’inonder de tes rayons vermeils!

I don’t know if I am awake or if I’m still dreaming!

Everything that surrounds me could be as if a Paradise;
The woods sigh like a melodious harp;
A new world appears to my bedazzled eyes.

O Nature full of grace,
Queen of time and space,
Condescend to welcome he who passes
and who greets thee, lowly mortel!

Unearthly silence! O solemn calm!
Everything draws me and pleases me!…
This wall, and this dim corner:
That limpid sprig and the freshness of the shade;
There is no hedge, there is no thicket,
But has blossom and flower,
But is kissed by the breeze!

O Nature, intoxicate my with fragrance!
Mother, eternally young, lovely, and pure,
O Nature!
And you, Sun,
Soak me with your ruby rays!

Fernand Ansseau
March 6, 1890 – May 1, 1972

Fernand Ansseau’s background was musical. His father played the organ in the village church of Boussu-Bois near Mons (Wallonia) where the artist was born. At the age of 17 he entered the Brussels conservatory and became a student of the noted teacher Désiré Demest. It was in church music (Mozart’s Requiem) he appeared for the first time. Demest trained him as a baritone, but Ansseau felt that he was making too little progress. His teacher directed him to change to tenor, noticing his student’s increasing ease with the upper register. After studying three years with the celebrated Flemish tenor Ernest van Dijck, Ansseau made his widely acclaimed debut as Jean in Massenet’s Hérodiade (the role was to become one of his most successful achievements). During his career he appeared in roles such as Sigurd, Faust, Julien and Don José. He was the tenor lead in Saint-Saëns’ first performance of Les Barbares. As a Belgian patriot he refused to appear on the operatic stage during World War I and sang only occasionally. After the war he resumed his operatic career at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, as Canio (1918). Particularly in Auber’s liberation opera La Muette de Portici (performed to celebrate the centenary of the 1830 Revolution) he had a great success. His repertory at La Monnaie included Radames, Samson, The Duke of Mantua, Jean, Don Alvaro, Faust (Berlioz), Des Grieux (Manon) and Cavaradossi. He remained at this important opera house until his retirement. 1919 saw his Covent Garden debut, singing Des Grieux with the soprano Marie-Louise Edvina as Manon and Beecham as conductor. Ansseau became a well-known singer at Covent Garden and appeared as Faust, Canio, Cavaradossi and Roméo, opposite Dame Nelly Melba. He refused a generous offer by general manager Gatti-Casazza in 1920 to sing at the Met, not keen to leave home for an extended period. In 1922 he sang at the Paris Opéra as Jean, Alain (Grisélidis), Roméo, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Admète (opposite Germaine Lubin) and again as Roméo. From 1923 to 1928 he was a regular member of the Chicago Civic Opera, enjoying remarkable popularity. The “Reigning Queen”, Mary Garden was full of praise for the tenor, becoming a favorite partner of the Diva. He was the tenor lead opposite her in Alfano’s Risurrezione and in Montemezzi’s L’Amore dei tre Re. Ansseau spent his active years in Brussels but often reappeared in Ghent and Antwerp. His last performance at the La Monnaie was in 1939. His rather early retirement was often linked to the war and given a patriotic twist, also by Ansseau himself. Some people who knew him attribute it more to fatigue. From 1942 to 1944 he served as a Professor of Voice at the Brussels conservatory, devoting the following decades to his hobbies, fishing and gardening. He died where his was born, in Boussu-Bois.