I was thinking about what to write today, and I decided to write about two of my favorite French singers – Irma Kolassi and Ninon Vallin. Vallin sang earlier in the 20th century than did Kolassi, but it should also be noted that Kolassi taught at the Athens Conservatory during the time that Callas was a student there.
Kolassi had some problems in vocal production but she was a truly great musician. When Vallin sings, you can hear her flip right into a head register rather than making the passage smooth. I can’t think of why she did this other than this was the way in which she was taught.
Fauré wrote many songs in French. He is considered a master of the art of mélodie (the French word for Art Songs).
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 déliées
Et monter à mes yeux des larmes, qu’en mon cœur,
Mes vingt ans avaient oubliées!
Autumn of foggy sky and heartbreaking horizons,
Of quick sunsets and pale dawns,
I watch flow by, like torrential water,
Your days consisting of melancholy.
On the wings of regret, my thoughts, borne away,
– As though our time could be reborn! –
Rove in reverie the enchanted hills,
Where before my youth smiled.
In the bright sun of triumphant memory
I feel unbounded roses flower again in bouquets,
And tears, rising to my eyes, which, in my heart,
My twenty years had forgotten!
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.
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.
Calm in the half-day
That is made by the high branches,
Let us embarque on our love
In this deep quiet.
Let us mingle our souls, our hearts
And our rapt senses
With the obscure langor
Of the undergrowth.
Half-close your eyes,
Fold your arms across your breast,
And from your sleeping heart
Banish forever all intent.
Let us both give ourselves,
To the gentle and rhythmic breeze
That comes to rest at your feet
The waves of russet grass.
And when, solemnly, evening
Falls from the black oaks,
The voice of our despair,
The nightingale will sing.
G. Charpentier, Louise, “Depuis le jour”,
Depuis le jour où je me suis donnée,
toute fleurie semble ma destinée.
Je crois rêver sous un ciel de féerie,
l’âme encore grisée
de ton premier baiser!
Quelle belle vie!
Mon rêve n’était pas un rêve!
Ah! je suis heureuse!
L’amour étend sur moi ses ailes!
Au jardin de mon coeur
chante une joie nouvelle!
tout se réjouit de mon triomphe!
Autour de moi tout est sourire,
lumiére et joie!
Et je tremble délicieusement
Au souvenir charmant
Du premier jour
G. Charpentier, Louise, “Since the day”
Since the day I gave myself
Every flower seems to be my destiny
I think I’m dreaming under a fairy sky
my soul still intoxicated by your first kiss!
What a beautiful life!
My dream wasn’t a dream!
Oh! I’m so happy!
Love is spreading its wings over me!
In the garden of my heart
sings a new joy!
everything rejoices at my triumph!
All around me everything is smiling
light and joy!
And I’m trembling deliciously
from the charming memory
of the first day
Greek mezzo-soprano, born May 1918 – March 27, 2012
Irma Kolassi was born in Athens to a family of musicians who set themselves up in Paris a few months after her birth. Her first language was French, and her uncle, a violinist, who studied with George Enesco, provided her introduction to music. In Athens around the age of eight, she took her first piano lessons from her grandmother, and then entered the Athens conservatory to study piano. She carried away a first prize at the age of 14, playing Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel. At her uncle’s house, she met Dimitri Mitropoulos several times. He recognized straight away that she was an accomplished musician. As he was leaving Greece to embark on an international career, he recommended her to soprano Maggie Karadja. She went to Karadja’s singing class and was exposed to French song. The young pianist was overcome with passion to sing, which led her to present a canzone by Tosti. Maggie Karadja became her singing teacher and instilled in Irma Kolassi her unique and precise vocal technique. After three years of study, with the piano still playing an integral role, the jury decided to award her the first prize in singing for the year 1938. Without the benefit of a scholarship, Irma Kolassi left for Rome in 1938, where she took singing and piano lessons with Casella and Edwige Ghibaudo. World War II caused her to return to Athens and she appeared on stage. But she was not happy at the opera and decided instead to teach. After difficult, years she returned to France in 1948. From then on, her career blossomed. She worked with all of the great musicians of her day (von Beinum, Rosbaud, Monteux, Münch, van Otterloo, Krips, Giulini, to name but a few). She was also very successful in works by Schönberg, Berg, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky, not to forget works of modern composers. She became a well-known teacher and gave masterclasses in Europe and Japan.
Eugénie “Ninon” Vallin was a French soprano who achieved considerable popularity in opera, operetta and classical song recitals during an international career that lasted for more than four decades.
September 8, 1886 – November 22, 1961
After studies at the Conservatoire de Lyon, she became a student of Meyriane Héglon at Paris. The young singer was soon successful on the concert platform, singing in Debussy’s La demoiselle élue and also in the première of his Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, both in 1911 at le Châtelet. Debussy was raved about the young soprano whose voice, he said, shimmered like silver. He chose her for the premier of his Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé. In addition to Debussy, Ninon Vallin collaborated with a number of important composers, including Albert Roussel, Reynaldo Hahn, Xavier Leroux, Louis Beyot, Marguerite Béclard D’Harcourt and Joaquín Nin. It was the director at the Opéra-Comique, Albert Carré, who encouraged her to expand her performing activities to opera. She made her operatic debut in 1912 as Micaëla in Carmen. Her vast repertory included roles such as Louise, Manon, Micaëla as well as Carmen, Mélisande, Tosca, Louise, Salud (La vida breve), Mimì, the title role in the French première of Respighi’s Maria Egiziaca, Thaïs, Mignon, Charlotte, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, the Princess of Rabaud’s Marouf, Zerlina, Alceste, Nedda, Iphigénie, Margherita in Boito’s Mefistofele, the three Hoffmann heroines, among many others. After Carré’s departure from the Opéra-Comique, the new management failed to offer her interesting new roles and she left for South America. She first appeared at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, in 1916 as Gounod’s Marguerite, returning regularly for the following 20 years. Ninon Vallin appeared extensively on the concert platform, singing French, Spanish and German songs (in French). She had a remarkable feeling for the music of Spain and Spanish America. Last but not least; for almost four decades she was the most active and effective ambassadress of French singing throughout the world. Her operatic career continued well into the 1930s. She was 70 years old (!) when she made her last recordings. She continued to give concerts until after the war and spent the rest of her life teaching near Lyon.