More recordings from Robert Massard’s personal discography
A survey by Ralph Moore

Having now already written two surveys (first; second) of the recordings of my friend the celebrated French baritone Robert Massard and an account of our visit to him in his home in Pau (article), I am now contributing this final instalment covering twenty more recordings from his private collection: five operettas, nine operas, two recitals – one a double disc – two oratorios and a cantata.

As I write, a few of these recordings are still available commercially and many of them may currently be found either as LP or CD sets on eBay or as downloads on Amazon and Spotify, but of course that availability can quickly change. Extracts may also be found on YouTube. Several are evidently private or so-called “pirate” recordings which have never had a commercial release but may be found on websites such Opera Depot and Premiere Opera.

In Robert’s early years, opérettes were still a thriving form in both performance and recordings but I suspect that those below and several of the more obscure operas will be unfamiliar to most punters, even those with a penchant for French vocal music. Be aware, too, that many are in less than gratifying sound, being taped in mono from live performance or radio broadcasts – but a couple of studio recordings of operettas from the 50s are very acceptable, as are the later live recordings of operas. I try in my reviews to indicate the sound quality of the individual recordings.

Listening to all these souvenirs of Robert’s artistry makes me appreciate anew the variety of roles he undertook and the dedication he devoted to performing the music, some of which has fallen into desuetude – whether deservedly or not, only the listener can determine.


Edmond Audran (1842-1901)
La cigale et la fourmi; Premiere Opera
rec. radio broadcast 1955, mono
Orchestre Radio-Lyrique/Marcel Cariven
Chœurs de la RTF
Thérèse – Liliane Berton
Charlotte – Christiane Jacquin
La duchesse – Deva Dassy
Chevalier Franz – Michel Hamel
Vincent – Robert Massard
Le duc – André Balbon
Guillaume – René Lenoty
Matthias – Henri Bedeix
Le vieux mendiant – Raymond Lion

I briefly reviewed  Audran’s La poupée, one of his later successes,  in my second survey of Robert Massard’s recordings (as per my introduction, above). La cigale et la fourmi came earlier, but six years after his biggest triumph, La mascotte (see next below); it was premiered in 1886. If you are unfamiliar with this work as I was, there is a good synopsis, a list of numbers and background information in the Wikipedia entry: La cigale et la fourmi – Wikipedia. While not quite as successful as La mascotte, it still had a long run and made lots of money.

It is introduced by a lady announcer in beautifully clear French and narrative links between scenes are provided. This is a re-broadcast from 2009; the sound is wonderfully clear apart from some slight distortion on  “s” sounds and occasional, fluttering fluctuations in volume between channels more noticeable on headphones, but it’s not that distracting. The music is not on the level of, for example, Die Fledermaus, but is immediately tuneful and consistently diverting, characterised by catchy, bouncy melodies and a prevalence of three-quarter-time tunes. The voices are of course bright, light and charming; especially vivacious is Liliane Berton as the impulsive, improvident, fun-loving “grasshopper”. There is a fair amount of dialogue, this being operetta, but it is very well acted. Some of the best music is in the second act: Robert Massard sings with insouciant ease an especially attractive waltz tune, “ Je souffle, métier peu folâtre” (punning on the verb “souffler” which can mean “prompt” – as in the prompter – souffleur –  in the theatre box –  or breathe/sigh – in his case, for love of Thérèse, who has become a diva at the opera). The two lead sopranos have a delightful duet sung in thirds, the Christmas song “Petit Noël”, which, as an obvious hit, is wisely reprised at the end of the operetta and has subsequently been covered numerous times by other artists. The plot is standard farce – amorous intrigues, adulterous liaisons, a woman concealed behind a screen, dreams of rags to riches and a happy dénouement – all perhaps rather dated in our more cynical age but good fun.

La mascotte; Decca France; Discovery/Accord
rec. studio 1956, mono
Orchestre et Chœurs /Robert Benedetti
Bettini – Géneviève Moizan
Fiametta – Denise Cauchard
Pippo – Robert Massard
Laurent XVII – Lucien Baroux
Fritellini – Bernard Alvi
Rocco – Robert Destain
Carlo – G Lemaitre
Luigi – Marthe Amour
Un Sergent – Paul Finel

La mascotte – which apparently gave the English language the word “mascot”- was reviewed by Ray Walker in 2003; I refer you that for a brief overview of the operetta’s history and plot – and he rightly singles out Massard’s contribution. For another review, I refer you to this article from Opera Today, which appreciates Moizan and Baroux but makes no mention of him. A more detailed synopsis is available here: The Guide to Light Opera & Operetta. Finally, Wikipedia, too, provides plenty of background information, a synopsis and a list of the numbers in the three acts: La mascotte.

This was an operetta which ran for hundreds of performances  and earned enormous box office receipts. The comic premise of the farcical plot is amusing, the characters are well-developed and Audran’s musical invention is to the fore, beginning with a substantial overture, which evinces vitality and variety – Offenbach is never far away – but would evidently come across better in stereo, as the mono sound is a bit tinny, rendering the orchestration fuzzy and the chorus’ words indistinct, but the ear soon adjusts as most of subsequent music is less densely composed. I derive little pleasure from actor Lucien Baroux groaning his way through the Prince’s songs but he is a skilful comic and otherwise the singing is grand; in particular, Géneviève Moizan sings beautifully as the turkey-girl-mascot Bettina. Bernard Alvi has a neat, pleasing, light tenor. The arias, duets and ensembles are endlessly upbeat and engaging as long as you are not looking for profundity.

A word of caution, however; unless you are a French speaker, there is a lot of dialogue which is diverting and very well delivered but at quite a rate and you need a degree of fluency unless you have access to a libretto – which is available from various sites online.

Charles Cuvillier (1877 – 1955)
La reine Joyeuse (abridged)
rec. radio broadcast 1955, mono
Orchestre Lyrique et Chœurs de l’O.R.T.F./Roger Ellis
Sofia – Liliane Berton
Chiquette – Claudine Collart
Katische – Marcelle Sansonetti
Séraphine – Linda Felder
Boleslas – Robert Massard
Flamèche – René Lenoty
Le Roi Michel – André Duvaleix
Nitchevo – Jean Vieille
Babadag – René Smith
Philippopoli – Marcel Génio
Lascar – Pierre Roy

This radio broadcast took place a month after the death of the composer. It begins with a voiceover narrative of his career and a history of the work, which began in 1912 in Marseille as Le reine s’amuse, was then revised as La reine joyeuse for Paris in 1918 and was presented in London in 1920 as The Naughty Princess. These are excerpts linked by a narrative; Liliane Berton is the wayward princess and Robert Massard, supposedly a bohemian painter – actually the king’s nephew, Boleslas – whose attentions are designed to persuade the princess that she should settle down and make the politically convenient marriage desired by her father. Massard sings with great style and humour, occasionally breaking suavely into falsetto. The music is melodious and essentially facile “light listening” – the usual admixture of waltz songs and upbeat marches, sung by first-class voices.

The sound is very good, a little, light, background hum apart.

Louis Ganne (1862-1923)
Les saltimbanques; Decca France; Universal Accord/Discovery
rec. studio 1956, stereo
Orchestre et Chœurs /Pierre Dervaux
Suzon – Janine Micheau
Marion – Géneviève Moizan
Grand Pingouin – Michel Roux
André – Robert Massard
Paillasse – Raymond Amade
Des Etiquettes – Robert Destain
Malicorne – Marcel Carpentier
L’Aubergiste – Rivers Cadet
Rigobert – Claude Arlay
Le Vicomte – Valle Valdy

This particular recording first on Decca France has not been reviewed on MusicWeb but I refer you to Ray Walker’s review of the EMI issue in the Universal Accord Operette series for a fairly detailed synopsis and some helpful background information on the operetta, the composer and the series in general. It runs to 70 minutes and has the considerable advantage of being recorded in narrow stereo. The story is the classic rags-to-riches plot whereby a seventeen-year-old orphan is finally revealed to have been of high birth and can marry the count’s nephew. It opens with a jolly, rumbustious circus overture followed by a lilting waltz, succeeded by a series of attractive, easy-listening numbers often in three-quarter time or in a “big drum” marching rhythm. As ever in this era and location, the voices are pleasing but the vocal quality is instantly further elevated by Robert Massard’s entrance as the aristocratic young officer André, duetting neatly with Janine Micheau’s slightly smoky soprano. She was celebrated as Mélisande, Micaëla and Manon, among many other roles, and makes a pretty job of ditties such as “La bergère Colinette” and “La chanson des fleurs”, but I do not understand why actors who are obviously “non-singers” such as the Malicorne were asked to bark their way through some of the music. As with so many operettas, the composer recognised that hit numbers need reinforcing through repetition, so the tune of Suzon’s waltz-song “C’est l’amour”, which concludes Act I, is used to open the next act. Raymond Amade has a typically Gallic comprimario tenor sound but is so adept with the text and is somehow very winning, and baritone Michel Roux will be familiar to collectors, as he had a major career. His light, attractive sound is ideally suited to the whimsically-named Grand-Pingouin. It is good, too, to be able to hear the rich soprano of Geneviève Moizan, who recorded very little opera but a good deal of operetta and sings “Renonce à ton rêve orgueilleux” in Act III so winningly. There is a nice bit of comic nonsense when the escaped artists, “Les Gigoletti” speak in a nonsense language to further baffle Malicorne. The limited dialogue and a sequence of delightfully dreadful punning jokes from a comedian in track 18 offer an opportunity for those who wish to improve their French, too, it is so clearly and idiomatically delivered, with life and spirit.

As with the other works he directs in this series, conductor Pierre Dervaux sounds utterly relaxed and released in this music and his orchestra obviously feels at home in it. This is not major music but it is adept and entertaining; I find it considerably more diverting than the next supposedly superior and more celebrated confection by Léhar.

Franz Léhar (1870-1948)
Paganini; Decca France
rec. 1955, mono
Orchestre et Chœurs/Pierre Dervaux
Paganini – Robert Massard
Pimpinelli – Roméo Carlès
Bartucci – Henry Bry
Le Prince Félice – Pierre Gianotti
Emmanuel – Marcel Enot
Le Comte d’Hedouville – R. Weber
Anna-Elisa – Colette Riedinger
Bella Giretti – Géori Boué
Philippo – Nicolas Amato
L’Aubergiste – E. Gautier
Marco – Jean Pemeja
Sylvano – Beppo Le Bossu
Le Maître de Cérémonies/Un Contrebandier – C. Jourdain
Carolina – Jackie Rollin
Une jeune fille – Ch. Gautier
Violin solo: Henry Merckel

This was the first operetta that Léhar wrote especially for Richard Tauber, who was unable to perform in the Viennese premiere but thereafter sang it many times to huge acclaim. Tauber was of course a celebrated lyric tenor but the role of Paganini is not exactly “operatic” in its demands, hence a high lyric baritone with a B-flat like that of the youthful Robert Massard may also successfully assume the part, rather like Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus. It contains a number of hit songs, of which the best known is Paganini’s “Gern hab’ ich die Frau’n geküsst”, sung in English as the marvellously non-pc “Girls were made to love and kiss” and here in French, “J’ai toujours cru qu’un baiser” (I have always believed that a kiss). The tune is cunningly reprised in the Act III smugglers’ tavern scene as “Mon violon, si je t’ai méconnu”.

Raymond Walker favourably reviewed this issue back in 2003, while remarking on the rather recessed and treble-biased mono sound, losing the woodwinds and making Massard’s voice sound “thin”; that’s true, but I can’t say that bothers me much – or that I even much notice it. As above with La mascotte and La cigale, I do find it odd that an actor speaks Paganini’s lines when the mismatch between his and Massard’s voice is so obvious and the latter was always a perfectly good actor himself – indeed, had that profession in reserve should his singing career fail to take off. He and Colette Riedinger duet charmingly; the singing here is of a uniformly high standard, except Roméo Carlès is clearly of a certain age and hardly a “proper singer” – a flaw all the more evident when he is duetting with Géori Boué. Henry Merckel’s violin solos are splendid and the conducting of Pierre Dervaux is flexible and idiomatic. A link narrative in French is provided between the numbers and conversations.

In truth, as a po-faced devotee of ”Grand Opera”, I find this flippant celebration of promiscuity and infidelity a bit lightweight but it could hardly be better performed than here, apart from the couple of gripes detailed above.


Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Pénélope; Rodolphe; Cantus Classics
rec. live 24 May 1956, mono, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris.
Orchestre National/Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht
Chœurs de la RTF
Pénélope – Régine Crespin
Euryclée – Christiane Gayraud
Cléone – Madeleine Gagnard
Mélantho – Françoise Ogeas
Alkandre – Geneviève Macaux
Phylo, Eurynome – Nicole Robin
Ulysse – Raoul Jobin
Eumée – André Vessières
Antinous – Joseph Peyron
Eurymaque – Robert Massard
Léodès, le pâtre – Michel Hamel
Ctéstippe – Bernard Demigny
Pisandre – Pierre Germain

I recently reviewed the commercial recording of this opera conducted by Charles Dutoit and starring Jessye Norman, and made brief reference to this so-called “world premiere recording” of a live performance, expressing the wishing that I could hear it – then it arrived in the parcel kindly sent to me by Robert Massard, so that wish was fulfilled.

It uses the complete score and the mono sound is very acceptable for its age, just a bit harsh and distant, and the words of the chorus are somewhat indistinct but enough orchestral detail comes through and we have a master-conductor at the helm, subtly controlling the ebb and flow of this music which, to extend that metaphor, comes in waves. We hear the occasional faint cough from the audience and the orchestra is not quite the best – there are a few minor blips from the brass section, but this is live and those little flaws are not material. There are quite a few famous names in this cast and all the singers are of real quality; not a wobbler to be heard. The first suitor we hear is Euryclée, sung incisively by Robert Massard – it makes a change to hear him in more of a “bad guy” role, as the natural nobility of his timbre seemed to always best suited to portraying more amiable characters; here, he plays an unpleasant piece of work, constantly making snide remarks, so his demise at the hands of a vengeful Ulysses seems deserved. It is good, too, to hear a commanding Régine Crespin, not yet thirty, in best, youthful voice – and tenor Jospeh Peyron, the suitor who makes the next most prominent contribution as the more amiable Antinous, is also highly effective. Smooth-voiced bass André Vessières – who sang Arkel twice for Inghelbrecht in recordings and also for Ansermet – again sings beautifully as the shepherd Eumée, matching José van Dam for Dutoit.

Listening to that Dutoit recording, I remarked that I found the opera absorbing despite its lack of obvious melody and if anything, the performances and conducting here are even more persuasive. It also has the advantage of a more virile and robust-voiced Ulysse in the person of Raoul Jobin, making the moments when he reveals his true identity all the more credible; Alain Vanzo for Dutoit sings rather too sweetly for that rugged hero. Jobin is decidedly in much better voice here than for his Rata-Sen in Padmâvatî a couple of months later in the same year – see below; perhaps he was tired or the part also suits him better, too. “Je suis Ulysse, votre Roi!” is thrillingly declaimed.

I am once more struck how often Fauré’s use of declamatory, discordant chordal outbursts of diminished sixths recalls Bartók’s almost exactly contemporaneous  Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Like that work, this will always be something of a “connoisseur’s opera” rather than a popular crowd-pleaser, but this is really a very satisfying performance, giving it the best possible advocacy  – and the enthusiasm of the audience’s applause confirms its impact here.

Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Faust; Opera d’Oro; Melodram
rec. live 16 February, 1967, mono, La Scala
Orchestra & Chorus La Scala, Milan/Georges Prêtre
Faust – Gianni Raimondi
Méphistophélès – Nicolai Ghiaurov
Marguerite – Mirela Freni
Valentin – Robert Massard
Siébel – Luigi Alva
Valentin – Robert Massard
Marthe – Anna Di Stasio
Wagner – Alfredo Giacomotti

Two main things militate against this recording being anyone’s favourite in comparison with the Decca studio recording made the previous year: it is mono and live, thus inferior in sound and subject to extraneous noise such as coughing; Raimondi, who was essentially a good, decent but always second-rank tenor, vocally cannot rise to Corelli’s level even if his French is much better. On the plus side, Ghiaurov and Massard repeat their superlative assumptions of the demon and Valentin respectively and Prêtre’s direction is more vital than Bonynge’s; besides, the sound is fine for an old, live recording and the presence of a young Mirella Freni is surely a very acceptable alternative to Joan Sutherland as Marguerite. I retain a fond memory of hearing her and Ghiaurov with Stuart Burrows in this opera at Covent Garden in the early 70s and this performance at La Scala echoes that. There isn’t much velvet in Raimondi’s lyric tenor and top notes can be grainy – the top C is there but not impressive; however, he can sing softly and is certainly more than adequate. Massard receives warm and deserved applause for his nobly sung opening aria “Avant de quitter ces lieux”. An unusual feature is the casting of tenor Luigi Alva as Siébel, which lends dramatic verisimilitude but strikes any ear accustomed to hearing a mezzo-soprano in the role as strange; still, he sings neatly in fair French.

Henri Hirchmann (1872-1961)
La danseuse de Tanagra, Malibran
rec. live radio concert broadcast, 1956, RTF, Paris
Chœurs et Orchestre Radio-Lyrique de la RTF/Gustave Cloëz
Messaline – Berthe Monmart
Karysta, jeune danseuse – Nadine Sautereau
Sepéos, jeune égyptien – Robert Massard
Géo, mère de Sepéos – Solange Michel
Silius, amant de Messaline – Jean Mollien
Manechus, ami de Sepéos – Michel Hamel
Chef des vagabonds – Lucien Lovano

Henri Hirchmann/Hirschmann (he eventually removed the ‘s’ from his own name) was primarily a composer of operettas but also tried his hand at opera seria – and this is apparently the best of his efforts. The radio announcer provides a synopsis as a prelude to each of the acts and explains that there is a cut in Act III and that the first scene of Act IV is excised in its entirety, abridgments “necessitated by the schedule” – all explained in French, obviously. A first-rate cast does justice to Hirschmann’s exotic score and indeed it falls gratefully upon the ear even if it is a bit diffuse and meandering. The most attractive passages are the aria for Sepéos and his duets with Karysta then Messaline in the abridged third Act and the Act IV finale to the whole work, which works up quite a head of steam before the concluding “angelic choir” chorus. There are faint echoes of Verdi’s Aïda and Massenet’s Thaïs, although the melodies are much more ephemeral and fleeting, and the setting of a decadent Rome, featuring a promiscuous femme fatale versus a pure heroine is a favourite of operatic librettists. The orchestra is rather removed but not damagingly so.

Robert Massard makes an attractive young lover, liberal with his top notes, his voice free and impassioned; Nadine Sautereau is light, fresh and charming; Berthe Monmart is a haughty, sonorous Messaline – a wonderful voice, perhaps familiar to collectors as the eponymous lead soprano in the mono 1956 recording on the Philips label of Charpentier’s Louise conducted by Jean Fournet and a 1968 recording of Dukas’ Ariane e Barbe-Bleue on the Gala label; Solange Michel is a warm, dusky-voiced Géo.

A bonus on this Malibran issue is two of Karysta’s arias beautifully sung by Maryse Beaujon; in fact she makes them rather more sensuous – even voluptuous – than Sautereau in the (almost) complete recording.

(For those interested this 2017 article from the Forum Opéra provides a critique, although I would deem excessive its excoriation of the sound which to my ears is no better or worse than many radio broadcast of that era. It is in French but Google Translate does a reasonable job if you want the gist – or, as the French would say “l’essentiel”. Likewise, the notes in the Malibran issue are useful, linked here.)

Michel-Maurice Lévy (1883 – 1965)
Le Cloître – excerpts
rec. live radio broadcast 1962
Chœurs et Orchestre National de l’ORTF/Maurice-Paul Guiot
Don Balthazar – Robert Massard
Le Prieur – Adrien Legros
Dom Milicien – Camille Mauranne
Dom Marc – Jean Giraudeau
Idesbald – Jacques Seelier
Thomas – André Vessières
Premiere Moine – Giustave Wion
Deuxiême Moine – Jean Leveau
Troisième Moine – Xavier Smati

This work was completely unknown to me; I am indebted to a posting under this opera on Amazon in 2019 by the British contributor using the nom de plume “someonewhocares2”, which I quote here in full with grateful acknowledgements:

“The French composer Michel-Maurice Levy (1883-1965) was a colourful but rather shadowy figure. He has, I believe, no entry in the New Grove and it took me some time to track down a few details of his career. I quote from an inspiring article, “Handicaps did not stop them”, published in “The Etude” in January 1947:

‘In the realm of the music-hall, we find the interesting story of the French musician, Michel-Maurice Levy. While studying piano and composition at the Paris Conservatory, Levy became afflicted with a hip trouble which caused a pronounced limp and obliged him to wear heavy steel braces. Besides, he was abnormally short-sighted and had to use thick glasses; his hair was unruly, his body ill-proportioned; really he had been born under an unlucky star as regards a stage career. Did he get discouraged? Not in the least! Soon he realized his gift for comedy, when the impersonations he did at friendly gatherings met with genuine success. He then decided to capitalize on his physical handicaps and worked up a vaudeville act in which he appeared as a music teacher of the old school, wearing an incredible old-fashioned “Prince Albert” frock coat, enormous shoes with elastics, a floating tie, big shell glasses still much larger than his own, all capped by a bushy red wig. His entrance on the platform elicited unrestrained mirth among the audience, and his witty quips, his clownesque imitations of great composers or virtuosi, his operatic parodies and burlesque improvisations on song hits soon had everybody in hysterics….Americans who visited Paris between the two wars will remember Michel-Maurice Levy: his professional name, fashioned after the popular French pronunciation of Beethoven, was Betove.’

But Levy was also keen to make his name as a serious composer even though he earned his living as a clown. He produced about seven operas and operettas between 1923 and 1952. The first, and most successful of these was Le Cloitre, a three act opera based on the play by the Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren. It was first performed in Lyons in 1923 and made its way to the Opera-Comique in Paris in 1926. Anyone who, having identified Levy with Betove, went along expecting a night of unbridled hilarity would have been sorely disappointed. This is a dark unremitting tragedy. Set in a monastery, the opera tells the story of the monk Balthazar who, in a state of anger, had killed his father ten years earlier. He had left a vagabond to be condemned to death in his place and had taken refuge in the monastery where only the prior knew his past. The prior has declared him absolved of his crime and has declared that he is to be his successor but Balthazar wishes to make the knowledge of what he did public. When he confesses to the brothers, the monks reject him. In an effort to appease them the prior declares that, as a penance, Balthazar must perform various acts of contrition. Two monks, Thomas and Idesbald, vie to replace the prior at his death. Idesbald suggests that Balthazar should be reported to the authorities for prosecution but Thomas will not hear of this. Balthazar continues to feel remorse; he was responsible for the deaths of two men. He declares his guilt to the mob and demands they punish him. The prior, horrified that Balthazar has not meekly accepted Christ’s forgiveness, condemns him and hands him over to the crowd to be killed.

I cannot raise much enthusiasm for this opera which is, presumably, heavily cut here. (There are only about seventy minutes’ worth of music, spread between two discs.) Levy sets the text to a sort of lyrical recitative almost entirely devoid of melodic or even motivic interest. The set comes with no documentation whatsoever and, if any opera needs to be listened to with an English translation of the libretto at hand, this is it. Certain woodwind solos apart ( as in the prelude to Act 2 ), there is little colour or variety in the orchestral writing and the textures are often thick; there is little contrapuntal interest. (The Alleluias at the beginning of Act 3 are about the only exception. ) The murky, hissy and congested radio recording, which dates from 1962, compounds the problem. The voices, though, are quite well caught. As you would expect, the cast, which is entirely male, is absolutely first-rate and there is an impressive seriousness of purpose and dramatic integrity to the whole enterprise. Indeed, as drama and as far as it is possible to tell with no libretto, much of Le Cloitre makes for a compelling listen but the music is simply not, in itself, strong enough to make any real impression. This is a pity. Given Levy’s story, I rather hoped he would turn out to be a forgotten genius. For a French opera set in a monastery, try Massenet’s Le Jongleur de Notre Dame, one of his greatest works, in the EMI recording conducted by Roger Boutry.”

I cannot add much to this full note other than to endorse its findings  except that that I do not find the sound anywhere near as bad is asserted above; it is surely perfectly listenable. However, I concur that the opera is unremittingly gloomy; the prelude – hardly an overture – sets the mood: all atmosphere and no tune. The singing and diction of the cast are indeed excellent but the music just ambles along uneventfully and is largely devoid of variety. If Lévy had Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande in mind as a model, he is far wide of that mark. There are flashes of potential interest, such as the climax of distinguished bass-baritone Adrien Legros’ narrative about fifteen minutes in and Don Balthazar’s similarly declamatory outburst against a background of bells at around twenty-four minutes, and the singers do everything to invest proceedings with drama, but the pickings for the listener are lean; we must be grateful that these are only excerpts, but seventy minutes is still more than enough, as the material is not sufficiently engaging to sustain any greater duration. In truth, this is not a work which merits revival.

As ever, however, I am impressed by the freedom of Robert Massard’s upper extension to his baritone and his gift for inflecting text with depth of meaning and emotion.

Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
Le Cid
rec. live 4 February 1979, Limoges
Orchestre du Grand-Théâtre de Limoges/Pierre-Michel Lecomte
Chœurs de Limoges et St Étienne
Rodrigue – Maurice Maïevsky
Don Diègue – René Bianco
Le Roi – Robert Massard
Chimène – Helia T’Hézan
L’Infante – Peggy Bouveret
Comte de Gormas – Henri Hasse
Don Arias – Jean-Claude Sanchez
Don Alonzo – Georges Gauda
The Moorish Envoy – Jean-Claude Gauda
The Shade of St. Jaques – Arlington Rollman

It is a pity the sound here is so poor, give the relatively late date of this performance compared with other better, earlier recordings – but it was evidently made on basic equipment by someone in the audience. It is blaring and distorted, and the voices are far too distanced; the end of Act II is particularly indistinct. Insofar as I can divine, the cast is mostly rather good, and while there are also some incidences of wobble and singing both sharp and under-the-note in certain quarters, against that, is the evident willingness on the part of the singers to really sing out, not croon, especially in the case of lead soprano and Robert Massard, who is in sturdy, ringing voice, as is tenor Maurice Maïevsky who contributes in power what he lacks in subtlety – and the audience certainly shows its appreciation for his baritonal heft. His voice is very far removed from the small, falsetto-biased whimper which too often these days passes for an “authentic French tenor”. A better idea of his voice may be gained from this YouTube clip of him singing in Norma: “Meco all’altar di Venere”.

Helia T’Hézan’s big aria “Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux” is heralded by an admirable clarinet solo and a loud cough perfectly timed to obscure her first note, but she sings passionately.

This was no doubt a rewarding evening in the theatre which cannot be properly appreciated here given the sonic imitations.

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
Moïse et Pharaon
rec. radio broadcast 1974, mono
Orchestre de l’O.R.T.F./John Matheson
Chœurs de Radio France
Moïse – Joseph Rouleau
Éliézer – Michel Sénéchal
Pharaon – Robert Massard
Aménophis – Adrian De Peyer
Aufide – Paul Finel
Osiride – Gérard Serkoyan
Marie – Janine Capdérou
Anaï – Michèle Le Bris
Sinaïde – Joyce Blackham/Claudie Saneva (Acts II-IV)

I believe that this CD set has been transferred from the original Black Disc Voce 37 LP issue of a radio recording. Despite the relatively late recording date compared with most of the works here, the sound here is less than satisfactory, being rather fuzzy and distorted, such that words are not always that clear. Nonetheless, the ear soon adjusts, especially as the performance is so good. The cast is a strong one, even if Jospeh Rouleau, although often imposing, is also occasionally a bit rocky and is very uncertain of pitch and rhythm in the opening of the famous Act II ensemble “O toi dont la clémence”. The two lovers, sung by Michèle Le Bris and Adrian de Peyer, are fresh-voiced and impassioned; their first duet receives prolonged applause. Both mezzos are excellent (Joyce Blackham retired unwell at the end of the first act and was replaced by Claudie Saneva). As the original highly atmospheric opening was transferred to open in Act II, we do not hear Robert Massard until then. The role of Pharaoh is usually sung by a bass-baritone but he sounds comfortable in the tessitura, powerful, commanding and agile in the divisions.

At two and a quarter hours, this is clearly not quite the complete, revised 1827 Paris version, which when absolutely intact and restored, as per the recent live Naxos recording, runs to ten minutes under three hours; there is no ballet or concluding chorus and there must be a few more, brief cuts which I have not tried to identify but the best, essential passages are here, as Rossini retained virtually all of the music in the original Italian Mosè in Egitto – written for Naples in 1818 – when he expanded it, mostly adding choruses, all of which are included. There are to my knowledge very few recordings of this version on CD, the best other option being that on Myto, live from 1983, with the even starrier cast of Samuel Ramey, Cecilia Gasdia, Shirley Verrett Keith Lewis, Jean-Philippe Lafont and Jean Dupouy, conducted by Georges Prêtre, so despite a few flaws this remains attractive to the Rossini buff.

Albert Roussel (1869-1937)
Padmâvatî; Opera Depot
rec. live radio broadcast 14 July 1956, RAI, Rome, mono
Orchestra & Chorus RAI, Rome/Ferruccio Scaglia
Padmâvatî – Hélène Bouvier
Ratan-Sen – Raoul Jobin
Alaouddine – Robert Massard
Nakamti – Adele Leigh
Le Brahamane – Robert Destain
Gora – Guido Mazzini
Badal – Tomaso Spataro
Le veilleur – Tomaso Frascatti
Un prêtre – Henri Médus

Padmâvatî has barely maintained any foothold in the operatic repertoire but certainly has its adherents. Roussel called it an “opéra-ballet”, thus a work with numerous opportunities for dance and exotic spectacle – which is just as well, given that its plot is grim. For more background, I refer you to Dan Morgan’s 2007 review of the recording which has probably done most to keep it in the public eye; I like it rather more than he but concur with his opinion that neither that recording nor the opera itself is any great triumph.

This performance is in fact livelier than that EMI recording and the sound here is quite good, a little background hiss notwithstanding; it is evidently a subsequent re-transmission on French radio. Each act is preceded by a long and comprehensive introduction in French, discussing the composer, his inspiration, the performance history of Padmâvatî and the artists involved, and before both acts we are given a synopsis of the action to follow. The strange, swooning, chromatic harmonies are initially arresting but the persistently declamatory style devoid of discernible arias becomes somewhat monotonous; thus the duet between Padmâvatî and Ratan-Sen in Act II drags. However, the big crowd scenes of warrior and slave-girl dances backed by blaring brass and frequent wordless choruses are impressive and provide a welcome contrast to Roussel’s prevailing stylistic restraint, and at times one hears an almost Stravinskian treatment of rhythm in the extended dance numbers. While Padmâvatî is certainly not melodically memorable it is highly atmospheric and its soundworld is often very original.

Once again, Robert Massard’s vocalisation and diction stand out; for me, he is one of a handful of singers whose voice I savour in virtually anything listenable. Hélène Bouvier rich, smooth, round timbre is a delight and she makes an impact in her delayed entrance; at times, her voice sounds almost tenorial in its lower regions, it is so well developed and registered – yet her upper register is also pure and fluty. Her dirgelike lament closing Act I and death ending Act II have a mesmeric quality which reminds me a little of Berlioz’ La mort de Cléopâtre, culminating in a prolonged, melismatic adieu (lots of  “ah-ah” – Roussel was apparently not keen on words) by orchestra, chorus and Padmâvatî herself, which is again too long and probably works better on-stage. We also hear the noble, gravelly bass of Henri Médus  as the High Priest at the start of Act II. A word, too, for the excellence of that chorus in their extended passages and the rhythmic precision of the orchestra in complex music. The French-Canadian Raoul Jobin’s dark, robust voice is a pleasant antidote to the nasal whine which now too often passes for a “typically Gallic” tenor but he is nearing the end of his career here and just occasionally sounds a little worn and unsteady, struggling with higher notes and soft singing – yet at other times is suitably heroic. 

The music indubitably outstays its welcome, but for the curious, this is as good an introduction as any to Roussel’s odd but intriguing venture into opera.

Piotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
La dame de Pique (in French)
rec. live radio broadcast 28 December 1956
Chœurs et Orchestre Lyrique de l’ORTF/Charles Bruck
Lisa – Jane Rhodes
Hermann -Jean Giraudeau
Pauline – Irma Kolassi
Le prince Yeletski – Robert Massard
Count Tomsky – Lucien Lovano
Surin – Xavier Depraz
Countess – Agnès Disney
Chekalinsky – Joseph Peyron
Governess – Freda Betti
Masha – Andrée Esposito

(Unfortunately, the recording gives the names of the artists involved but does not specify who is singing which role, so although some voices – such as Robert Massard’s – are unmistakable, I have guessed a couple – and think I have got them right.)

The mono sound here is really very good, especially for its vintage: clear and undistorted. There are a few cuts in the score – mainly in ensembles and choruses – but not damagingly so. I always find Jean Giraudeau’s tenor rather weedy and effeminate, but I am aware that some are drawn to his elegance, even if I do not think he has the heft for the role. The smooth-voiced Lucien Lovano is excellent as Tomsky. Jane Rhodes sounds a little too stretched and mature to be ideal as Lisa and does not characterise especially strongly but mezzo Irma Kolassi is a lovely, rich-voiced Pauline (Polina), as are the other two mezzos.

Just as I found that the presence of Giraudeau fatally compromised the recordings of Berlioz’ Les Troyens and his Requiem, I find that he is the flaw in this recording – nor is Rhodes very compelling; it is in the supporting roles that we hear real quality. Massard is absolutely beautiful in my favourite aria in all of Tchaikovsky’s operas, “Ya vas lyublyu” – here, “Ma bien-aimée, je vous adore” –  the easy lyricism of his singing placing him on the same level as Yuri Mazurok and Pavel Lisitisian singing in Russian.

Ambroise Thomas (1811 – 1896)
Hamlet – excerpts
rec. radio concert broadcast 1966, Paris
Chœurs et l’Orchestre de L’ORTF/Louis Forestier
Hamlet – Robert Massard
Ophélie  Mady Mesplé
Claudius – Gérard Serkoyan
Gertrude – Geneviève Macaux
Laërte – Rémy Corazza

I have never much warmed to Thomas’ most successful opera and the harsh, crumbly sound here does not help to convert me to any appreciation of its musical merits; I find the score banal. Nonetheless, this is a rare souvenir of a role suited to Massard’s high, lyric baritone, and, as ever, his pellucid diction makes it easy to hear the words he sings. He assumes the eponymous leading role with complete confidence, secure in the assurance that his voice will do his bidding, always “dans le legato”,  whereas, unfortunately, Mesplé has too much of the Minnie Mouse in her tiny, trilling sound. An uncredited tenor makes an appearance as Horatio in these excerpts, telling Hamlet of the apparition of his father’s ghost; likewise, the steady bass portraying that spectre is anonymous.

The highlight is the most famous drinking song ,”O vin, dissipe la tristesse”, sung with great elan and freedom and well worth an encore – not that its mood owes much to that of the source play. “Être ou ne pas être”  (To be or not to be) is much more apt but, again, is not musically distinguished, well sung though it is.


Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
rec. live radio broadcast 18 July 1973, Théâtre de Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse
Orchestre Philharmonique de L’ORTF/Michel Plasson
Chœurs “À Cœur joie”
Bia – Andrea Guiot
Gaïa – Denis Scharley
Aenoë – Lyliane Guitton
Kratos – Guy Chauvet
Hephaïstos – Robert Massard
Andros – Jacques Pottier
Spoken roles:
Pandore – Germaine Montéro
Prométhée – Jean-Pierre Leroux
Hermès – Renaud Mari

This is an odd, hybrid work – a kind of “grand cantata” with operatic elements but also extended spoken passages. It is here presented in a radio recording in less than scintillating mono sound, which is indistinct and occluded, presumably not helped by the performance being en plein air in a Roman amphitheatre (the cicadas are audible – rather atmospheric…). However, it has a highly distinguished cast and conductor, even if it remains a curiosity and a rarity. There have been a couple of commercial recordings, one on the Ariane label conducted by Désiré Dondeyne and another of excerpts with l’Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo conducted by Roger Norrington on EMI. Those interested might like to read this brief article from the Interlude website which includes the rather lovely Le Cortège de Pandore from the EMI release and video clips from a 2011 Brazilian production by the Núcleo Universitário de Ópera conducted by Paulo Maron, also available on YouTube – but the stage action is mannered and silly; the Wikipedia entry is also informative.

The musical passages are marooned among those of extended dialogue – especially trying for non-French speakers- but they often have a certain Wagnerian grandeur commixed with French grace and elegance and are superbly performed by a cast which could not be assembled in France today. The divine trio of Denise Scharley, Guy Chauvet and Robert Massard is especially impressive and Andrea Guiot sings nobly in her funeral oration for Pandore (who then inexplicably revives). It is interesting how close in timbre – but still distinguishable – are the voices of Heldentenor Chauvet and baryton-Martin Massard: dark and resonant, both, but with easy top notes.

The work is too unwieldy and diffuse ever to achieve popularity but contains much of interest to the enthusiast for French rarities.

Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)
Le roi David
rec. live 11 June 1958, Palermo, Sicily
Orchestre National de la RTF/Paul Klecki
Jean Marchat – récitant
Vivette Barthélémy (soprano)
Christian Gayraud (mezzo-soprano)
Robert Massard (baritone)

Those unfamiliar with Le roi David will find the Wikipedia entry very full and helpful. Unlike the Frank Martin work below, this is very well recorded for its era, in clean, clear mono from a radio broadcast – which also picks up the constant coughing in an era when everyone smoked. It is sternly and dramatically narrated, and performed with verve and commitment by an excellent ensemble. However, I have not found any source permitting its purchase, so this remains a private souvenir.

Frank Martin (1890–1974)
In Terra Pax
rec. live 7 June 1969, Sala Santa Cecilia, The Vatican, Rome
Andréa Guiot (soprano)
? [Swedish contralto]
Nicolai Gedda (tenor)
Robert Massard (baritone)

Frank Martin was congratulated by H.H. Pope Paul VI after a performance of In Terra Pax, Rome June 1969. There is a photograph of Robert Massard being presented to His Holiness in my article linked above.

The recording is primitive – evidently made on a tape recorder by someone in the audience, with much clunking, then broadcast, as there is also a ticking radio interference almost throughout –  so the sound here is, unsurprisingly, rather over-reverberant, distorted and trying, and even Massard’s diction often cannot overcome the acoustical issues, although the dignity of the occasion still comes through. I confess that the music does not much appeal to me but there is a generalised, declamatory grandeur about it which I am sure is more impressive live. There are ample opportunities for both the soloists and choir to let loose – indeed, there is an almost frenetic quality about many passages, such as the sequence of repeated  imperatives, “Réveille-toi”, in the first movement of Part II, “Sentinelle, que dis-tu dans la nuit?”. However, there are also some serene, mysterious sections of the score. The excellent contralto (she is Swedish – we are told that much), conductor and orchestra are uncredited and I cannot find their names – but no doubt somebody out there knows who they were. Unfortunately, however, the abysmal sound quality renders this largely unlistenable; in any case, it is not – and could not be – commercially available.

Recital albums:

The young Robert Massard, vol. 2
rec. 1954-59

I am unclear whether this compilation of recordings from the 50s was a labour of love by an admirer or a commercial release but I suspect it was the former. Readers of my previous articles will be aware of how quickly Robert Massard advanced, by dint of hard study and sage assistance, from a rank amateur with a great voice to a seasoned perform able to sight read and embrace a huge variety of styles all within a few short years. The first recording is of his most often-performed signature role, Figaro in the Barber of Seville, here sung in French which must have made it even more difficult, the vowels and rhythms of the French language not being especially apt for the music. It is notable that despite his fluency, his high notes – including a splendid A-flat – are not quite as rich and resonant as they would later become; indeed, his voice waxed bigger and darker right up until his retirement. His timbre sounds positively callow in the aria from Les saltimbanques (reviewed above) – almost unrecognisable but still very impressive. The voice singing the most famous arias from Paganini and La mascotte is more familiar and by 1956 his baritone has settled into the colour and tonal depth which marked him out as special. An extended excerpt from Strauss’ Feuersnot (reviewed in the first survey) is in mushy sound but his vocalisation is just astonishing. The two, free, top B-flats in a live recording of the song La Bayadère bear witness to his confidence. Most of the remainder of the anthology, such as the jazzy L’Enclume with trumpet riffs, consists of songs taken from operettas and the popular song repertoire, apart from three from the world of opera, arias from Eugène Diaz’ Benvenuto Cellini, and Massenet’s Le jongleur de Nôtre Dame and Thaïs, and many are clearly lifted from LPs. Again and again, one appreciates Massard’s pellucid diction allied to effortless elegance of vocal emission. Especially impressive on all fronts is the aria “Suis-je gris?” (Am I tipsy?) from Varnay’s Les Mousquetaires au couvent.

Robert Massard chante L’opérette et l’opéra
rec. dates unknown [2 CDs]

This is simply a double-CD compilation of arias obviously spanning most of his career but not dated; many – indeed most – are already covered by my previous surveys and the reviews above, so I shall not go into any detail regarding the contents or performances, except to remark that the scope and variety of the music, from Grand Opera to light entertainment numbers, are remarkable and bear witness to M. Massard’s work ethic and catholicity of taste. As ever, the sheer beauty of the voice and his trademark ease at the top of his range are signal features of his singing.

Ralph Moore