Four Famous French Sopranos

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The great French soprano Ninon (Eugenie) Vallin was born in Mantalieu-Vercien (Dep. Isere) on September 9th 1886. Before becoming a pupil of Meryane Heglon in Paris the singer attended the Conservatoire of Lyon. Initially she had not considered an operatic career at all but pursued a career on the concert stage instead. On April 2nd 1911 she performed Debussy's cantata "La Demoiselle Elue" in a "concert solonne" in Paris and some weeks later took part in "Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien" by the same composer. Debussy took the young singer under his wings. He personally acoompanied her on the piano in a series of concerts in 1914 and he chose her to create several of his works. Vallin was convinced that she lacked all attributes of an opera singer but Albert Carre, then director of the Opera Comique, talked her into trying Micaela in "Carmen" on October 12th 1912. The success was overwhelming. Until 1916 the soprano performed at the Comique the roles of Mimi, Philine and Manon and created "La Sourciere" by Francois Erlanger (1912) and "Les Cadeaux de Noel" by Xavier Leroux (1915). In the course of her career Vallin repeatedly dedicated her art to works of contemporary French composers such as Albert Roussel, Louis Beyot, Joaquin Nin or Reynaldo Hahn. She was first heard at the Scala of Milan in 1917 as Philine which was followed by the premiere of Wolf-Ferrari's "II segreto di Susanna", "Les Cadeaux de Noel" and "Louise" as well as the leading role in Henri Rabaud's opera "Marouf' which she also sang one year later at the Teatro Colon. Already in 1916 she had appeared at the Colon for the first time and immediately became a great favorite of the South-American public. The number of her South American performances during the following years outdid by far Vallin's appearances in her home country. In 1918 she created the part of Isaura in "Jaquerie" (with Aureliano Pertile) composed by the conductor Gino Marinuzzi which had its "prima assoluta" at the Teatro Colon. The soprano was acclaimed as Louise, Nanetta, Micaela and Zerlina (with Montesanto, Raisa, Spani and Hackett). After the end of Wodd War I Vallin's appearances were mainly restricted to French theatres. She performed De Falla's "La vida breve" (1926) and the French premiere of Respighi's "Maria Egiziaca" both at the Opera Comique. Her operatic engagements stretched into the years after World War II; towards the end of her career the singer also went into operetta. In the years from 1953-59 Vallin taught singing at the Conservatory of Montevideo. At her estate "La Sauvagere" near Lyon, where she had spent the last years of her life, Ninon Vallin died on November 22nd 1961. The soprano's most celebrated roles were Manon, Louise and Philine and, last but not least, Carmen which she had studied with Emma Calve. Furthermore her repertory included Micaela, Melisande, Thais, Charlotte in "Werther", Tosca, the Countess in "Le nozze di Figaro", Zerlina, Alceste and Iphigenie en Tauride. Apart from her numerous solo-recordings the singer left on record excerpts of "Tosca" (with De Mazzei and Arthur Andreze) and two complete operas where on each occasion she was partnered by the congenial Georges Thill: "Werther" (1930) and "Louise" (1935). Gustave Charpentier himself provided adaptions and some cuts for the recording of "Louise" which was awarded the Grand Prix de Disque. Ninon Vallin was a truly versatile singer with a vast repertory. Maybe more than anything else she will be remembered for her interpretations in the French repertoire. Especially for Massenet's operas she developed, apart from a solid technique, an innate feeling for the right style and appropriate dynamics and did not overload Massenet's music with exaggerated emotional outbursts. Ninon Vallin's interpretations are a must for every lover of French Opera. Alice Josephine Pons was born on April 12th 1898 (not 1904 as the Diva later maintained) at Drauignan near Cannes in the South of France. She studied piano at the Conservatoire Paris but soon decided that she was to become a singer and studied singing with Alberto de Gorostiaga. After her debut as Lakme in 1927 at Mulhouse/Alsace she gained experience on several provincial stages as Cherubino, Mimi and Queen of the Night. Giovanni Zenatello and his wife, Maria Gay, were in the audience one evening and drew Gatti Casazza's attention to this new soprano. Within 24 hours after a successful audition for Gatti-Casazza, Tullio Serafin and Otto Kahn the singer not only signed a five-year contract with the MET but also an exclusive contract for Victor. Since Amelita Galli-Curci was by that time in considerable vocal .trouble, Pons was engaged to take over her repertory. The evening of her debut as Lucia (with Gigli, De Luca and Pinza) on January 3rd 1931 was the beginning of a lifelong association with the MET and its public which adored her from the first moment on. During her first season, alone, Pons was heard in 20 different roles and was given a revival of "Lakme" in the consecutive season. Until 1959 the singer appeared as Gilda, Amina, Philine, Linda di Chamounix, Olympia, the Queen in "Le Coq d'or", Rosina and Marie in "La fille du Regiment". The name of Lily Pons had become an indispensable box-office hit for the MET but the Diva knew only too well how to create the impression of being omnipresent without making her appearances a customary habit. The more her salarys went up the lesser became her performances. In the course of her 28 years at the MET Pons sang an average of only 10 evenings each season and gradually reduced her fundamental repertory to …