|Liner Notes: Germaine Cernay - Mezzo-soprano (1900-1943)|
MEZZO SOPRANO 1900-1943
One may grope for adjectives denoting excellence to describe Germaine Cernay's artistic achievement, but one ends inevitably with the simple accolade of J.B. Steane -'a very beautiful singer, firm and stylish.' Indeed, there are no significantly different levels of merit in her recordings. They are evenly good and give great pleasure. Nor can one accuse the voice of aging or deteriorating; Cernay did not live past her forty-third year.
She had a warm, grave mezzo in keeping with an apparently serious nature with a mystic turn as witness her never realized purpose of becoming a nun - a purpose thwarted by death. The pleasant, plain-faced woman was an excellent Mignon, a sober Charlotte with banked fire, a concerned Genevieve in PELLEAS, a wise and kindly Euryclea in Faure's PENELOPE. Yet, she could be girlishly charming and light-hearted. In duets, the voice is singularly lovely, never submerged, beautifully blending or contrasting with one of her many fine partners -- Angelici, Luart, Delprat, Solange Delmas. One cannot help cherishing the duets from operas; the ones from Bach cantatas haunt the memory - the light-stepping, joyous forward drive of "Wir eilen" (#78) or the resigned serenity of "Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt" (#4)
Whether as a concert artist, a Bach specialist, or an opera singer, Cernay was completely natural and always moving. Deeply involved in whatever she sings, she communicates emotions with taste, never intruding herself or underlining the obvious -- personal in an impersonal way. Only in characterizations where one is accustomed to an over-ripe, opulent, and heavier voice (SAMSON), may one say she is lacking somewhat, but it is lack of judgment in taking on the role rather than lack of talent. Her hallmark is a combination of classic grace with an unflamboyant Romantic expressiveness.
Germaine Cernay began life as Germaine Pointu in Le Havre in 1900. She died prematurely in Paris in the grim year 1943. She was associated with the Opera Comique 1927/42, but already before that she appeared at the Opera Faure in 1925 as Euryclea in PENELOPE (with Lubin, De Trevi, Singher). Her opera debut was in a small role as a hunchback in Mary Garden's favored RESURRECTION (Alfano). She sang many small roles before she took on Mignon, Charlotte, Genevieve. Among these were parts in Dukas' ARIANE ET BARBE-BLEUE (1927-with Balguerie, G. Corney, F. Vieuille, L. Morturier), Messager's BEATRICE (1927), Gustave Doret's LES ARMAILLIS (1930-with Necquecaur, Dufranne, Tubiana, Azeme), Massenet's DON QUICHOTTE (1931--Lucy Arbell CR, A. Pernet, A. Allard), and Mallika in LAKME, Javotte in MANON, Vincinette and Tavan in MIREILLE, Suzuki in BUTTERFLY. There were also creator roles in short-lived works: EROS VALINQUEUER (De Breville, 1932), LE FOU DE LA DAME (M.DELANNOY,1930), RIQUET A LA HOUPPE (Georges Hue, 1928), LE SICILIEN (Omer Letorey, 1928). She appeared several times in ROTISSERIS DE LA REINE PEDAUQUE (Levade) with Sibille, Musy, Lafont, Arnoult, Pujol, in Ibert's ROI D'YVETOT (1930), and one of her last appearances, in Faure's MASQUES ET BERGAMASQUES (1942 - with I. Joachim, J. Jansen). A late role was Genevieve in PELLEAS(1940) with Irene Joachim, Andre Gaudin, Jose Beckmans.
In addition to her duties at the Comique, she toured the French provinces and appeared in Brussels' Theatre de la Monnaie. More and more, however, she found larger scope and satisfaction in concerts whose Bach-loving audiences took her to their hearts, and in chansons where her subtle phrasing came to the fore. She left many records in addition to those featured on CL 99-111 :with Friantin WERTHER, with Thill in SAMSON, in CONTES D'HOFFMANN, DAMNATION OF FAUST; Massenet's DON QUiCHOTTE, Therese, Sapho; in Bach and Schutz, in Faure and Duparc, and in full operas such as MIGNON (with L. Tragin, D'Arkor, Demoulin) and the last work she recorded PELLEAS (1942, HMV) with Joachim, J. Jansen, H. Etchetvarry, Paul Cabanel, Leila ben Sedira. In the late 1920's, she recorded for Odeon, in 1931, for Columbia, in 1937 for Luman, and also for HMV.
The present record leads off with a popular 19th century valse from LES SALTIMBANQUES. It sets the tone for the 19th century program that follows. There is much Massenet, including an aria from the seldom played SAPHO, once a starring vehicle of Calve. The heroine is not the Greek poet (that lady in Gounod's SAPHO). It concerns an artist's model who ruins the innocent young man who has come from the country. Based on a novel by Daudet...The noble aria of grief from LE CID, seldom heard except in versions by older singers, was once a splendid showpiece for Mme. Fides-Devries and then Breval. At its premiere, the former sang with the de Reszke brothers and Pol Plancon...The extended selection from WERTHER gives us one of the famous operatic letter scenes. It is followed by the Air des Larmes (act 3). Charlotte broods sadly over a letter from the distant Werther. Her young sister breaks in on her weeping. Says Charlotte, 'The tears one sheds one may brush away; it is the unshed tears that break a heart.'
Lalo's ROI D'YS (1888), colorful and intense, is founded on a medieval Breton legend which also served as the basis for Debussy's CATHEDRALE ENGLOUTIE. The subject matter of the duet is strangely similar to the one in WERTHER, but the personalities here are more passionate and violent, and the music heaves like the baleful waves that strain at the city's weakened dykes. In the Met's 1921/22 season, Ponselle played the role assumed here by Cernay. Frances Alda was her sister, Gigli was the lover, Danise the villain, and Leon Rothier the King.
The LAKME Act I duet presents Lakme and her slave, Mallika, in a flowery grove in a pseudo-Oriental setting much favored by composers during the latter half of the 19th century. The charming undulant theme represents the stream in which they are about to bathe.
The songs, like the opera selections, take us back to an era of posturing rhetoric and perfumed phrases, largely impressionistic mood pieces to texts of Lamartine, de L'isle, de Musset, Baudelaire, Hugo, etc...ABSENCE has a text by the 'art for art's sake' poet Theophile Gautier. It embodies yearning for a 'ferne Geliebte.' The music has been sung by every type of voice including Maggie Teyte, Edmond Clement, Eleanor Steber, Victoria de los Angeles, Roland Hayes. The accompanying orchestra here is more expressive and to be preferred to the piano accompanied versions, according to Pierre Bernac...LE NIL, to a text by D'Armand Renaud, was composed by Xavier Lerou, a pupil of Massenet's, an opera and operetta composer (LA REINE FIAMMETTE), and a composer of many songs. Among the artists who were partial to this languid favorite were Vallin, Gluck, Nespoulos, McCormack...LA CLOCHE is one of Saint-Saens' fifty songs. It is set to words of Victor Hugo whom the composer idolized. It tells of the poet's fellow-feeling for the church bell hanging high in its tower. It, too, is filled with many voices though it sleeps now in the twilighL it vibrates perpetually as does the poet, with love and proclaims its adoration to the heavens. The chords in the music suggest the bell. Among other singers who liked this broad, attractive melody was Suzanne Brohly.
1. SALTIMBANQUES (Ganne):C'EST L'AMOUR QUI FLOTTE (Valse) Od. 123544
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