Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Victor Masse: Galathee

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Victor Masse: Galathee

Article excerpt

Victor Masse: Galathee (complete); (1) Les noces de Jeannette (complete); (2) appendix with Galathee excerpts (3) and Les noces de Jeannette excerpts. (4) Marston 55010-2 (3 CDs).

Marston's reissue will probably appeal mainly to those members who collect records made during the acoustic era by Pathe artists. This audience will include those who want listenable copies of the Pathe Your Home Theater series. The original sets were bulky and, although cast with prominent artists and well performed, were afflicted with the erratic sound quality that characterized the company's French and Italian products. (5) The primitive system used to transfer sound from the master cylinders to discs--Marston describes it as akin to empty cans at the ends of a string--resulted in records that can at one moment display the bandwidth clarity of the best hill-and-dale recordings and in the next the bumps and groans that tax the hearing of even one accustomed to acoustic recordings. Marston, therefore, combines the best moments from multiple copies of original discs to achieve his rather remarkable results. Certainly these CDs contain much better-sounding transfers of the two complete operas than any of the previously distributed reissues of the Pathe Operas that were briefly available on imported LP labels (chiefly Bourg (6)).


Innumerable versions and variations of the Pygmalion and Galatea story have been used by artists, authors, composers, dramatists, and poets over the centuries since its birth in Greek mythology. In the basic story the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with his statue of a beautiful woman. Through the intercession of the goddess Venus the statue is brought to life. In the happy-ending version the two are united and presumably live happily ever after. Ovid credited them with a son and daughter. The basic twist on the happy-ending story--as used by Masse--has Galatea so capricious that Pygmalion persuades the goddess to turn her back into a statue. Masse s Galathee was his first great success; some compared him with Gounod. The opera is melodic no doubt, but I find it rather pallid. It lacks the sparkle and wit that a composer such as Offenbach would have brought to the subject.

Jane Morlet achieved stardom on the opera stage during the first decade of the 20th Century. Her performances as Galathee evoked praise from audiences and critics alike. She was, therefore, an excellent, and obvious, choice for the name role when Pathe decided to record the opera. She sings the part with charm and a fine lyrical sense. Andre Gresse, the rough-voiced Mephistopheles of the Pathe Faust recording, contributes a dignified, if rather wooden style to his role of Pygmalion. The two tenor parts, Midas (Alex Jouvin) and Ganymede (Albert Vaguet) are capably handled, especially in the case of Vaguet, who enjoyed an extensive recorded repertory as "the most recorded tenor in France." (7)

Les noces de Jeannette

Les noces de Jeannette was Masses most popular (and arguably best) composition for the stage. The music is spritely and quite charming. Although critics pooh-poohed the simple plot--Humbley's liner notes call it naive7--that librettists Barbier and Carre cribbed from Moliere, audiences were enthusiastic. It achieved successful performances over many years. The story involves a pair of villagers, Jean and Jeannette. Jean runs away from the altar where he is supposed to marry Jeannette. She pursues him, and after a number of conventional operatic difficulties, the lovers are united and the wedding bells ring out.

Many of her admirers contend that Ninon Vallin was the best French soprano to be heard during the first half of the 20th Century. Certainly she was among the leading artists of her generation. Her extensive discography amply documents her large operatic and concert repertory. Jeannette was not one of her major roles, but she makes her part most enjoyable. Mme. …

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