I am a devotee of French Grand Opera, so A Tribute to Gilbert Duprez by American tenor John Osborn certainly set the pulse racing. This Delos album is part of a flurry of recordings released this year, which pay homage to the golden era of French Grand Opera, among them recitals by Diana Damrau (Meyerbeer – Grand Opera on Erato), Michael Spyres (Espoir on Opera Rara), Joyce El-Khoury (Écho on Opera Rara) and Jonas Kaufmann (L’Opéra on Sony).
Renowned Parisian tenor Gilbert-Louis Duprez (1806-1896), a “pop star” of his day, is best remembered for heroically producing celebrated high Cs from the chest voice. He debuted in 1825. His relative lack of proficiency in the bel canto technique, notably elaborate coloratura, so he had only limited success in Paris. Consequently, in an attempt to practice a more full-bodied style of singing prevalent in Italian opera, in 1828 he moved to Italy. There, his career took a decidedly upward turn, including premièring three Donizetti roles in Florence. After he established a reputation in Italy, Duprez’s return to Paris in 1837 was enough to send celebrated Montpellier-born tenor Adolphe Nourrit into mental turmoil and. In 1839 Nourrit fell to his death from a hotel room. Duprez developed remarkably with composers Donizetti (6), Halévy (3), Berlioz (1), Auber (1) and Verdi (1) all creating roles for him to première.
Osborn’s album contains nine arias taken from seven operas written by renowned composers Verdi, Donizetti, Berlioz and Rossini. All the arias are from roles that Duprez premièred, except for the Arnold aria from Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. He did sing the role at the Italian première. I find these are well chosen arias highly rewarding, especially as the programme is a mix of arias from operas that are occasionally encountered to rarities virtually never performed. I first came across the voice of John Osborn in his splendid portrayal of rebel highlander chief Rodrigo in Paul Curran’s 2015 staging of Rossini’s dramatic two act opera La Donna del Lago (The Lady of the Lake) at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. With a cast that includes Joyce DiDonato, Daniela Barcellona and Juan Diego Flórez, the performance is available on Erato DVD/Blu-ray. I reviewed it last year.
Osborn is very much at home in this repertoire. For example, he has sung the role of Arnold in Guillaume Tell to great acclaim under Antonio Pappano. That is available as live recordings: at Sala Santa Cecilia, Rome (on CD), and at Royal Opera House, London (on an Opus Arte DVD/BluRay). In these challenging arias Osborn gives a wholehearted performance of the quality we have come to expect from this excellent tenor. He takes the technical challenges in stride. His conspicuous bright tone has an impressive purity, and he sings with sensitivity and admirable phrasing.
The first of my highlights is Gaston’s act-two recitative and aria Je veux encore entendre ta voix (I want to hear your tender voice again) from Verdi’s Jérusalem. Singing with spellbinding expression as the incarcerated Gaston who pines for Hélène’s love, Osborn demonstrates lovely urgent slides to his top register achieving such brilliant high Cs. Notable too is Fernand’s memorable act-four aria Ange si pur (Angel so pure) from Donizetti’s La favorite. It is sung with intense feeling by Osborn as the heartbroken Fernand in love with Léonor, who feels betrayed by discovering she is the king’s mistress. Gloriously sung, it is a moving performance which feels especially well projected.
From Guillaume Tell buoyed by returning to his father’s former home, Arnold sings his memorable act four recitative and aria with chorus Asile héréditaire (Ancestral refuge)… Amis, amis, secondez ma vengeance! (Friends, friends, join in my revenge!). Striking in this demanding scene is Osborn’s steadfast projection, unwavering quality and how with intense conviction he produces such a dramatic heroic character. Inspiring too is the well-drilled Kaunas State Chorus who make a considerable impact.
Securely directed by the experienced Constantine, Orbelian the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra hardly put a foot wrong. They play with vitality and commitment. Recorded in studio conditions on the stage of Kaunas Philharmonic, Lithuania, the sound is first-class, especially clear and lifelike, maintaining an excellent balance between voices and orchestra. The album documentation is a model of excellence. A booklet essay by Lindsay Koob contains an introductory article about Duprez and helpful programme notes which place each aria in the context of the opera. There also are concise biographies of Osborn, the conductor, chorus and orchestra. Gratifyingly, full sung texts are included together with English translations.
One wishes the album had included additional arias from Halévy roles associated with Duprez, perhaps Elazar the Jewish Goldsmith from the masterwork La Juive and Chevalier Gérard from La reine de Chypre. Maybe also one of Albert’s arias from Auber’s Le lac des fées a role which Duprez created. Owing to the considerable scope of Duprez roles I hope Delos consider a second volume.
This quite outstanding new Delos recording, A Tribute to Gilbert Duprez should win French Grand Opera and tenor John Osborn many new admirers.