By the end of the nineteenth century France had built a solid national operatic industry. Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet (1842 – 1912) along with Jacques Offenbach (1819 -1880) and Léo Delibes (1836 – 1891) contributed to the establishment of the French opera tradition called opéra comique1. Since its premier in 1884 Manon has become one of the most emblematic Massenet’s works.
This historical performance project approaches the performance practice of the French operatic tradition of the nineteenth century, intending to open a discussion regarding the notion of authenticity in representing the composer’s true intentions manifested in the printed text. Historical recordings of the early twentieth century of French arias exhibit nuances, tones and colours that often are not portrayed by modern practitioners in their interpretation of nineteenth century French operas. Although the term authentic is debatable, there are a number of musical elements that can be seen from the analysis of early twentieth century recordings, these facts can provide testimony of the performance standards of the time when the composition originated.
One of the most prominent arias among all is Je marche sur tous les chemins “I walk on all the paths” from the third act sung by Manon. In 1943 Sir Thomas Beecham made a recording featuring the Brazilian soprano Bidu Sayao (1902 -1999). As a practice-led research approach I aim to focus on musical criteria such as tempo markings, tempo modifications, dislocation, displacement as well as rhythm and speed of the phrases in order to establish performance practice of the French opera tradition of the nineteenth century. With this I will bring practical insights as a result of imitating, experimenting, emulating, realising and disseminating the performance standards of the French opera of the nineteenth century as seen in the early-twentieth century audio recordings. The aim of the analysis of this material is to highlight key elements that illustrate the performance practice of the French opera.
1 S. Huebner, French Opera at the Fin De Siècle (Oxford University Press, 2006).
2 Annegret Fauser, Patrick Gillis, and Hugh Macdonald, “Massenet, Jules,” (Oxford University Press, 2001).
3 Helen M. Greenwald and Mary Hunter, “Historically Informed Performance,” (Oxford University Press, 2015).
4 C. Lawson and R. Stowell, The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 1999).
5 Fauser, Annegret, Patrick Gillis, and Hugh Macdonald. “Massenet, Jules.” Oxford University Press, 2001.
6 Greenwald, Helen M., and Mary Hunter. “Historically Informed Performance.” Oxford University Press, 2015.
7 Huebner, S. French Opera at the Fin De Siècle. Oxford University Press, 2006.
8 Lawson, C., and R. Stowell. The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 1999.