Jean Borthayre, Baritone (1901-1984)
Charles Gounod FAUST
Avant de quitter ces lieux
Conducted by André Cluytens
My personal opinion: René Leibowitz' 1951 recording of UN BALLO IN MASCHERA is a curiosity: Some second-rate singers try desperately to do justice to Verdi and his masterpiece, conducted by Leibowitz, as if it were an operetta by Offenbach. The whole production seems to be disorganized and chaotic; the italian pronunciation of the tenor Joachim Kerol is ridiculous, the voice itself is squeaking and squawking. Also the soprano Ethel Semser seems to sit on a bed of nails. It is the funniest performance I've ever heard in a production under the supervision of a world-famous conductor (apart from Anna Moffo's desperate attempt to seduce as THAIS in the infamous Julius Rudel debacle). Among all this shortcomings, one voice is prominent and dominated the scene, those of the french Baritone Jean Borthayre, who sings Renato with moderate gesture: Deeply aggrieved in the second act after he discovers his own wife in the arms of his friend; imperious and with scary intensity in the third act, when he decides to take bitter revenge ("Alzati!"). Even though his italian is not entirely idiomatic, he knows how to give the music of Verdi a touch of french nobility.
The career of this Baritone began very late: Born 1901 in the Basque Region, he began to study voice when he was already thirty-five-year-old. Borthayre was mainly a self-taught singer, his only teacher was his own wife. The war delayed his progress, and he gave his first performance at the age of fourty as Massenet's Hérode in Toulouse. After the war, Borthayre began touring in french-speaking countries. When he made his first important recordings, he was already 50, singing the priest Nilhakantha in the famous Mado Robin LAKMÉ under Georges Sebastian and Zurga in Leibowitz' production of Bizet's LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES. He was Valentin at the age of 52 in André Cluytens' first studio recording of FAUST with De los Angeles, Gedda and Christoff. For the second stereo version, Jean Borthayre was replaced with the more crude Ernest Blanc. In the legendary production of MANON with De los Angeles and Henri Legay, Borthyare sang Le Comte Des Grieux, age 54. Two years later, he portrayed the prince Karnac in the unsurpassed recording of Lalo's LE ROI D'YS (a great opera to re-discover) with the mighty Rita Gorr as evil Magared and Henri Legay, singing a heartwarming Aubade ("Vainement, ma bien-amée"). It is a pity, that Borthayre was not available for the 1948 Cluytens-recording of LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN to sing the four villains. In my opinion, it's the best rendition of the Guiraud-Edition, and the only one, that preserves the great Opéra-Comique tradition - with some actors singing supporting roles, above all the unique André Bourvil as the four servants. In 1951, Jean Borthayre made his debut in Paris as Valentin. At both great houses he sang until 1968, then he retired from stage.
With his musical refinement and impecciable diction, Borthayre became the "epidome of the french style" (Wikipedia). Most interesting are excerpts from Rossini's GUILLAUME TELL, in which Borthayre sings a dominant Tell. The rare recording also brings us the encounter with Tony Poncet, a tenor we will meet soon in this series. Jean Borthayre limited his sphere of France, and he became one of the last representatives of the old french tradition. A few years later, even the French Opéra was internationalized and lost much of its original character. If you would like to hear more of the old french style, ignore the recordings of the 1960s and 1970s, and go (for example) to the 1947/48 recording of FAUST with Georges Noré or listen to Georges Thill and Ninon Vallin in WERTHER (1931).
Jean Borthayre died in 1984.