David Devriès, Tenor (1881-1936)
Francois-Adrien Boieldieu: LA DAME BLANCHE
"O moment pleine de charmes" (Rêverie/Dreamery of George Brown)
Édouard Lalo: LE ROI D'YS
"Vainement, ma bien aimée" (Aubade/Morning love song of Mylio)
Recorded 1909 (acoustic)
My personal opinion: In Massenet's opera THAIS, the Egyptian courtesan sings to her former lover Nicias a melancholic farewell: "Demain, je ne serai pour toi qu'un nom" ("Tomorrow, I will be for you only a name"). The French tenor David Devriès often sang the role of the young nobleman Nicias, but all that's left of him today is ... only a name - if at all! Many early-20th-century tenors are now forgotten. In case of Devriès it's all the more regrettable, since he was one of the most interesting stylists France has ever produced.
While you read these lines, you listen to the voice of David Devriès. Please don't jump to hasty conclusions. I'm not surprised if you are not thrilled by what you hear. At first it seems, there is not much attractiveness to find. Listen carefully: If just one word is to be used to describe the singing of this man, it must be 'graceful' ...
For modern listeners, Devriès may sound strange and mannered. Today we're accustomed to the fat sound, screamed by 'urlatori' with overloud voices. And if a singer's vocal chords are not mighty enough, sound amplifiers come into play. Hard to believe nowadays, but there really was a time when singing was an intimate art for spoiled ears, a time when singers not had to shout or scream to be heard ...
There is no way around it, one must admit that the nature-given material in Devriès throat was not particularly impressing. If you hear his recordings, you may think his singing was somewhat palish. Or you feel disturbed by his fast vibrato. However, it was admirable how David Devriès compensated his shortcomings by technical skills, a brilliant head voice and elegance. Only rarely we can hear such a magnificent 'voix mixte', for instance in Lalo's "Aubade" from LE ROI D'YS, in Massenet's "En fermant les yeux" from MANON, in "Je crois entendre encore" from Bizet's LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES or in the "Rêverie" from Boieldieu's romantic opera LA DAME BLANCHE; Devriès' most famous recording. Clifford Williams, author of a Adelina Patti biography, wrote: "Whenever the Boieldieu-aria is mentioned among record collectors, the name of David Devriès immediately springs to mind. It's not surprising. His rendition displays most of the qualities that were a feature of this fine French tenor: The lovely use of the head register, the genuine trills ..."
Devriès was a 'ténor léger', in Italy called 'tenore leggiero' or, with a mocking undertone, 'tenorino', a little tenor - what sounds a bit unspectacular. But was true artistry not always unspectacular? Pianist Arthur Rubinstein once said, true art is never intrusive, true art goes without grand gestures. Even in his time, Devriès was something for connoisseurs with his enchanting middle register and floating trills - the "Rêverie" is a telling example. Please note, how Devriès turned the nonchalant phrase "Tra, la, la, la" into a charming vocalise.
Throughout his career, the tenor was close connected with his homeland. He made his debut in 1904 as Gérald in Delibes' LAKME at the Théâtre de Montparnasse. Realizing, his voice was not sufficient enough for the Grand Opéra House, he went to the Opéra Comique, where he sang Vincent in MIREILLE, Wilhelm Meister in MIGNON, Werther, des Grieux in MANON, Julien in LOUISE and Georges Brown in LA DAME BLANCHE. In his early years he had to perform some unsuitable roles (Turiddu, Pinkerton), but he found his identification in the French operas, oratorios and mélodies. His recording legacy proves his always apparent sense of style. Just listen, how exquisite he ends the Flower Song from CARMEN with an enchanting phrasing and a soft high B flat in pianissimo: "Et jétais une chose á toi ..."
Towards the end of his career he suffered from leukemia and died 1936 in Paris. According to some experts, Devriès stands alone in the lyrical French repertoire - and we may assume, these experts have not overlooked his more famous contemporaries Albert Vaguet (1865-1943) and Louis Cazette (1887-1922).