|Le Chevalier des Grieux|
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The tale of Louis Cazette (1887-1922) is a frustrating and heartbreaking one. It is the story of a man who should have (and probably would have) become the greatest French lyric tenor of his generation. If not for a series of unfortunate events, the story would have turned out quite differently…
Cazette was born Victor Louis Camille Peault in Nantes. As a small child, he moved with his family to Paris, where he received his musical training. Although he enlisted in the French army in his late teens, he never lost his interest in singing and continued to pursue his vocal studies. Cazette entered the Conservatoire National de Musique at the relatively late age of 25 and studied with tenor Albert Saléza. Upon his graduation in in the spring of 1914, he was poised to begin his career at the Opéra-Comique. However, the First World War erupted that summer and Cazette, a member of the army reserve, was immediately called to action. The would be tenor spent four and a half years in the service of France and, miraculously, managed to emerge from the war unscathed. At the war’s conclusion, Cazette returned to Paris, where he was immediately contracted by the Opéra-Comique. He made his debut there on June 14, 1919 as Le Noctambule in Charpentier’s Louise. Since the Opéra-Comique was a true repertory company, Cazette sang a number of roles, both big and small, including Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Gérald in Lakmé, Wilhelm Meister in Mignon, des Grieux in Manon, Vincent in Mireille, Ferrando in Così fan Tutte, Ottavio in Don Giovanni and sang comprimario roles in the premieres of three new works, Gismonda, Le Sauteriot and Lorenzaccio.
Cazette’s final performance was an April 28, 1922 performance of Don Giovanni. Two days later, he was dead. The official cause of death was tetanus…lockjaw. The details of Cazette’s final days are shrouded in mystery. Two official stories were circulated by the Opéra-Comique. The first had Cazette contracting an infection after cutting his finger while changing a flat tire on his bicycle. The other version of events claimed that the tenor had punctured his finger on a nail while hanging a picture on the wall of his Paris home. One wonders why Cazette’s employers were unable to decide upon just one story…
The truth of the matter, according to Cazette’s daughter in law, was that the tenor was accidentally wounded in the hand by a rusty prop trident during a rehearsal. The artist carrying the trident was André Baugé (1893-1966), a young baritone being nurtured by the Opéra-Comique. Following Cazette’s death, the company hastily issued a story…which inadvertently became TWO stories…in order to cover up Baugé’s involvement and protect the young artist (and themselves) from scandal.
Although it is indeed tragic, heartbreaking and just plain unfair that Louis Cazette’s potential was never fully realized, it is also extraordinary that he is remembered at all. Cazette’s career lasted less than three years and was almost exclusively confined to a single company. His repertoire barely surpassed a dozen roles, several of which were comprimario parts in obscure works. The tenor was never given the chance to prove himself in a wide variety of roles on the international opera scene. Be that as it may, Cazette was one of the finest lyric tenors to emerge from France in the first quarter of the 20th century and undoubtedly would have enjoyed a major career had he not been cut down at the tragically unfulfilled age of 34.
Louis Cazette left a pitifully small recorded legacy…less than a dozen sides…made for HMV between 1920 and 1922. In these recordings, we hear an uncommonly beautiful voice, capable of a ravishing mezza voce as well as thrilling top notes with plenty of ring. It is some of the finest singing one will ever hear on records from a French tenor, bar none, and we are lucky to have these few recordings with which to remember this great artist. Here, Cazette sings "Ah! fuyez, douce image" from Massenet's opera Manon. This recording was made at the Paris studios of the Gramophone Company on May 31, 1921.
Ah! fuyez, douce image, à mon âme trop chère;
respectez un repos cruellement gagné,
et songez si j'ai bu dans une voupe amère.
que mon cœur l'emplirait de ce qu'il a saigné!
Ah! fuyez! fuyez! loin de moi!
Que m'importe la vie et ce semblant de gloire?
Je ne veux que chasser du fond de ma mémoire...
Un nom maudit! … ce nom … qui m'obsède, et pourquoi?
LE PORTIER DU SÉMINAIRE
J'y vais!... Mon Dieu!
De votre flamme
purifiez mon âme...
Et dissipez à sa lueur
l'ombre qui passe encor dans le fond de mon cœur!...
Ah! fuyez, douce image, à mon âme trop chère!
Ah fuyez! fuyez! loin de moi! etc.
LE PORTIER DU SÉMINAIRE
Il est jeune … et sa foi semble sincère …
il a fait grand émoi parmi les plus belles de nos fidèles!
Ah! Vanish sweet memory too dear to my heart;
respect a calm won through much suffering,
and remember that if I have tasted of a bitter cup,
my heart could fill it full with the blood it has shed!
Ah! Vanish, vanish, go far from me!
Life itself and sham glory mean nothing to me.
I want only to expel from the depths of my memory...
A cursed name!... this name... which obsesses me, and why?
PORTER OF THE SEMINARY
The service is beginning.
I'm on my way... Heavenly Father!
With Your fire
purify my soul!
and by its light dispel
the shadow that still lurks in the depths of my heart!
Ah! Vanish, sweet memory, too dear to my heart.
Vanish, vanish, go far away from me! etc.
PORTER OF THE SEMINARY
He is young... and his faith appears sincere...
He created a great stir among the most
beautiful ladies among our faithful!