Régine Crespin - A Portrait
Crespin—in one's memory immediately comes the image of warm femininity, slightly nervous sensuality, a voice of great beauty, not always under perfect control but with a generosity and majesty about the phrasing and diction. These records for EMI were made between 1958 and 1972; at the same time she recorded a good deal for Decca and if one were choosing examples of her art for an ideal portrait one would need to hear her as the Marschallin, either in the complete Solti version (3/87) or even better the highlights under Varviso with the incomparable Octavian of Soderstrom (3/65—nla), and of course her much admired versions of Ravel's Sheherazade and Berlioz's
The first is devoted to Verdi. The most important item is the beautiful Willow Song and Ave Maria, with Ackermann, from her first studio session. When Poulenc chose her the year before to sing Mme Lidoine in the French premiere of Carmelites, it was as a result of hearing her as Desdemona at L'Opera. I don't think she ever sang Aida on stage, and certainly not Lady Macbeth, Eboli or Elisabeth de Valois. Her account of ''Ritorna vincitor'' is nobly phrased, the Sleepwalking Scene from Macbeth very slow but with a real dream-world quality, ''O don fatale'' surprisingly vehement and a heartfelt ''Tu che le vanita''—Karajan wanted her for a Don Carlo, but it never came to pass. There are moments of great beauty, individual phrases, characterful notes in every aria, yet one would not choose any of these Verdi arias as an ideal—her near contemporaries Callas, Price and Caballe all steal a march.
It is a completely different story when one gets to the second disc. Here in Mathilde's aria from Guillaume Tell and Marguerite's lament from La damnation de Faust one gets a taste of her real strength. Then comes the famous Wagner recital. When Crespin auditioned for Wieland Wagner at Bayreuth she was 29 and already a leading soprano in Paris. He declared that he had had enough of dark voices for Kundry and chose Crespin. ''I want a sunny voice, Mediterranean like yours, as golden as your hair,'' he said. She sang Kundry and Sieglinde at Bayreuth for several seasons; for Anglo-American ears her diction sounds excellent, though I suppose for German audiences there is a hint of a southern accent. What could be more appropriate for the seductress in Parsifal or the sequence of
The third CD is my favourite, a song recital with John Wustman and Janine Reiss accompanying. No doubt her performance of Schumann's
The Duparc songs with Reiss were not issued at the time of recording in 1972, presumably something else had been intended to make a second LP side. The voice had gained more of a beat by then, especially noticeable in the opening
The fourth CD is a bit of a rag-bag, extracts from three selections of opera highlights. The first, and often reissued, recordings of scenes from Les troyens finds Crespin reserved and very good as Cassandre, a role she undertook in the USA and at the Theatro Colon, Buenos Aires, but not, I think, in France. Inexplicably the editors cut in to Dido's big Act 5 scene at ''Je vais mourir'', depriving us of the dramatic preceding recitative. The two arias and duet from Massenet's Herodiade find Albert Lance in fine voice as Jean; what a pity this was not a complete recording (the original LP also featured Rita Gorr as Herodiade herself). As for Tosca in French, it is understandable to want to end with Crespin's ''D'art et d'amour''—it was the role in which she made her Parisian debut at the Opera Comique—but the scenes with Cavaradossi (Paul Finel) and Scarpia (Rene Bianco) sound rather prosaic. Better to have included something from Carmelites. Crespin described the microphone as ''Mon cher cauchemar (nightmare)'' and recording as ''a torture''. So, certainly, she was always at her best on stage or platform but the presence of this most graceful and communicative of prima donnas is felt throughout these discs.'