Friday, June 10th, 2011...10:01 am
Something I sang, that I don’t sing any more
Gilbert Duprez was a superstar in the Bel Canto age of opera. The first tenor to sing a high C in chest voice, his darker, stentorian vocal technique ushered in the sound we now associate with dramatic tenor roles, and set in motion the singing style which made roles like Verdi’s Otello possible. After considerable success singing in Italy and solidifying his new approach to the upper voice, Duprez returned in 1837 to his native France to sing Arnold in Guillaume Tell at the Opéra “…achieving immediate and overwhelming success with Paris audiences. His ‘chest’ C, in spite of the disappointment of Rossini, who compared it to ‘the squawk of a capon with its throat cut’, aroused wild enthusiasm and affected the taste of the public…” (For more information about Mr. Duprez’s career, please consult The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, where you will find an extensive bibliography.) The role made his career, and he went on to create many tenor roles in Paris and London.
Eminent musicologist John M. Ward has recently donated an autograph album to Houghton, which was compiled by Félix Le Couppey, pianist and teacher at the Paris Conservatory. Included in this album is an autograph from Duprez in 1879, long after his singing career was over, with a musical incipit from the role which had made his career so many years before: “Here is something I sang, that I don’t sing any more, and that I’ll never sing again!” That famous high C that Rossini so despised, but which drove audiences mad. Lucky for us that Duprez knew a good thing when he sang it.