Victor Maurel: a melodramatic artist

Victor Maurel (1848 – 1923) was born in Marseille and lived in Monte Carlo as a boy, where his father was one of the engineers who built the casino. He first studied in his hometown before entering the Paris Conservatoire in 1866, where he received the first prize in singing. He made his debut in 1867 in the title role of Guillaume Tell at Marseille and the same year he took part in the Paris premiere of Don Carlos: the Director of the Paris Opera had requested the Director of the Conservatoire six young students to perform as the Flemish envoys. In 1868 he began his career at the the Paris Opera, where he debuted as Le Comte de Nevers in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots and as Le Comte de Luna in Verdi’s Le Trouvère, the French version of Il trovatore; he soon added Alfonso in La Favorite and Nelusko in L’Africaine.

Victor Maurel | Reflections on vocal art

At that time, the baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure was the glory of the theater and Maurel was unable to create a place for himself. After appearing at the Monnaie in Brussels, he obtained leave of absence and went to Italy in 1870 where, despite his youth and inexperience, he was soon engaged at La Scala in Milan to participate in the world premiere of Il Guarany by Brazilian composer Gomes. He appeared frequently in Rome, Naples, Florence, Trieste and Venice in a repertory that included Don Carlos, La Favorita, Don Giovanni, Rigoletto and Lohengrin in Italian. In 1871 he sang Rodrigo in the Italian premiere of Verdi’s Don Carlo at the San Carlo in Naples and the following year he made his Covent Garden debut as Renato in Un ballo in maschera. In 1873 he took part in the world premiere of Fosca, by Gomes, with Gabrielle Krauss in the title role and performed at the first production of Lohengrin at La Scala, in Italian, with Italo Campanini and Gabrielle Krauss. The same year he sailed for the United States with Christine Nilsson under the management of Maurice Strakosch and sang Amonasro at the New York’s Academy of Music, in the local premiere of Aida. Lohengrin premiered in the United Kingdom at the Covent Garden on 1875, in Italian, and the cast included Ernesto Nicolini as Lohengrin, Emma Albani as Elsa, Anna D’Angeri as Ortruda, Maurel as Telramund, and Wladyslaw Seideman as Heinrich. The next year Maurel was Wolfram in the premiere of Tannhauser in the same theater and in 1877 he was also the first Covent Garden Flying Dutchman.

Some accounts tell that Wagner heard him sing in The Flying Dutchman in Italian and was so favorably impressed that he asked him to come to see him. Maurel sang several passages from the opera at the composer’s request. When he stopped, Wagner was deeply moved and went to draw a curtain at the end of the room where he had gathered the principal members of Maurel’s troupe. Wagner spoke to them of the performance in the highest terms, saying that no other singer had ever penetrated so deeply into the meaning of the part.

In those days in London there was an artist whose influence upon Maurel seems to have been profoundly beneficial: Henry Irving, one of the most important Shakespearean actors of the 19th century, the first British actor to be knighted and an artist who used to take charge of almost every aspect of the productions in which he appeared. His career and his work on the stage where attentively observed by the baritone, who would later go on to develop his own Shakespearean creations. According to his son Berty, Maurel also turned to a Russian painter who was living in the city and with whom he spent a year immersed in studies that included painting, the study of the body and gesture, the great theatrical masterpieces and the history of costume, theater and culture. By this account, it seems that by the end of this year Maurel was ready to return to his career no longer as a mere singer but as a complete interpreter.

Auguste Vaucorbeil, the new director of the Paris Opera, asked the now rising star to return to the theater as Don Giovanni but Maurel wanted to come back as Hamlet, a role that had been created by Jean-Baptiste Faure at the Opera in 1868. This confrontational choice was much discussed by the press. After nearly ten years of absence, Maurel apeared in Paris in the revival of Ambroise Thomas’s work with his own interpretation of the Shakespearean part, informed by an English experience that was unknown to the French singers. In contrast with the approach of Faure, who had never been a gifted actor, and influenced by Henry Irving, who in 1874 had premiered a Hamlet notable for its simple costume and avoidance of the role’s conventions, his success as a singing actor was immediate. Journalists wrote about a singer who was influenced by the latest developments in Shakespearean acting, who introduced a new melancholy and restraint to the part and some new physical and even spoken effects. “It was no longer a singer who pretended to be Hamlet, it was a Hamlet who sang,” one critic wrote.

The available information indicates that Verdi seems to have seen and enjoy Hamlet at the Paris Opera when he was at the theater overseeing preparations for a new Aida. Maurel was still performing the main role, at the time with Massenet’s future Manon, Marie Heilbron. Within two weeks of being in Paris, Verdi casted Maurel as Amonasro in the Aida production. The Opera had tried for many years to get permission to stage the work and it was determined to make a statement. Verdi was asked to expand the Act II ballet and the theatre consulted the Egyptian galleries and Egyptologists at the Louvre and created its own ceremonial trumpets. Maurel fell ill and Verdi decided to delay the premiere until he was better. Under Verdi’s baton, with Gabrielle Krauss as Aida, Rosine Bloch as Amneris and Henri Sellier as Radames, the representations were a total success and Maurel appears to have stolen the show. Previous Amonasros such as Pandolfini had traditionally appeared in elegant, regal costumes. Maurel decided to enter the stage with only a cloak and a loincloth, with blacked-up limbs and bare head. These are the accounts of two critics of the day:

“[M. Maurel] has put together the role of Amonasro with real superiority. Wonderfully made-up and costumed, his entrance in the second act when, loaded down with chains and resisting the soldiers who lead him, he enters behind the victory chariot, had a striking effect […] finally, the third act, which is almost entirely his, was a great triumph for the singer, whose intelligence and [vocal] suppleness we have praised in previous articles. M. Maurel has a great advantage over many of his colleagues: a clear diction which, while obeying the laws of musical accentuation, does not allow a syllable of the text to be lost.”

“M. Maurel is superb in the fierce guise of the terrible king of Ethiopia and must be making M. Mounet-Sully of the Comédie-Française jealous… There are passages that he not only sings remarkably, but in which he brings out certain words with an incomparable artistry.”

Writing from Paris in March 1880 with his first ever comments about Maurel, Verdi described him to Maria Waldmann, Clara Maffei, Giuseppe Piroli, and Ferdinand Hiller as “excellent,” “stupendous,” “very good” and an “uncommon artist.” Some months later, and in a reference to Maurel’s Hamlet or Amonasro, he made his first remarks about his acting and his “pronunciation” or “enunciation”: writing to Ricordi on November 1880, Verdi claimed that “[Maurel is an] exception above all because of his enunciation [dicitura]. I have never heard any Artist carry their words to the ears of the Public with such clarity and expression as Maurel does. Anyone, anyone.”

Verdi engaged Maurel to sing the title role of the revised Simon Boccanegra at La Scala in 1881. The first performance took place on March 24 with a cast including Maurel, Tamagno and Édouard de Reszke. Verdi wrote to Opprandino Arrivabene on March 25, 1881:

“Even before last night’s performance I would have told you, if I had had time to write to you, that the broken legs of old “Boccanegra” seemed to me to have been well repaired. Yesterday’s success confirms me in my opinion. So, a very good performance on the part of everyone: stupendous on the part of the protagonist (Maurel); an excellent success.”

The baritone’s work also evoked on the composer, writing to a friend, the following words: “It’s a pity you did not come to Milan, for, if you had, you would have seen an altogether extraordinary actor-singer. Maurel is a Simone Boccanegra whose equal I shall never see.” On 31 March 1881, Maurel wrote to the Parisian salon hostess Marie Trélat: “I’m bringing back from Milan one very keen regret, that of not having had you in the audience for one of the Simon Boccanegra performances. Verdi thinks that in this new creation I’ve surpassed the great impression my Hamlet made on him.”

Thus began the association of Verdi with Maurel, that would led to the creation of Iago in Otello in 1887 and of the title-role in Falstaff in 1893. The baritone would sing both roles throughout the opera world, in Paris, St. Petersburg, Vienna, London and New York, always to great acclaim.

In 1883 he put into execution a long-considered project for a theater of his own that should exemplify his ideas of the proper production of opera. He attempted to revive under his management the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris and engaged a company of splendid artists such as Marcella Sembrich, Ernesto Nicolini, Julián Gayarre, Félia Litvinne and Jean and Édouard de Reszke. There he staged the first French production of Lohengrin and of the revised Simon Boccanegra and several world premieres. He also oversaw the Paris debut of Emma Calvé, who writes in her memoir:

“While I was still a pupil of Madame Marchesi, I was engaged by Victor Maurel to create the leading role in Theodore Dubois’ opera Aben-Hamet at the Théâtre des Italiens. He gave me invaluable advice and assistance in developing my own part. I have always been deeply grateful to him for the lessons in lyric declamation which I received from him, and which have greatly influenced my artistic career. […] Victor Maurel, the great tragedian, a man of genius, whose Falstaff and Iago, not to mention his many other brilliant creations, stand alone. His name will remain forever linked with that of Verdi. I have never seen anyone with a more noble presence, a greater dignity of gesture and carriage, on the stage. His dramatic gift was so extraordinary that it dominated the minds of those who saw him, and almost made them forget his voice, which was, nevertheless, of an unusual quality, full of color and exceptionally expressive. The role in which, to my mind, his qualities as a singer showed to best advantage was that of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I can still hear the inimitable manner in which he sang the famous serenade “Deh, vieni alla finestra”. His performance was a marvel of lightness and grace. His diction was always exquisite and enchanting. And his Falstaff! With what elegant fatuity he rendered the air “Quand’ero paggio del Duca di Norfolk”. It was a masterpiece, complete and perfect. He was, as I have said before, my teacher and master in the art of lyric declamation. I was fortunate in making my debut with him in “Aben-Hamet” at the Théâtre des Italiens, of which he was at the time director. I was then very inexperienced, and he had an important and constructive influence on my career. I have an abiding gratitude and admiration for him.”

Into this enterprise Maurel poured his enthusiasm, his energy, his experience and all his savings of fifteen years. The artistic outcome was great but the financial results were a disaster. He resumed his as a singer and after a tour in Spain he sang for two seasons at the Opéra-Comique.

On 22 December 1885, Maurel wrote to Verdi to remind him about a promise he had apparently made almost five years earlier, at the time of the production of Boccanegra —the composer was so pleased with Maurel that it is said he told him ‘If God gives me health, I’ll write Iago for you’. Verdi replied in December 30, 1885:

““Otello” is not quite finished, as has been stated, but it is well on toward the end. […] Before closing this letter I would like to clarify and explain a misunderstanding. I do not believe I ever promised to write for You the part of Iago. It is not my habit to make any promise unless I am very sure I can keep it. But I may very likely have told you the part of Iago was one that perhaps nobody could interpret better than You. If I said that, I confirm it. This, however, does not include a promise: it would be only a very realistic wish, if unforeseen circumstances do not oppose it.”

In the following months Verdi began considering singers for Otello and was given bad reports about the state of Maurel’s voice. On February Verdi wrote to his friend and student Emanuele Muzio: “I am unhappy to hear what you tell me about Maurel, because nobody could do that part as he could. Nobody pronounces so clearly as he; and in this part for Iago there are so many things spoken sotto voce and said rapidly that nobody could do it better.” Verdi decided to go to Paris to hear Maurel and to speak with him. Some days later, Muzio reported to Ricordi: “The maestro is no longer worried. His face is serene again; he is of excellent humor and sounds and sings and repeats and declaims some passages of Iago’s part, which, he says, will be interpreted admirably.”

On 4 November 1886, Verdi wrote to Ricordi: “Once Maurel has studied the music, he will guess the rest and… for him there will be little or nothing to do [at the January rehearsals]. It’s not like this for Tamagno.” A week later, Verdi wrote the editor: “Iago is not performable and it is not possible without pronouncing extraordinarily well, as Maurel does. In that role one should neither sing nor raise one’s voice (save for a few exceptions). For example, if I were a singing actor, I would say everything at the tip of the lips, mezza voce.” Verdi made a last addition to the libretto by mid-December 1886 to include at the end of the Act II Homage Chorus some malicious lines for Iago that had been cut from the end of the Love Duet. The idea came to Verdi while rehearsing Maurel and the composer wrote to Ricordi about it on 15 December 1886. This is the only textual change in the opera known to be suggested by the abilities of a singer.

The first performance of Otello on February 1887 marks also the entrance of Maurel upon the most important period of his career, when every opera house was open to him. During the remaining years of the 19th century, all his great roles were celebrated in South America, North America, England, France and Italy. When Maurel introduced Iago in London in 1889, George Bernard Shaw, the famous playwright and critic, wrote:

“He played like a man who had read Shakespeare and had conceived a Iago with which he was thoroughly preoccupied […] he had got under the skin of it, as the phrase goes. He had, too, emancipated himself from the prompter, and thus left himself nothing to think about but Iago. The result was he made a considerable reputation as an actor by the ordinary standard [of dramatic actors]…”

In Victor Maurel, His career and his art, Francis Rogers tells:

“I heard Maurel for the first time in Boston in February, 1895. The opera was Otello; Maurel was Iago, Tamagno, Othello. I was at that time a young and inexperienced student and had the idea that an opera singer was a vocalist and not much else. In five minutes Maurel had destroyed that illusion conclusively. When I left the theater that night I had learned that the ideal operatic artist —Maurel, for instance— must reinforce the most highly developed qualities of the singer with the most highly developed qualities of the actor. […] It was high tragedy carried through with an overwhelming conviction and sweep. Maurel was the dominating personality of it all, the malignant embodiment of evil, as wilfully destructive in spirit as any Mephistopheles that ever trod the stage. […] It would not be far from the truth if I said that when he was on the stage in any opera he was always the central figure, for he had an extraordinary capacity for drawing to himself the attention of his audiences. Gatti-Casazza corroborates me in this: he writes, “He was the center of the spectacle, even if he was silent and motionless; a center of radiation and attraction. I have rarely seen so powerful and continuous a domination of an audience.””

In 1890, when the composition of Falstaff was still a secret, Maurel sent Verdi a possible source for a libretto, a French version of The Taming of the Shrew. Verdi promptly answered:

“I’ve read the sketch you sent me. Very beautiful! […] The French Poet has adapted it very well and it’s very funny. It’s true Italian opera buffa. Lucky the musician who gets this comedy. But for this comedy we would need Italian Maestri from the end of the last century, or the beginning of ours, Cimarosa, Rossini, Donizetti, etc., etc. —the Composers of current opera are too much harmonists and orchestrists (excuse the phrase) and they do not have the heroic courage de s’effacer 1 when due and maybe of not making music if none is necessary. Instead, music is made today all the time and for everything, harmonies, instrumental impastos, and orchestral sonorities; forgetting (with a few exceptions) the right accent, the sculpting of the characters, and the power and the truth of the dramatic situations. As for me I can’t tell you anything except: “It has arrived too late!””

In 1892 Maurel created the role of Tonio in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. In 1887 Verdi and Maurel were working in Milan and Sonzogno turned to them for help. Maurel insisted in the inclusion of an aria for him and, once the opera was finished, Leoncavallo composed the prologue. Verdi recommended as conductor a young cellist, then a member of the orchestra at La Scala, Arturo Toscanini, and Maurel secured his presence. Pagliacci premiered at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan on 21 May 1892, conducted by Toscanini, with Adelina Stehle (the future Nanetta) as Nedda, Fiorello Giraudas as Canio, Maurel as Tonio, and Mario Ancona as Silvio.

Verdi confided to Maurel that he and Boito had almost completed an operatic version of the story of Falstaff and that they counted on him for the title-role. Before long Verdi sent him the libretto, and wrote to him on 31 October 1892:

“By now you’ll have received from Milan the Falstaff libretto, and little by little, as the music is printed, you’ll receive the part. Study, Examine as much as you like the verses and the words of the libretto, but don’t occupy yourself too much with the music. Don’t think it strange when I tell you: If the music has the desired color; if the character of the role is well sculpted; if the accent of the words is right, the music goes by itself and is born, so to speak, of its own accord. There will perhaps be a few technical difficulties, but there shouldn’t be any difficulties of expression. There will also be intentions, instrumental impasti, colors, etc., etc., etc., but these are difficult to grasp from a Piano Forte reduction. These we will study together.”

And a week later, on 8 November 1892:

“By now you’ll have received from Casa Ricordi several passages of Falstaff, and little by little you’ll receive the others. I admire study in general, and I admire what you’re doing and will do for the role of Falstaff; but be careful! —“In Art, the predominance of the reflective tendency is a sign of decadence”— This means that when art becomes science, the result is a baroquism that is neither art nor science. To do something, yes; to overdo it, no. Even you in France say ne cherchez pas midi à quatorze heures2 Absolutely right! So don’t wear yourself out fixing your voice and use the one you have. With your great talent as a singing-actor, with the accentuation, with the pronunciation that you have, the character of Falstaff, once you’ve learned the part, will emerge beautiful and done, without you racking your brain too much and engaging in studies to falsify the voice… study that could even be harmful. Study little and I’ll see you soon.”

Maurel translated Verdi’s letter into French and drafted a response:

“The role of Falstaff is written so as to inspire in its interpreter elegantly materialistic thoughts; as one gets to know it, one is even amused by what ought to make one cry, and that’s why your letter doesn’t sadden me. Indeed, I want to prove right now that science doesn’t occupy me too much and that I know how to let art speak and take command when necessary. So, not to “look for midday at two o’clock,” I say frankly that I don’t in any way agree with you that “in art, a tendency toward reflection is a sign of decadence.” On the contrary, I’d say that decadence comes about when one doesn’t understand the ideas and needs to which art responds. And, to stay within the limits of this little discussion, to what [ideas and needs] do we owe Otello and Falstaff?… So, dear distinguished Maestro, allow your interpreter ̶o̶f̶ ̶m̶o̶d̶e̶r̶n̶ ̶l̶y̶r̶i̶c̶ ̶d̶r̶a̶m̶a̶ to reflect a little and his successors will perhaps find things easier. Not only that, but it’s because of this tendency toward reflection that I was able to create an Iago that pleased you, and I hope by the same means to please you again with Falstaff—a character [that is] nonetheless the most difficult ̶n̶o̶n̶e̶t̶h̶e̶l̶e̶s̶s̶ to ̶r̶e̶p̶r̶e̶s̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶g̶e̶ establish. That’s why, in spite of the talents you grant me, I doubt that, once I’ve learned the music, the character will emerge ready-made. In music as in painting, in the arts as in the sciences, those who are able to work things out by themselves are rare. So let’s give the technical instruction of our art a scientific basis rather than basing it on empty or personal formulas, and the lyric drama will no longer be considered a utopia. That’s my profession of artistic faith, and I’m surprised rather than saddened —for Falstaff shouldn’t allow himself melancholy— that our ideas are not the same in this respect. And now that I’ve told you what I think without pausing for breath, let me greet you as I love you, with great admiration and profound respect.”

It is not known whether Maurel ever sent this letter but he eventually wrote about this exchange in his article A propos de Falstaff.

In January 1893 began the stage-rehearsals of Verdi’s last opera. The composer, now eighty years of age, was in full charge. Maurel wrote: “He plunged into the work with incredible ardor and astonished us all by his energy. Every instant in the thick of it, he stimulated the powers of his interpreters to the very limit of their capacities. By his prodigious zest he got out of them more than they themselves even had ever suspected was there.” On February 1893 Falstaff was premiered at La Scala and in April it was given at the Opéra-Comique in a French translation by Boito and Paul Solanges. Of the translation Maurel said: “It was as good as possible. Does that mean that it was as good as the original Italian? I answer resolutely, no! The structure of the French language and, consequently, its particular quality render it inferior to Italian for the lyric stage.”

Victor Maurel | Reflections on vocal art

On December 3, 1894, he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera House as Iago in Otello, with Tamagno and Emma Eames. The same month he presented Rigoletto with Nellie Melba and Giuseppe Russitano, Aida with Lillian Nordica and Tamagno, Les Huguenots (these performances were called “the night of the seven stars” because the cast included Nellie Melba, Jean de Reszke, Lillian Nordica, Victor Maurel, Sofia Scalchi, Pol Plançon and Édouard de Reszke) and Don Giovanni with Emma Eames (an interpretation that was rated “the perfection of vocal art,” with references to “the inimitable manner in which he sang the Serenade, a performance of marvelous lightness and grace”). The year 1985 began with Lohengrin in January and continued with the United States Premiere of Falstaff on February with Emma Eames, Giuseppe Campanari and Sofia Scalchi. Henderson, a critic at the New York Times, was very appreciative of his work: “The chief honours of the performance naturally went to Maurel… His Falstaff is one of the great creations of the lyric stage. His posing and facial expressions are the essence of comedy, and he makes every measure of the vocal part throb with meaning. It is a superb, consistent, thoroughly artistic piece of work which fully maintains his reputation.” On April he performed in Le nozze di Figaro, on November he was Escamillo to Emma Calvé’s Carmen and on December he performed as Valentin in Faust.

In 1900 he made his last creation, Le Juif Polonais by Camille Erlanger, at the Opéra-Comique (the original play had been performed by Henry Irving with success). It was in this period that Maurel began to offer song recitals. In Victor Maurel, His career and his art Francis Rogers tells about it:

“The song recital, or program of songs sung by one singer is a form of entertainment of comparatively recent origin. Maurel’s son qualifies his father as “Quasi createur du récital chanté moderne” (in France). I was fortunate enough to hear two of his programs in Paris in 1897 and later heard him in London and New York too. Nobody, man or woman, in my experience, has equalled him as a singer of songs. […] Maurel had a sense of the dramatic that is rare in singers of songs and could dramatize a song with a poignancy that was thrilling. Schumann’s little song Im Walde, as he sang it, became a scene of real intensity. So, too, was Camille Erlanger’s Fedia a vivid picture of a scene in Russian village life. Equally striking as examples of purely lyric style were his interpretations of the songs of contemporary French composers. I shall never forget his renderings, with the composer at the piano, of Reynaldo Hahn’s L’Heure exquise, Chanson d’Automne and Offrande. They were exquisite in their miniature perfection.”

Maurel opened in 1902 in Paris a studio for the teaching of singing. He also gave courses in “vocal and scenic esthetics” at the Collège des hautes Études sociales. In 1908 he established in New York a Conservatoire d’Art Lyrique and it was there that he spend the rest of his life. He made his final appearance on the stage in 1909 in Paris alongside some pupils in Grétry’s Le Tableau parlant, conducted by the then thirty-year old Thomas Beecham. He was still active as a teacher after the First World War and one of his last students was the eminent actress Lillian Gish.

Back in the late 1880s, Maurel had began writing and publishing. His many written works include an essay on the importance of physical exercise for singers, staging manuals and studies of Otello, Falstaff and Don Giovanni (all of these reprinted in his autobiography Dix ans de carrière, 1887-1897) and treatises like Le chant rénové par la science (1892) and Un problème d’art (1893). This last work deals at some length with the question of voice production. Francis Rogers summed it up this way: “Maurel wrote that the singer must, first of all, have a mental conception of what he wishes to express before he tries to express it. His auditive imagination must picture the tone to be sung. The auditive imagination acts directly on the pitch and the power of the voice as well as on its color. It is the auditive image of tone that is ultimately responsible for the correct emission of tone. From this it follows that the training of the voice should be primarily a training of the auditive imagination and that the study of tone-color (timbre) through all possible vowel formations, on all pitches and in all degrees of power, is the foundation on which vocal technique must be built.”

In the 1890s he began lecturing in Paris, London, Milan and New York. George Bernard Shaw encouraged all those who cared for good operatic acting to attend not only his performances but his lectures as well and commented that “the role of lecturer was never better acted since lecturing began.” He also studied the art of fencing in France and Italy and wrote a little treatise on it. He was familiar with French savate, Swedish gymnastics, and wrestling. Regarding the physical aspect of his career, he claimed: “Before being an art, the profession of a lyric actor is a sport. To perform such exacting roles as Rigoletto, Falstaff and Don Giovanni requires the endurance and the elasticity of an athlete.” During his last years he devoted himself to the study and practice of painting and was commissioned to design the sets for Gounod’s Mireille, set in his native Provence, at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1919.

Lilli Lehmann was his partner on the stage and a frequent correspondent and collaborator. She translated into German his book Dix ans de carrière, for which she wrote an introduction, and had it published in her homeland. She writes in her memoir My path through life:

“I had seen and admired Victor Maurel as Don Juan a short time previously in Berlin, when I sang Anna with him at the Royal Opera House. […] Maurel was, also, the first singer and artist with whom one could talk on singing and art, and, as we often found opportunity for that in America, we did not neglect a moment when we could instruct each other mutually on those subjects. Once, when he had seen me in a role, and something in it had not pleased him and he wished to tell me so, he began like this in French: “Ecoutez, Madame Lehmann, nous sommes de trop grands artistes pour nous faire des compliments; tachons de nous corriger!”3 He was right; compliments can be uttered by any ass, but corrections are quite another thing, and life is short. Though vocally he stood no longer on his former eminence, when he was paid far more than all the first tenors of the world, his impersonations were overpowering, even in the smaller parts. I shall never forget the performance of Faust with Jean, Édouard, and Emma Eames, nor the quartet, that can, perhaps, never again be heard in such vocal beauty and perfection of singing. Maurel’s death scene as Valentine moved us so profoundly that, for hours afterward, we gave ourselves up in silence to the overwhelming inner impression, which Maurel produced from nothing that could be seen or grasped, therefore, only by the expression of the soul. I would not give up the delight of such performances for anything in the world, although the recollection of them completely spoils my taste for almost everything that is to be seen and heard today.”


Recordings

Victor Maurel
Era la notte…,
Otello
Giuseppe Verdi

Victor Maurel
Deh! Vieni alla finestra,
Don Giovanni
W. A. Mozart

Victor Maurel
Quand’ero paggio,
Falstaff
Giuseppe Verdi


1 Translator’s note: to disappear.

2 Don’t look for midday at two o’clock.

3 Look, Mrs. Lehmann, we’re too great artists to compliment each other; let’s try to correct ourselves!


Sources

  • Dix ans de carrière, 1887-1897, Victor Maurel, Paris, 1897.
  • I copialettere di Giuseppe Verdi; Cesari, Luzio; Milan, 1913.
  • My path through life, Lilli Lehmann, New York, 1914.
  • My Life, Emma Calve, New York, 1922.
  • Victor Maurel: His Career and His Art, Francis Rogers, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4, Oxford, 1926.
  • Verdi, the man in his letters; Werfel, Stefan, Downes; New York; 1942.
  • Encounters with Verdi, Marcello Conati, New York, 1984.
  • Giuseppe Verdi: Otello, James Hepokoski, Cambridge, 1987.
  • Carteggio Verdi-Ricordi 1880-1881, Istituto di Studi Verdiani, Parma 1988.
  • The operas of Verdi Vol III, Julian Budden, Oxford, 1992.
  • Verdi versus Victor Maurel on Falstaff, Karen Henson, 19th-Century Music, 2007.
  • Verdi, Victor Maurel and fin-de-siècle Operatic Performance, Karen Henson, Cambridge Opera Journal, 2007.
  • Leoncavallo: Life and Works, Konrad Dryden, Plymouth, 2007.
  • The Autumn of Italian Opera: From Verismo to Modernism, 1890-1915, Alan Mallach, Boston, 2007.
  • Opera Acts: Singers and Performance in the Late Nineteenth Century, Karen Henson, Cambridge, 2015.
  • Victor Maurel: Complete Recordings, Alan Blyth, accessed on October 2017.
  • The Complete Adelina Patti and Victor Maurel: Liner Notes, Michael Scott, 1998, accessed on October 2017.
  • Victor Maurel on archives.metoperafamily.org