BIZET: The Pearl Fishers
Jeanine Micheau, sop(Leila); Alain Vanzo, tenor (Nadir); Gabriel Bacquier, baritone (Zurga); Lucien Lovano, bass (Nourabad); RTS Chorus; Orchestre Radio-Lyrique/Manuel Rosenthal, cond.
GALA 100.504 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 2' 21"  

This superb performance, recorded live June 25, 1959, is the finest on disc with many strengths, beginning with the Corsican Alain Vanzo—who, along with Leopold Simoneau—is the finest post-war exponent of the French lyric tenor repertoire. This recording captures Vanzo in his youthful (31) prime. The voice is uncommonly sweet, employed with admirable elegance and, when appropriate, passion. What a pleasure it is to hear a tenor who understands the expressive potential of a judicious blending of head and chest resonance in the upper register! Vanzo's sense of phrasing is also on a superlative level. Listen, for example, to the way he launches the great duet, "Au fond du temple saint," or Nadir's romance, "Je crois entendre encore." This is golden-age French singing, and a classic performance equaled only by Simoneau on his complete Philips recording.

The other principals prove to be worthy partners to Vanzo's brilliant Nadir. Jeanine Micheau is an exquisite Leila, fully equal to the lyric and dramatic challenges of the role. Gabriel Bacquier, in superb voice, manages to stay within the bounds of tasteful French style, yet still convey Zurga's virile, passionate nature. Lucien Lovano is fine in the smaller role of Nourabad. Conductor Manuel Rosenthal is an admirable collaborator, allowing the singers to make their expressive points without disrupting the flow of the performance. 

The the mono sound is wonderfully clear, with an admirable balance between singers and orchestra. Occasional cuts in the score and ambient noises do nothing to disrupt enjoyment of this recording. As a bonus, Gala includes several excerpts of Vanzo performances from the late '50s and early '60s.

This performance of Bizet's opera was previously available on a single Chant du Monde "double mono" compact disc on which each CD channel contained half of the performance and one would listen to only one channel at a time. This Gala release, the best on disc, is on two mono CDs, at a price lower than the single-disc Chant du Mond release. Even if this were issued at full price it would deserve the highest recommendation. At budget price, no opera lover can afford to be without it.

K.M. (Oct. 2000)