Charles Affron, Mirella Jona Affron: Publications

Sunday, May 16, 2021

In Memoriam: Rosalind Elias and Gabriel Bacquier

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In our last post ( we noted that in May 2020 the Met mourned the passing of two stars of a previous generation. Here, in gratitude for their many wonderful performances, we remember Rosalind Elias (March 13, 1930-May 3, 2020) and Gabriel Bacquier (May 17, 1924-May 13, 2020).

Rosalind Elias

Only the fabled Louise Homer (1871-1947) sang more often at the Met as a leading mezzo-soprano than did Rosalind Elias. Thirty-five seasons, fifty roles, and 687 performances underpin Elias’s place in the company history. She made her 1954 debut as one of the nearly anonymous warrior maidens in Act III of Die Walküre. During her first three seasons Elias took her turn as a supporting player, a comprimaria. Some of the secondary characters assigned to her afforded extended dramatic and vocal opportunities (Suzuki [Madama Butterfly], Siébel [Faust], for instance), but most parts were brief (a Peasant Girl [Le Nozze di Figaro], a Flower Maiden [Parsifal]). It was not until opening night 1957 that Elias had her big break. She was cast as Tatiana’s sister, Olga, in a new production of Eugene Onegin. And later in the same season she was tapped for the pivotal role of Erika in the world premiere of Vanessa. In fact, Samuel Barber wrote the score’s most memorable aria to suit Elias’s voice--wide-ranging, with an identifiably dusky timbre, powerful enough to convey the young woman’s nervous energy and depth of emotion. “Must the Winter Come so Soon” became a favored audition piece for mezzo-soprano. Here is Elias in the original cast recording of Vanessa.

Erika put Elias on the path to major assignments--opening nights, new productions, world premieres. And core mezzo parts such as Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro), Dorabella (Così fan tutte), and Laura (La Gioconda) continued to come her way. But she was at her best in Vanessa and Werther. In this recording of scenes from Massenet’s opera, the lovelorn Charlotte gives way to the tears she has long suppressed. The warmth and doleful sound of Elias’s lyric mezzo serves the stifled ardor of the Goethe/Massenet heroine as it did the neo-Romantic idealism of Barber’s Erika.

Gabriel Bacquier

One of very few post-War French singers to achieve stardom with international opera companies, Gabriel Bacquier came to New York in 1964 following engagements in Vienna, Milan, London, and major European festivals. In eighteen Met seasons he made 123 appearances. It was no surprise that a leading French baritone would debut as the High Priest in a new production of Samson et Dalila. But despite his French roots and early experience on French stages, Bacquier would specialize in the Italian repertoire, and most often as Tosca’s nemesis. His Scarpia is a subtle hybrid of delicacy and brutality. His fatal face-off with the Roman diva is laced with practiced elegance and unbridled lust. We hear Bacquier at his peak, in a live performance from the Opéra.

Later in his career, Bacquier found a home in the buffo manner. He was memorable as Donizetti’s Don Pasquale and he made a star turn out of the irascible Fra Melitone in La Forza del destino. The aria that follows is excerpted from a role that, alas, he never sang in New York. The riotous conclusion of Act I, Scene 1 of Verdi’s Falstaff bristles with the baritone’s physical and tonal energy as the “fat knight” trumpets his cynical definition of “Onore (Honor).”