The breed Part II
The tenors of Saccini, Méhul, Chérubini, Lesuer & Spontini

Pierre Gaveaux (Béziers, 9 October 1761 – 5 February 1825)

Roméo in Roméo et Juliette by Daniel Steibelt (1793, the first Roméo setting in France)
Floresky (Florindo) in Cherubini's Elisa (18 juillet 1791 / December 13, 1794)
Jason in Medée by Cherubini (March 13, 1797)
Florestan in Léonore ou l'Amour conjugal by Gaveaux himself (February 19, 1798)
Les deux journées by Cherubini (January 16, 1800)
Gli Esiliati in Siberia by Guilbert de Pixérécourt (December 20, 1800; Donizetti reused this libretto for his later setting)
Ullin in Uthal by Méhul (May 17, 1806)
Ruben in Joseph by Méhul (February 17, 1807)


When speaking about baritenors one usually refers to Domenico Donzelli as the arch father. Connoisseurs will delve a bit deeper and bring up the name of Andrea Nozzari, creator of Rossini's Otello. But are they, indeed, the arch fathers of the baritenors, when we know that the earliest examples of such roles date back to decades before the Rossini Otello premiere of 1816. Decades, indeed, for the first perfect example can be found in the role of Jason in Cherubini's Medea, which was created on March 13, 1897, by tenor/composer Pierre Gaveaux.

A good Jason, I have never heard on recordings. Carreras might have been one, but the single recording with him came too late and/or was recorded in insufficient sound quality. Jon Vickers created an impressive career on the wings of his performances as Jason alongside Maria Callas, but I have always found his voice to pale and colorless for the role; cutting the notes is precisely not what it is all about in Cherubini.

I have always lamented that Corelli never appeared alongside Callas in Medea. Te role seems tailor made to his voice, although he would probably have felt the part was inferior, because here, indeed the tenor doesn't play the first fiddle. And yet, that Act I duet 'O fatal vello d'or' would have been worth the trouble... The closest we can come to Corelli, in terms of weight, is arguably by listening to Carlos Guichandut alongside Callas in the 1953 live recording from Florence. Guichandot's impressive voice once made him a runner up to Del Monaco and Vinay in Otello, when it came to appearing in the role on stage, although, admittedly, his vocal timbre was not ideally sited to the recording process as was theirs. However, since neither Del Monaco nor Vinay sang Jason, the impressive Guichandot is as close as we can get to the effect of a genuine baritenor in Medea:

Luigi Cherubini: Medea
ACT I Nemica senza cor... O fatal vello d'oro
Maria Callas, Carlos Maria Guichandot (1953 Florence)

As for Jason's role creator, tenor¬/composer Gaveaux, apart from the Medée premiere his fame also rests on the composition of an opera titled Léonore, ou L'amour conjugal. Premièred in 1798, this opera was indeed the first setting of the Fidelio subject, with Gaveaux himself singing Florestan and Julie-Angélique Scio, Cherubini's first Médée, singing Leonore. Keeping Cherubini's Jason in mind, Gaveaux original setting of Beethoven's 'Gott welch dunkel hier' casts an interesting light on the true archfather of dramatic tenors:

Pierre Gaveaux: Léonore, ou L'amour conjugal
ACT II Dieux quelle obscurité... Faut-il au printemps de mon âge (R&A Florestan)
Jeremy Ovenden (2011 Brussels)

Listening to this rediscovery of 2011 by Christophe Rousse tand tenor Jeremy Ovenden, the lessons in melodically imbued, dramatic recitative which sparks from speech related, short melodic cells, instead of blossoming cantilena, were not wasted on the likes of Spontini and Beethoven. Clearly, Jason and Gaveaux' own Florestan make it clear where the true darkening of voices started, as well as where the process of an ever expanding, and more voluminous orchestration started: with Cherubini. Strikingly, Gaveaux setting, especially in the introductory recitative and the orchestration, is as close to Beethovens introductory lines of 'Gott welch Dunkel hier', as it gets in terms of operatic sampling. Today, Gaveaux might actually have had a chance for partial tantièmes, if taken the similarities to court for copyright infringement. However, Ferdinando Paër, who presented a once world famous Italian version of Leonora based on Gaveaux libretto, well before Beethoven presented his version, could also have inspired the latter. For the question remains 'if' Beethoven actually knew the score of Gaveaux's opus, while we know that he attended Paër's work in Vienna, in addition to which he owned a copy of the score. So, perhaps the origin of the 'vergrubelte' Held in German opera is not so much Gaveaux Florestan, as Paërs... Now this was a transitory Italian tenor part that seemed perfectly suited for Corelli's voice. While it retains some stylistic elements of the old baroque school in its somewhat gratuitous fioriture at the end of the aria, most of the weight, the dramatic force and the gravity of recitative and aria anticipate Bellini's Pollione. While we can see why the later masterpieces from Beethoven till Mayr (who later wrote a full blooded romantic Italian Leonora under the tile L'amor coniugale) and the romantic Italian school as such eventually made Paër's opera look old fashioned, it is still a stunning work when looking at it from the perspective of October 3, 1804, when it was created. Here we have the lessons from Cherbubini exploited by a man who clearly senses where things were heading, even though he had to bow before Spontini and Beethoven. Tellingly, the downfall of Paër's opera was such, that we actually do not even know who created his Florestan, which is a rare lacuna in information when it comes to the well documented Italian opera of the early 19th Century.

Ferdinando Paër: Leonora (October 3, 1804)
Ciel! Che profonda oscurita... Dolce oggetto del mio amore (ARIA Florestan)
(1979 LP/CD DECCA Siegfried Jerusalem (t))

Although Corelli never recorded a single note of Beethoven's Fidelio, it is the first role among the German romantic tenor repertoire, that comes to mind as extremely suited to the his voice as perceived in such operas as La vestale, or Agnese di Hohenstaufen. To have an impression of what Corelli could have sounded like as Florestan, one has but to turn to René Maison's rendering of the part, since Maison shared some vocal characteristics with Corelli. Their trumpeting, vibrant, copper colored timbres are not far apart. Maison also had enough vocal mettle to make the most of the dramatic tenor repertoire at the Met during the 1940s.

Beethoven: Fidelio
Act II Gott welch Dunkel here
René Maison (1940s Met)

Frans Jäger (1796 Wien, † 10.5.1852 Stuttgart)


Litho & photo: Franz Jäger

Supposed to create:
Tenor part in Beethoven: Symphony IX (May 7, 1824)

Anton Haitzinger (Wilfersdorf, Lower Austria, 14 March 1796, † Karlsruhe, 31 Dec 1869)

Adolar in Weber's Euryanthe (23 October, 1823)
Tenor part in Beethoven: Symphony IX (May 7, 1824)


Lithos: Anton Haitzinger

So, Corelli never sang Beethoven then? No, but... he did study the tenor part of Beethoven's Symphony IX. He was supposed to sing it in London, in the early 1970s, under Leonard Bernstein. The performance was planned as a runner up for the now famous recording with last minute replacement... Plácido Domingo. Corelli actually arrived to the rehearsals – which meant he would get paid –, but claimed a soar throat prevented him from performing. Domingo agreed to step in, but his new self awareness made him bargain a hard deal with Bernstein, which came down to that he would only agree to save the day for the conductor, provided he also got to record the work for Deutsche Grammophon instead of Corelli. Bernstein agreed and the rest is history. Admittedly, it is hard to see Franco recording, let alone performing the work in German, which he didn't spoke at all. However, what if... Corelli had been around in 1946, when Arturo Toscanini recorded Beethoven IX with Giacinto Prandelli in the tenor part...

Beethoven: Symphony IX
PART IV Ode an die Freude (in Italian)
Giancinto Prandelli (1946)

The tenor part in B–IX was envisioned for the tenor Franz Jäger. When he judged the part too low in tessitura for him, Anton Haitzinger (1796-1869) stepped in, no doubt on the wings of his successful creation of Adolar in Weber's Euryanthe, a mere 6 months earlier, next to Henriette Sonntag (who also created the soprano part in Beethoven IX). Haitzinger received his part a mere five days before the May 7, 1824 premiere in the Viennese Kärntnertor Theatre. Although Beethoven IX has a perfect example of a full-blooded baritenor part, Haitzinger does not seem to fit the profile as such, since Adolar is a high lying part that has little to nothing in common with the baritenor repertoire. Presumably, Haitzinger simply had a wider range than Jäger, or he simply thought it was an offer he couldn't refuse. He went on to promote the emerging school of early German romantic opera, which he helped popularize, among others, in France.

Étienne Lainez (1756-1822)

Creator of:
Rodrigue in Sacchini's Chimène ou Le Cid (1783)
Dardanus in Sacchini's Dardanus (1784)
Ossian in Leseuer's Ossian, ou les bardes (1804)
Licinius in Spontini's La vestale (1807)


Returning to the far ancestors of the baritenor breed, next in line would be the successors of Gaveaux in creating the dramatic, pompous pre revolution repertoire, which paved the way for Napoleontic opera that in turn sparked Meyerbeerian Grand Opéra as we know it since Auber's La muette de Portici and Rossini's Guillaume Tell. The pre revolution composer and their Napoleonic successors, along with their post castrato era role creators, remain largely forgotten today. Regrettably, because their creations were important, both as creations and with respect to the development of the tenor voice. A fine example of a tenor who made a lasting stamp on the evolution of opera, was the creator of Licinius in Spontini's La vestale, Étienne Lainez. As early as November 16, 1783, he created Rodrigue in Sacchini's Chimène ou Le Cid. On September 18, 1784.

Sacchini: Chimène ou Le Cid
Ne cherche pas plus loin... Des justes combats
(2009 CD VERSAILLES LES FAVORITES DE MARIE-ANTOINETTE • Sébastien Droy (t), Caroline Mutel (s))

This notable creation as followed by another important one, that of Dardanus, son of Zeus and Elettra, in Sacchini's Dardanus.

Sacchini: Dardanus
ACT III Sc. 4 Je viens briser votre chaîne cruelle (DUET Iphise & Dardanus)
(2009 MONTPELLIER Manuel Nuñez-Camelino (t), Sonya Yoncheva (s))

These operas could be seen as bridging works between Gluck and the Cherubini of Medée and Anacreon, featuring rather developed, dramatic tenor roles.

Another bridging work created by Lainez, would be Lesueur's influential Ossian ou les bardes, which was created on July 19, 1804. Ossian already has French grand opéra oozing from every note, including a heavy orchestration, trumpeting heroic overtones, and a beefy tenor part that had little in common with the more lyrical French school. The main influence of the work, however, is to be seen in the subject, which presented the heroisation of local French history as a strong alternative to the outdated mythological subjects of Sacchini, and Cherubini, even though the latter's Médée remains the arch father of dramatic opera of this kind, in terms of orchestration, dramatically charged recitative, and vocal directness.

Lesueur: Ossian ou les bardes
Reine del'amor (Ensemble)
(LP Unique Opera Records 227 Elisabeth Robinson (Rosmala), John Wakefield (Ossian), Stanford Robinson (conductor))

All the works mentioned here eventually culminated into the quintessential masterpiece of the Napoleonic era, Spontini's La vestale, which was premiered on December 15, 1907. Once again, the beefy tenor part, in this case the renowned Franco Corelli part of case Licinius, was created by Étienne Lainez. Whereas Corelli's earlier parts are at best 'adaptions' of the scores as conceived by Händel (in Giulio Cesare he actually sang the Margherita Durastanti contralto part of Sesto) or Gluck, Licinio clearly reveals the deeper roots of the dramatic, baritenor school.

Rediscovering the shamelessly heroic Italian and French operatic works of the 1790-1810 epoch proves a startling journey. It starts with Gluck's revision of Orphée from castrato to tenor (incidentally, the same tenor that created Achille in Iphigénie en Aulide, which Corelli sang early in his career). From Orphée and the later Gluck tenor parts, the journey continues with Sacchini, Paër's Achille and Leonora, after which Cherubini's last, dramatic operas pave the way that leads from Lesueur and Méhul to the La vestale premiere. All of these once forgotten works are now either integrally or partially available, even though sometimes excruciatingly obscure revival recordings. They reveal that Cherubini and Spontini were certainly not isolated geniuses, but composers who build forth on a school of singing and composing that sprang forth from the spirit of the French revolution and the Napoleonic, military self consciousness, and the pompous taste at his court, where he and the Empress Joséphine indulged in a musical self glorification that they apparently related to the sounds of war: trumpets, drums, and musical thunder and lightning.

Spontini: La vestale
ACT III 'Ohimè ! Quale apparato!' (Licinio)
(1954 LA SCALA Franco Corelli)

The success of La vestale in a time before telephone, Internet and even cars or railroads made the world a cozy place, is hard to comprehend today. Boosted by the financial and political aid of the Empress Joséphine, it spread over Europe like wildfire. It was easily the greatest operatic success of the first decade of the 19th Century. The success actually reaped Spontini the hostile envy of many a colleague, a side effect that was enhanced by his alleged self indulgent, arrogant character. Had not Bellini created Norma on the same plot, albeit with differently named characters, La vestale might have been the only napoleonic opera to remain at the heart of the repertoire. With Bellini's masterpiece on its tail, Spontini's opus magnum suffered the same fate as would Rossini's Otello, which ruled the continent until Verdi presented his wholly modern warrior of the same name. However, to see La vestale dubbed, as a 'mini-Norma' is a truly perverse twist of fate. La vestale preceded Norma by a blazing 24 years, and for all Norma's splendors, Bellini did little else than presenting an magnificent, all surpassing update which still build on the models, in the case of Pollione even up and to the musical idiom, of Spontini's masterpiece. If relations between the two works should be punctuated it words, then Norma is a 'grand scale La vestale'.

Lainez was not just one of the finest French singers of his day, but also a significant transitory tenor that bridged the road from Gluck to Spontini. This was not just achieved by mere vocal means, for in Lainez we have a clear example of an involved, credible, and gifted actor. This involvement in the acting is another important characteristic that comes up again and again, when the baritenor breed is discussed. In fact, Licinius role is as much an acting part, as a singing one; his vocal line is limited in melodic expansion, while all the emphasis lies in the dramatic gesture and the articulation of the recitative.

The same could be said of Fernand Cortez, in Spontini's third best-known opera, Fernand Cortez of 28 November, 1809, with again Lainez, now as the protagonist.

Spontini: Fernand Cortez
O Patria mia (ARIA Fernand)
(1974 Bruno Prevedi)

Karl Adam Bader (1789-1870)

Creator of:
Enrico di Braunschwig in Agnese di Hohenstaufen by Spontini (May 28, 1827)
Konrad in Hans Heiling by Marschner (May 24, 1833)

BaderKarlAdamThe enormous difference in vocal texture and flow that divides La vestale and Agnese di Hohenstaufen, is easily explained by the time span of a full 20 years that separate both Spontini operas. Agnese was first given in Berlin 1827, where Spontini found refuge after the fall of Napoleon. It was performed by an all-German cast, which featured the German tenor Karl Adam Bader in Corelli's later part of Enrico di Braunschwick.

Through the distance of time, with German, and especially French opera pre Meyerbeer having been unjustly neglected for over 180 years that divide us from the Agnese di Hohenstaufen premiere today, it has long been hard to tell just what their place in operatic history is. With more and more of these works emerging from the vaults of dusty libraries, it is clear that Meyerbeer, Donizetti, and the young Verdi did not appear like comets on a moonless night. On the contrary: La vestale was easily the greatest operatic success of the first decade of the 19th Century, so much even that it reaped Spontini the envy of many a colleague (which, allegedly, was enhanced by his good looks and his arrogant character).

Indeed, 180 years, since clearly, Agnese di Hohenstaufen closed not only Spontini's career, but it also closed the Napoleonic era in musical terms. It proved a historic premiere, of what perhaps could be valued as Spontini's best work, certainly in melodic terms. However, it remains hard to see if his last 4 German operas written for the pompous Königliches Opernhaus Berlin and it's Emperor, Nurmahal, oder das Rosenfest von Caschmir (May 27, 1822), Alcidor (May 23, 1825), the revised Olympie (February 28, 1826), and the mentioned Agnese di Hohenstaufen of May 28, 1827, were isolated creations, or works that influenced the emerging grand opera composers Auber, Halévy, and Meyerbeer.

Spontini: Agnese di Hohenstaufen
Act I excerpts Enrico di Braunschwig
(1954 FLORENCE Franco Corelli )

If these works had much or any influence on the emerging German romantic school of Marschner and Wagner is unclear. Only Olympie and Agnese di Hohenstaufen are still performed to day; Nurmathal and Alcidor are completely forgotten. Nonetheless, Nurmathal has exactly the sort of German mythological ring that would onwards dominate the world of Marschner and Wagner. Which brings us back to the subject of this little side excursion into Spontini's German 'Wanderyears', Karl Adam Bader. For he went on to also create Konrad in the very influential premiere of Marschner's most famous opera, Hans Heiling, on May 24, 1833.

Marschner: Hans Heiling
Ihr hört es schon... Gönne mir ein Wort der Liebe (Konrad's aria)
(1966 Karl Josef Hering)
CD Myto 005.232

If Italo-French opera had ruled Berlin in the decades preceding the Marschner premiere up to 1827, those days came to an end. Onward, Marschner, Meyerbeer (like Gluck before him, a German in Italy & Paris), and Wagner ruled.

Pierre-Jean-Baptiste-François Elleviou (June 14, 1769, Rennes - May 5, 1842 Paris)


Philippe in Philippe et Georgette by Dalayrac (December 28, 1791)
Lorédan in Camille ou le Souterrain by Dalayrac (March 19, 1791)
Théobald in Tout pour l'amour ou Roméo et Juliette by Dalayrac (July 7, 1892)
Un émigré in Cécile et Julien ou le Siège de Lille by Trial fils (November 21, 1792)
?? in La Prise de Toulon par les Français by Auguste Lemière de Corvey (January 21, 1794)
Dely in Gulnare ou l'Esclave persane by Dalayrac (December 30, 1797)
Blinval in Le Prisonnier ou la Ressemblance by Domenico Della Maria (January 29, 1798)
Zulnar in Zoraïme et Zulnar by François Adrien Boieldieu (May 10, 1798)
Armand in L'Opéra-Comique by Domenico Della Maria (July 9, 1798)
Florval in L'Oncle valet by Domenico Della Maria (December 8, 1798)
Adolphe in Adolphe et Clara ou les Deux Prisonniers by Dalayrac (February 10, 1799)
Valcour in Le Trente et quarante ou le Portrait by Angelo Tarchi (May 6, 1799)
Valcour in Beniowski ou les Éxiles du Kamtschatka by Boieldieu (June 8, 1800)
Isauun in Le Calife de Bagdad by Boieldieu (September 16, 1800)
Versac in Maison à vendre by Dalayrac (October 23, 1800)
Lysandre in L'Irato by Méhul (February 17, 1801)
?? in Picaros et Diego ou la Folle Soirée by Dalayrac (May 3, 1803)
Joseph in Joseph by Méhul (February 17, 1807)
Jean in Jean de Paris by Boieldieu (April 4, 1812)

When speaking of the 'Napoleonic repertoire', we are referring to such composers as Sacchini, Méhul, Jean François Le Sueur, and Gaspare Spontini. Among them, we now arrive to Méhul. Although he wrote a number of comic operas, his fame rests on his austere, dramatic creations Uthal (1806), and especially, Joseph.

Uthal boasted two of the tenors that were intrinsically linked with the new, heavily orchestrated, dramatic genre: Jean-Baptiste-Sauveur Gavaudan as the protagonist, and Pierre Gaveaux as Ullin. In Joseph, it is again Jean-Baptiste-Sauveur Gavaudan who takes part, as Siméon, while Pierre-Jean-Baptiste-François Elleviou sang the still famous title role.

Méhul: Joseph
Prayer (Joseph)
(1983 COMPIEGNE, Laurence Dale (Jospeh), Claude BArdon (conductor))
© RTF/ Embedded from YouTube)

Méhul: Joseph
Vainement Pharaon... Champs paternelles
(1983 COMPIEGNE, Laurence Dale (Jospeh), Claude BArdon (conductor))
© RTF/ Embedded from YouTube)

Elleviou was one of the most celebrated tenors of his time, although he debuted in 1790 as Alexis in Mosnigny's recently redicovered masterpiece, Le déserteur, which, tellingy is a baritone part. It was only the year thereafter that Elleviou progressed to the tenor range. His voice was very sweet and flexible, he was noted for his eloquent diction, and had a handsome and charming stage presence, which made him a great favorite by Paris audience. Whereas his singing made school, the reason for his retirement in 1813 did not: allegedly he stopped singing because Napoleon I refused to raise his salary for the next season.

Jean-Baptiste-Sauveur Gaveaudan (Salon-de-Provence 8 August 1772 - Paris 10 May 1840)


Lord Davenant and Arthur in Milton by Spontini (November 27, 1804)
Uthal in Uthal by Méhul (May 17, 1806)
Siméon in Joseph by Méhul (February 17, 1807)

After a childhood in Nîmes, Jean-Baptiste-Sauveur Gaveaudan moved to Paris where his sisters already had started a career in opera. He was seven years old when his father died, and by the age of eleven he joined the navy in order to support his mother. Eventually, his vocal talent brought him to the Royal Academy of Music, and he became the student of Persuis Loiseau. He made his stage debut in 1791 and was soon as renowned for his singing as for his acting. Gaveaudan, created both Arthur and Lord Davenant in the 1804 world premiere of Spontini's once world famous Milton.

He left the Opéra-Comique in 1816 due to political disputes to head a year during the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels. He retired in 1828, after which he led the Cork Opera House in the 1829/1830 season.

Spontini: Milton
Ensemble ACT III (Milton, Davenant, Emma)
(1974 RAI MILAN Mariella Devia (Emma), Giovanni Geminelli (Milton), Antonio Savastano (Arthur), Alberto Paoletti (conductor))
© RAI Milan

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