Forgotten Opera Singers

Forgotten Opera Singers

May 30, 2012

Charles Fontaine (Tenor) (Antwerp 1878 - ?1955)

Like Fernand Ansseau, another Belgian tenor Charles Fontaine was a pupil  of Demest at the Brussels Conservatory. He was born in Antwerp and after making a successful debut there was invited to Covent Garden for the season of 1909, where his roles included Faust, Samson and Renaud in a solitary performances of Gluck's "Armide". The engagement was, however, premature and the best notices he secured spoke well only of his acting. During the next two seasons he remained in relative obscurity in the French provinces. In 1911 he appeared for the first time in Paris, at the Opera as Raous in "Les Huguenots", in which "his powerful voice, the manner in which he deployed it, easy and vibrant" made a suitable impression. In the course of the next three yerars he divided his time between Paris and appearances at various Belgian theatres. At Antwerp in 1914 with Yvonne Gall in "Romeo et Juliette", he sang "with a force that quite subjugated the crowds", the same season at Liege he was Arnold in "Guillaume Tell" with another leading Belgian Singer, the baritone Jean Note'. After the German invasion of Beltium in September he moved to Paris. At the end of the same year he made his debut at the Opera-Comique as Don Jose', after which came: Dominique in "L'Attaque du moulin", Gerald, Pinkerton, the title role in "Le Jongleur de Notre Dame", Des Grieux, Canio, Danielo in Leroux's "La Reine Fiammette", Mylio in "Le Roi d'Ys", Jean in "Sapho", Cavaradossi, Rodolfo, Werther, Hoffmann, Armand in Massenet's "Therese". He created Almerio in Fevrier's "Gisomonda" with Fanny Heldy and Henri Albers. By this time his singing seems to have much improved and "Le Menestral" picked out for special praise "his beautiful voice and restrained playing" in Faure's "Penelope". In the autumn of 1917 he sang in a special gala evening of excerpts from French opera at La Scala. In December 1918 he became a member of the Chicago Opera. During his first season in which, as a result of the presence of Mary GArden as principal prima donna, fourteen of the twenty-nine works in the repertory were French, he sharedthe principal tenor roles with Lucient Muratore and John O'Sullivan. Although unable to produce the high notes that made the latter celebrated and without Muratore's charm of manner or good looks, he secured a repeat engagement the following season and appeared with Garden in "Carmen", "Louise", "Gismonda", "Cleopatre", and "Thais". He took the role of Toliak in Gunsbourg's "Le Vieil Aigle" with Baklanov, and Pierre in Messager's "Madame Chrysantheme" with the Japanese soprano Tamaki Miura. When it was repeated on tour at the Lexington Theatre in New York, Aldrich noted that:  [Fontaine] as Pierre showed an agreeable tenor voice, a little uneven in quality, and sometimes a little disposed to flat but with plenty of power, and in his impersonation was vigorous and  manly. [This sounds like a description of Jose Cura!] He remained active through the 1920s in Paris and, the French provinces at Bordeaux, Nice (with Rittter-Ciampi in "Les Contes d'Hoffmann") and elsewhere. A comparison between Ansseau and Fontaine in "O Paradis" reveals obvious similarities in voice production but Fontaine is a cruder singer; the intervals are not as clearly defined, the voice is rather throaty and when he piles on the pressure, the top notes become strained. Throughout there are signs of the disagreeable effects of the diphthonged French vowels, and he has a tendency to articulate the words at the expense of the quality of the tone. Next to Ansseau, or Franz, this is dry and lacking in sonority. When a less scrupulous delivery does not come amiss, in Sigurd's "Esprits gardiens", he makes a brazen effect sweeping easily through the high tessitura.

Chronology of some appearances

1918 Chicago  Civic Opera House Carmen (Don Jose)
1919 Chicago  Civic Opera House Carmen (Don Jose)


Pathe, Paris 1912
Complete Trovatore (Verdi) with Morlet, Lapeyrette and Note

Pathe, Paris 1917?
Pecheurs de perles (Bizet): Au fond du temple saint with Jean Note 2547 2540
Muette de Portici (Auber): Amour sacre with Jean Note 2548 2541
Reine de Chypre (Halevy): Duo with Jean Note 2548 2542
Guillaume Tell (Rossini): Ah, Mathilde with Jean Note 2547 2543

Pathe, Paris 1919?
Lakme (Delibes): Fantaisie 59080
Guillaume Tell (Rossini): Asile héréditaire 59077
Attaque du Moulin (Bruneau): Adieux а la foret 0221 1971

Mignon (Thomas): Elle ne croyait pas 0221 2113

Pathe, Paris 1920?
Dimitri (Joncières): Invocation 0285
Dimitri (Joncières): Romance 0281
Juive (Halévy): Dieu, que ma voix tremblante 0281
Juive (Halevy): Rachel, quand du Seigneur 0285
Roma (Massenet): Scène de Lentulus 0283
Jongleur de Notre-Dame (Massenet): O liberté 0284
Bohème (Puccini): Air de Rudolphe 0283

Pathé, Paris 1923?
Aida (Verdi): O céleste Aida 0376
Lohengrin (Wagner): Récit du Graal 0376

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