Mado (full name Madeleine Marie) Robin grew up with her two sisters in the family home, the Chateau les Vallées at Tournon-Saint-Pierre. It soon became evident that she had an exceptional voice and at the age of sixteen she was heard by the Italian baritone Titta Ruffo, who recognized her extraordinary range. Although married at the age of seventeen to an Englishman, Alan Smith, by whom she had a child, Robin entered the Paris Conservatoire, where she studied with Mme Fourestier and the French tenor of Italian origin Mario Podestà, from whom she gained an excellent command of bel canto.
After only two years of study, in 1937 Robin won first prize in the ‘Concours des soprani’ organized by the Paris Opera; but the outbreak of World War II in 1939 and the subsequent invasion of France by Germany made the initial development of her career extremely difficult. Nonetheless she gradually established a name for herself through her participation in charity concerts and made her first solo concert appearance in 1942. This was a recital of songs and arias at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, arranged with the help of Podestà and the Pathé record company. Subsequently she sang in ‘variétés’ (the French version of variety, which often included a much wider range of artist than was usual in the United Kingdom).
Following the end of the war, although Robin suffered a personal tragedy when her husband was killed in a road accident, in 1945 she made her belated debut at the Paris Opera as Gilda / Rigoletto. She enjoyed immediate success, appearing for the next five years at the Opera and the Opéra-Comique in the title roles of Thomas’s Mignon and Delibes’s Lakmé (for which she became especially well-known) as well as Leila / Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Rosina / Il barbiere di Siviglia, Olympia / Les Contes d’Hoffmann and the Queen of the Night / Die Zauberflöte. Having left the Paris Opera in 1950, Robin sang the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at Marseilles in the same year and the Nightingale in a production of Stravinsky’s early opera Le rossignol at Monte Carlo in 1951 before returning to the Opera in 1953 as Konstanze / Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
Throughout the 1950s Robin appeared in numerous French opera houses (for example Liège) and was a major star of French radio and television, aided by her numerous recordings, notably for the Decca label. She also appeared abroad: at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels; in Italy; at the San Francisco Opera, where between 1954 and 1956 she sang Gilda and Lucia in much-admired productions; and in the USSR, of which she undertook a tour in 1959. She was due to appear in 1960 in the 1,500th performance of Lakmé at the Opéra-Comique, which would have also celebrated her forthcoming birthday, but died (from cancer) shortly before this could occur.
Evidently extremely modest, Robin was enormously popular and much-loved by her various publics. She possessed an extremely attractive coloratura soprano voice with a highly individual sweet timbre and a phenomenal vocal range, which she used with taste and style. Her diction was immaculate.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist