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Marcel Journet probably studied at the Paris Conservatoire for a short period, before studying singing privately with a teacher named Seghettini in Paris. The start of his operatic career is similarly obscure. While he may have made his stage debut at Béziers in 1891 or at Montpellier in 1893, he certainly first appeared at the Brussels opera house, La Monnaie, in 1894 and remained there until 1899, singing roles in traditional repertoire such as Samson et Dalila, Roméo et Juliette, Sigurd, Fidelio, Lohengrin, Faust and L’Africaine. In 1898 he sang Fasolt in the local premiere of Das Rheingold.

Between 1900 and 1907, Journet was a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, singing secondary bass roles while major parts were taken by rivals Édouard de Reszke and Pol Plançon. When these stalwarts retired, to be replaced not by Journet but by Chaliapin, who arrived to acclaim in 1907, Journet diplomatically departed. Similarly, at the Royal Opera House, London where Journet sang from 1897 until 1907 and then 1909, the major bass roles were often shared with de Reszke and Plançon and from 1905 with Vanni Marcoux. Journet’s repertoire in London was typical of the period: it included Italian operas such as Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Bohème, La Gioconda, Loreley, Lucia di Lammermoor and Rigoletto; French operas such as Carmen, Faust, Henry VIII, Les Huguenots, Manon, Messaline, La Navarraise, Philémon et Baucis and Roméo et Juliette, as well as Don Giovanni, Eugene Onegin, Tannhäuser and d’Erlanger’s Inès Mendo.

Journet finally made his debut at the Paris Opera in 1908 (as the King / Lohengrin), appearing in every subsequent season up to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In Paris he was notably active in German opera, singing Hunding / Die Walküre and Fafner / Das Rheingold (1909), Wotan / Die Walküre (1910), Pogner / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1911) and Klingsor / Parsifal (1914). During this period he was also a busy concert singer in Paris.

Between 1914 and 1920, Journet reigned supreme at the Monte Carlo Opera, where he appeared in a large repertoire, the highlights of which included Parsifal (Gurnemanz), La Vivandière, Aida, Rigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor, Samson et Dalila, La Bohème, Ernani, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Platée, Manon, Saint-Saëns’s Étienne Marcel, Gunsbourg’s Maître Manole and Marchetti’s Ruy Blas as well as, unexpectedly and towards the end of this period, the baritone roles of Tonio / Pagliacci and Scarpia / Tosca. Victor Girard has suggested that during World War I Journet restudied his voice so as to completely integrate his three registers, thus giving himself an unexpected top register that enabled him to sing roles such as the latter two.

The benefit of this development was certainly seen in Journet’s subsequent career at La Scala, Milan where he was first bass from 1917 until 1928 and enjoyed the favour of Toscanini, with whom he sang Hans Sachs / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 1922, 1925 and 1928. Other operas in which he appeared here included Lucrezia Borgia, Louise (the Father), Faust (Méphistophélès), Pelléas et Mélisande (Golaud), Carmen (Escamillo) and Khovanshchina (Dosifey). He created the role of Simon Mago in Boito’s Nerone at its premiere in1924 and repeated this role in 1926 and in 1927, all under Toscanini.

Journet returned to Covent Garden in 1927 and 1928 to appear in Carmen and Louise and sang several major roles at the Paris Opera between 1928 and 1930 including Wotan / Siegfried and Hagen / Götterdämmerung. He took major parts in the first Paris performances of Rabaud’s Mârouf (1928) and in two world premieres: Silvio Lazzari’s Le Tour de feu (1928) and Brunel’s La Tentation de St Antoine (1930). He was also active singing in other major opera houses, for instance those of Buenos Aires, Chicago, Madrid and Barcelona.

After 1930 Journet continued to record occasionally but appeared less frequently on stage, although his final appearance was at the Paris Opera as Wotan in 1933, prior to his unexpected death at the health spa of Vittel. He recorded prolifically and as, most unusually, his voice improved with age, his later electrical recordings are among his best. His voice has often been compared to a rare vintage wine that improves with age: certainly on record it has an undeniable attractiveness.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

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