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ClassicsOnline Home » TOUREL, Jennie: Vocal Portrait (A) (1946-1952)
Jennie Tourel (c.1900-1973)
A Vocal Portrait
Born Jennie Davidovich in Vitebsk, Belorussia, on 9th/26th June 1900 (although the years 1898 and 1899 are also possibilities), Jennie Tourel appears to have studied the flute and later the piano before the family left Russia at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. It has to be said, however, that the exact events of her childhood are the subject of much speculation as the artist later gave several differing accounts of her early years. The family did, however, move to Danzig in the Polish Corridor where one reference source states that Jennie made her stage début in Humperdincks Hänsel und Gretel in 1918. After staying first in Berlin and later in Switzerland, where she studied singing, the piano and dancing, she later settled in Paris, working with the Venezuelan-born but French domiciled composer, singer and conductor Reynaldo Hahn and soprano Anne El Tour. (The name Tourel was long thought to be an anagram of her female teachers name but she later denied this.)
Tourels Parisian stage début was as a member of the Opéra Russe in Paris in the rôle of the Polovtsian Maiden in Borodins Prince Igor. Her first American appearance came in Chicago later that same year as the Second Scholar in Ernest Morets Lorenzaccio and in Hamilton Forests Camille. She became a member of the Théâtre National de lOpéra-Comique in Paris in 1933, remaining there until 1939. Her offerings included the title rôles in Bizets Carmen (in over two hundred performances) and Djamileh, in addition to Thomass Mignon, Cherubino in Mozarts Le nozze di Figaro and Charlotte in Massenets Werther. It was as Mignon that Tourel made her début at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on 15th May 1937. Following the German invasion of France in May 1940 she managed to escape to the United States by way of Lisbon. She later became a member of the Metropolitan Opera between 1943 and 1947 where in a total of fourteen appearances she sang Adalgisa in Bellinis Norma and Rosina in Rossinis Il barbiere di Siviglia in the original mezzo version. Concurrently she also sang in Tchaikovskys The Queen of Spades and Carmen at the New York City Opera.
Jennie Tourel was the soloist in the first American performance of Prokofievs cantata Alexander Nevsky with the Westminster Choir and NBC Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski on 7th March 1943. She later took part in the first ever recording of work under Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia on 21st May 1945. The previous year, on 4th May 1944, she had signed a recording contract with Columbia Records (new Sony), which took effect following the ending of the infamous two-year recording ban imposed by the American Federation of Musicians and its secretary James Petrillo in 1st August 1942.
With the composer Leonard Bernstein Jennie Tourel gave the première of his song cycle I hate music at the Library in Lenox, Massachusetts, on 28th August 1953 and its first New York performance on 13th November the same year (Regrettably, her later Sony recording with the composer remains unpublished.) The following year she also took part in the première of the same composers Jeremiah Symphony in Pittsburgh on 28th January 1944. The two artists were to work together a great deal during the ensuing years. In 1946 Jennie Tourel became a naturalised citizen of the United States.
Although she had virtually retired from the opera stage by 1950, Tourel did create the rôle of Baba the Turk in the first performance of Stravinskys The Rakes Progress at the Teatro la Fenice in Venice on 11th September 1951. Sadly she did not take part in the American première in New York and its subsequent recording under the composer in March 1953. She devoted herself thereafter to concert appearances. She did, however, during the last two years of her life, appear in an American television production of Tchaikovskys The Queen of Spades in the rôle of the Countess. Her farewell to the stage was in the spoken rôle of the Duchess of Crackenthorp in Donizettis La fille du régiment in Chicago on 26th October 1973, less than a month before her death from lung cancer in New York on 23rd November, aged 73.
Jennie Tourel enjoyed a distinguished and varied career as a noted soloist in the concert hall, both in the United States and Europe, including appearances in the 1951-52 Casals Festivals in both Perpignan and Prades in France. (The two recordings of Bach and Mozart she made with Casals conducting remain unpublished.) She contributed a memorable and extremely taxing solo recital with James Levine as her accompanist in the Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, on 19th April 1970, that was recorded live and was subsequently published as a two disc LP and CD set.
Tourels voice was a true mezzo-soprano, covering three octaves. It was an instrument capable of much warmth and colour of considerable flexibility, as she exhibited in Rossinis coloratura writing. She had a command of languages, singing in English, French, German, Italian and Russian with equal facility. She also displayed splendid musicianship and clarity of diction, allied to an acute awareness of and attention to the texts sung. For many years she taught at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City where her students included the soprano Barbara Hendricks and tenor Neil Shicoff. She was also on the faculty at the Aspen (Colorado) School of Music. Married and divorced three times, she had no children. At her funeral on 9th December 1973 the funeral oration was given by her long-time fellow musician Leonard Bernstein. Her papers, correspondence, programmes, news cutting and publicity material are now held with the archives of the Juilliard School of Music.
Jennie Tourel enjoyed a fruitful recording collaboration with Columbia Records, covering music by Bach, Berlioz, Bernstein, Bizet, Chopin, Debussy, Fauré, Foss, Hahn, Hindemith, Mahler, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Offenbach, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Rossini, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams and Villa-Lobos, a number of which were conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Whilst almost all her recordings were made in the United States, she did record a number of operatic items in London in September 1951. She also made two discs for the American Decca label, parts of which appeared in a CD in the Decca series "The Singers" in 1991. The Haydn songs comprised a whole disc devoted to the cantata Arianna a Naxos and six English Canzonettas which were made for the enterprising Haydn Society of Boston in the summer of 1952.
In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMGs Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marstons name is synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs. Opera News calls his work revelatory, and Fanfare deems him miraculous. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophones complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mints Arturo Toscanini issue and BMGs Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.
Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.
In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by lifting the voices off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.
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TOUREL, Jennie: Vocal Portrait (A) (1946-1952)