Five 'French' Tenors

Luccioni, José                                 (Corsican tenor, 1903 - 1978)

Showing an early passion for mechanics and cars, his voice was discovered while he was serving in the military. He listened to the Italian troupes and admired César Vezzani’s recordings above all! In 1927 he entered the Conservatoire de Paris and studied with Léon David, Léon Escalaïs and Eugène Size who eventually became his wife.  In 1931 he sang  (first role: Canio) at the Grand Opéra Paris for one season. In 1933 he was engaged at the Opéra-Comique where he was successful as Don José, a role he sang about 500 (?) times. He soon specialized in dramatic tenor roles which suited his temperament. From 1935 - 1937 he regularly appeared at Italian opera houses.  Between 1934 and 1950 he was a frequent guest at the “provinces” throughout France, Spain and Belgium. The Opera of Chicago engaged him in the season 1937/38. After Worldwar II he played in several sound movies.  At the end of his career he became Director of the Opera in Nice.

José Luccioni is a dramatic tenor with much power in the upper register. His singing is characterized by an overwhelming spontaneity. It is “al fresco singing,” but of a high standard.

I particularly like him as Samson, Don José and Otello, roles that show him at his best, but he had also the capability to sing the more lyrical parts such as Werther, des Grieux and Nadir(!).


Polyeucte (Gounod)

Source délicieuse

(rec. 1947)


Samson et Dalila (Saint-Saëns)

Vois ma misère, hélas! Vois ma détresse!

(rec. 1946)



Micheletti, Gaston                      (Corsican tenor, 1892 - 1959)

Born at Tavaco on the island of Corsica, he studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and made his debut at Reims in 1922, as Faust. Three years later he was contracted to the Opéra-Comique, where his first role was Des Grieux. This opera house became the centre of his activities until his retirement in 1946. He sang in a wide range of roles, including Don José, Turiddu, Hoffmann, Gérald, Pinkerton, Canio, Dimitri in Alfano’s Risurrezione, Mylio, Werther, Rodolfo, Cavaradossi and Roméo. He created numerous roles in premieres of forgotten French operas. His career was largely restricted to French and Belgian opera houses.

He is a lirico-spinto tenor of remarkable subtility. The timbre of his voice is attractive, warm and velvety, with a slightly baritonal tinge. There is a hint of rapid vibrato which I like very much.

Micheletti is an ideal Faust. He is poetic and natural sounding, quite the contrary to the more “intellectuel” and mannered Nicolai Gedda. He is also wonderful in Massenet’s Hérodiade. Micheletti’s intimate sound and inner emotion are perfectly adequate for Werther. His Don José opposite Conchita Supervia has become a classic.

Carmen (Bizet)

La fleur que tu m’avez jetée

(rec. 1929)


Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni)

Mère, mère, ce vin est généreux

(rec. 1943)


Faust (Gounod)

Salut! Demeure chaste et pure

(rec. 1929)



Rogatchevsky, Joseph               (Ukrainian-Belgian tenor, 1891 - 1985)

He left Russia in 1909 and attended the Paris Conservatoire, enlisting in 1914. Although he was  wounded during Worldwar, he continued his voice studies at the end of the war and was taught by Isnardon and Hettich. Rogatchevsky made his debut at the Opera of Toulouse. His first role at the Opéra-Comique was Cavaradossi. From 1924 he spent his time between Paris, the provinces and the La Monnaie in Brussels where he became its first lyrical tenor from 1924 to 1952! He appeared at the Vienna State Opera in 1929/30. His repertoire included roles such as Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Orphée, Idomeneo, Florestan, Hermann, Rabaud’s Marouf and the whole French repertoire. He was appointed Director of The La Monnaie in  Brussels from 1953 to 1959.

He is a lirico-spinto tenor of a melancholic and elegiac timbre. Frequently lacking correct breath support, he sings with a remarkable sweetness of tone. He recorded Des Grieux in  Manon as well as Werther in integral recordings of reference status.

I like him most in arias of The Queen of Spades, Prince Igor and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Maynight. This is fine singing indeed, without any tendency to frequently a lachrymose tone which he showed in the French repertory.

Le Roi d’Ys (Lalo)

Vainement, ma bien aimée

(rec. 1927)


Maynight (Rimsky-Korsakov)

The sun is sinking already

(rec. 1927, in Russian)


The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)

My beauty, my goddess! Angel of heaven!

(rec. 1930, in French)



Vezzani, César             (Corsican tenor, 1886 - 1951)

He was born in Bastia on Corsica and came to Paris in 1908. He hardly knew how to read and write and speaking a poor French! His voice was first discovered by the sopranist Agnes Borgo (1879 - 1958). She became his first teacher and sent him to the Conservatoire National de Paris. They married in 1913. He made his debut in Grétry’s Richard Coeur de Lion at the Opéra-Comique in 1912. The couple was invited to sing in Boston and Chicago, but World War I broke out and they had to cancel. A disagreement with the management of the Opéra-Comique arose, after which his career was largely confined to the operas of Nizza, Marseille, Toulon and Toulouse and Brussels. He never returned to Paris. During World War II he lived in exile and appeared at the opera of Algier, where he was much admired. In 1947 he signed a contract for three years with the La Monnaie Brussels, but during a rehearsal on stage in Toulon he suffered a stroke which paralysed him completely. He died in 1951.

Vezzani is a dramatic tenor of great brilliance and with a ringing top. There is a vibrant vitality in his singing.

I particularly admire him as Otello (in excellent French, a forgotten art today). Di quella pira from Il Trovatore and Reyer’s Sigurd as well as Corentin in Dinorah show him at his very best.


Sigurd (Reyer)

 Prince du Rhin, au pays de mon père

 J’ai gardé mon âme ingénue

 Esprits, gardiens

(rec. 1932)


Otello (Verdi)

Tout m’abondonne

(rec. 1929)



Villabella, Miguel                             (Spanish-French tenor, 1892 - 1954)

He was born in Bilbao. His father, a well-known baritone throughout Spain, did not encourage Miguel to follow in his footsteps. Miguel was sent to study business and upon graduation he went to Paris as a business apprentice. One day he was overheard singing in the street by none other than Lucien Fugère who immediately offered to give him lessons. After a few months he returned to make his professional debut at a concert singing a selection from Rigoletto (1927). He returned to Paris and sang in military hospitals for wounded French troops. While in Paris, he continued his studies with Fugère and Isnardon (the teacher also of Rogatchevsky). He made his debut at the Opéra-Comique in 1920 as Spoletta. He was successful in the title role of Messager’s Fortunio and soon became one of Paris’ most admired singers. This popularity led to further engagements both the Opéra-Comique and the Grand-Opéra. He appeared in a variety of operas such as La Bohème, Le Roi d’Ys, Così fan tutte, La Traviata, Carmen, Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Roméo et Juliette, Tosca, Lakmé, Le Barbier de Séville, Manon, Mireille, La Dame Blanche, Faust, Werther and Rigoletto. He retired in 1940 and continued to be active as a teacher in Paris until his death.

His voice is of an individual timbre with an easy top as well as a fine voix mixte. The forward placement may not be to everybody’s taste, however, his singing is characterized by fine elegance. He is able to sing perfect fioriture without aspirations.

He is excellent in arias from Adam’s Le Postillon de Longjumeau and Boïldieu’s La Dame Blanche, demonstrating his fine technique and charme. I admire him in operas such as Lakmé, Mireille and Grisélidis.

Grisélidis (Massenet)

Voir Grisélidis

(rec. 1928)


Mireille (Gounod)

Anges du paradis

(rec. 1932)


Lakmé (Délibes)

Fantaisie aux divins mensonges

(rec. 1928)


José Luccioni: (selection)

Recital Vol. 1 (Werther, Hérodiade, Pailasse, Tosca, La Bohème, Roméo et Juliette, Carmen, Manon, Samson et Dalila)


Recital Vol. 2 (Polyeucte, Otello, La Reine de Saba, Aida)


18 Ténors d’Expression Française

Musica memoria

Saint-Saëns - Samson et Dalila (Fourestier 1946/Bouvier, Cabanel, Cambon)

Naxos Historical

Gaston Micheletti:


Recital (Faust, Mignon, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Roméo et Juliette, Le Roi d’Ys, Mireille, Hérodiade, Carmen, Werther)

The Vintage Music Company

18 Ténors d’Expression Française

Musica memoria

Bizet - Carmen (Excerpts/Supervia, Heldy, Ansseau, Endrèze, Norena, Visconti, Thill, Calvé, Caruso)

Music memoria

Lalo - Le Roi d’Ys (Inghelbrecht live 1943/Cernay, Guillamat, Ravoux, Lovano)


Mascagni - Cavalleria Rusticana (Cloez 1934/Cernay, Endrèze)


Joseph Rogatchevsky:


18 Ténors d’Expression Française

Music memoria

Famous Tenors of the Past

Preiser - LV

Massenet - Manon (Cohen 1929/Féraldy, Villier, Guénot)


Recital (Arias by Gluck, Wagner, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Puccini)

Preiser - LV

César Vezzani: (selection)

Recital Vol. 1 (Jérusalem, Werther, Louise, L’Africaine, Roméo et Juliette, Le Roi d’Ys, Hérodiade, La Navarraise, Airs corses)


Recital Vol. 2  (Aida, Othello, Le Trouvère, Tosca, Cavalleria Rusticana, Pailasse, Guillaume Tell)


César Vezzani chante Massenet

Music Memoria

18 Ténors d’Expression Française

Music Memoria

Gounod - Faust (Busser 1930/Berthon, Journet, Musy)


Massenet - Werther (Excerpts)


Reyer - Sigurd (Excerpts)


Wagner - Lohengrin (Excerpts)


Miguel Villabella: (selection)

Pathé and Odeon Recordings 1927 - 1936


18 Ténors d’Expression Française

Music Memoria

L’Opéra-Comique Vol. 1 and 2 - La Direction d’Albert Carré


Délibes - Lakmé (Cloez, Cohen, Inghelbrecht, Andolfi      1928 - 1936/Féraldy, Pernet)



The best “French” tenors of the interwar period were not  French-born. Luccioni, Micheletti and Vezzani were Corsican, Villabella was a Spaniard and Rogatchevsky was of Ukranian origin.

As with most of the French singers, their careers were mostly centered in France and Belgium. All of them (except Vezzani) enjoyed considerable success at the Opéra-Comique and the Grand Opéra Paris. They regularly appeared at French and Belgian opera houses, by no means “provincial” theatres in those days. Standards at the opera houses of Marseille, Toulouse, Monte Carlo, Rouen, Vichy, Montpéllier, Nice, Lyon, Bordeaux, Brussels and Gent were high.

Luccioni, Rogatchevsky and Vezzani may not belong to the “stylistic” singers but there is much passion and spontaneity in their singing. They all demostrate what French enunciation is about...


“La coloration de la voix, pour qu’elle soit bonne, il faut qu’elle vienne de l’âme. La technique n’est pas tout; il faut qu’elle puisse répondre, mais c’est l’émotion qui induit la couleur.”

Jeannine Reiss


Many thanks to Jan Neckers