I only heard the last great French dramatic soprano when she had already graduated to character mezzo parts: as the old, dying Prioress, Mme de Croissy in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites at Covent Garden in the 1980s. Crespin had been the composer’s chosen singer for the role of the new Prioress, Mme Lidoine, in the Paris premiere of his opera in 1958, and the recording made at the time sets the standard for that role and the entire opera. Acclaimed in her native French repertoire – incomparable as Gluck’s Iphigénie and Berlioz’s Didon, she later sang the title-role in Bizet’s Carmen, Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther and Offenbach heroines – she was also a famous Tosca and sang most of Verdi’s dramatic repertoire. Apart from her benchmark recordings of Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été , she is remembered for two German roles on disc:a passionate Sieglinde in Wagner’s Ring and a Marschallin of rare pathos in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, both conducted by Georg Solti. She may have been a flawed singer with an unreliable top register, but she took risks and her identification with the music she sang was complete.
In her own words: ‘When I have a success it is a double one. I always have to fight against the Italian and German sopranos.’
Greatest recording: Wagner Der Ring Des Nibelungen: Pt 2 ‘Die Walküre’ cond. Solti Decca 455 5592