I was wondering, as the sun crept up over the ocean's edge, which of my biographical articles from past years I would decorate and blog today. Herr Angyalfi is a hard act to follow! Well, this one picked itself. I was googling around after a piece of music when I stumbled into wikipedia. Google always, good or bad, gives it first place in its listings, and my latest OS 'update' seems to make it open automatically. Today it opened the listing for the great and grand French singer, Jules Lefort. The listing - you can't call it an article -- is one and a half lines long. And of all his famous romances it lists one which hardly made a ripple, but has a buzzword lyricist. Why do people post wikipedia articles on subjects of which they know nothing? The credibility of the whole organisation suffers. Anyway, I thought I should rescue the admirable Jules from this insult and ignominy ... so here is my brief 5000+ words on his subject ...
LEFORT, Jules [François René] (b Paris 27 January 1822; d 10 Boulevard Emile Augier, Paris 7 September 1898)
The most celebrated of all French drawing-room singers of the Victorian age, Jules Lefort was a lion of the private salons of the rich and aristocratic, and of the fashionable public concert rooms, on both sides of the English Channel, for something like thirty years.
Oddly, however, he does not seem to have made his way into any musical dictionary or encyclopaedia that I have, and I was able to find very little in the way of biographical material on him, apart from a suggestion (since backed up by documents) that he was born in Paris in early 1822. I discover, now, that he was born into a family originally from Laboissière, Oise.
Even more strange than this neglect, however, is the dichotomy which exists when it comes to describing his voice. In the days of his early career he was variously described as a tenor and as a baritone, in his elder years he sang bass music. It is a not unfamiliar progression – from high baritone to topless baritone – and many a vocalist has followed it. But it is the quality and size of the voice on which contemporaries, oddly, don’t seem able to agree. One moment the press is referring to his ‘large and beautiful’ organ, and the effects which he is able to make with it, and the next (and this frequently) referring to the fact that this elegant performer had ‘more style than voice’. At the other extreme, the Austrian critic Hanslick referred to him as ‘stimmlose’.
There is no doubt that Jules Lefort was a very clever artist, able to interpret the romances and songs of his age with delicacy and point, with intelligence and expression, in a manner which was highly effective, even under the close scrutiny of a knowledgeable drawing-room audience. Time and again, the critics held him up as a shining example of a veritable artist of the world of the chanson, time and again, he was hailed as the outstanding male singer of romances and ballads in Paris and in London, but – although I imagine him as a lightish baritone-to-tenor of charm, something in the same vein as Alexander Reichardt in the German Lied – it is evident that not everyone heard him as such. He was known to have sung bass roles.
The first mention I can trace of Jules Lefort as a vocalist is in the pages of the newspaper Les Coulisses of 23 January 1842, where, under a paragraph devoted to the Paris Opéra, is written: ‘On s’occupe beaucoup d’un nouveau ténor découvert par la direction et qui, dit-on, n’est pas sans mérite. Ce jeune homme, qu’on nomme M Lefort, a été entendu ces jours-ci, dans un concert particulier. On a recensé, conformément aux prévisions, que la belle voix de M Lefort ayant aujourd'hui la caractère du baryton, inclinerait au ténor par le travail et par l’éducation musicale du sujet..’ Already, the precise nature of Lefort’s voice is under question, although, at nineteen years of age, he has already alerted the musical world to his existence.
However, the young man did not force his way immediately into the limelight, nor on to the stage of the Opéra. Over the following years, I spot him only episodically on the concert platforms of France – in 1844 at the Salle Erard with Louis Lacombe, chez Mons Bernhard with the veteran vocalist Hippolyte Huet, at the Salle Montesquieu duetting Le Barbier de Seville with Mlle Ousselin, at Sens ‘très applaudi’ in a song called ‘Ma Go[e]llette’, and at a charity concert at the Salle Herz where, alongside Octavie Morize, he ‘a fort bien chanté l’air du baryton de Maria de Rohan et deux romances…’.
'Ma Goelette' was the work of Alfred Quidant, who would supply Lefort with many a song over the years to come.
I see our man rather more frequently in the first months of 1845, notably at an aristocratic salon, giving Victoria Arago’s new songs ‘Le Hamac’ and ‘Amours de l’Arabe’ which ‘admirablement dramatisés par la belle et large voix de M Lefort ont produit un effet immense’. ‘M Lefort a chanté deux delicieuses romances de Mme Victoria Arago avec une chaleur et un âme qui le placent, dès ce moment, aux premiers rangs de nos barytons’, reported another journal, predicting that the winter would not pass without this young singer becoming a flower of the salons of the aristocracy. Shortly after, he is singing for Mlle Morize at the Salle Herz (‘une romance d’Alfred Quidant’), later for Julie Vavasseur and alongside Julie Dorus-Gras and Levassor at the Italiens concert-room, and on 29 March, ‘M Lefort le jeune baryton, qui jouit en ce moment d’un grand faveur dans les salons, annonce pour dimanche prochain le 9 mars un matinée musicale dans la salle Henri Herz’. His guests were Emilie Sabatier and Mlle Vavasseur.
By the next season, when he again ventured at the Salle Herz (29 March), he was quite simply referred to in the musical press as the ‘baryton en vogue’. That vogue was evidently principally in the private sector, and it was there that, in November 1846, he made what seems to have been his first venture in another field in which he would become pre-eminent, the ‘opéra de salon’. Private performances of operas and musical comedies in the homes of the aristocracy and the wealthy were a favourite pastime of the period, and the Walter-Scottish Alice of Friedrich von Flotow and Count Honoré de Sussy had been first seen played at the home of Comte Jules de Castellane, nearly a decade earlier. This time, the leading players were Mme Henri Potier (née de Sussy) of the Opéra-Comique, and Mons Jules Lefort.
I note him in public performances in Paris (Paul Henrion's 'Le roi des régates', Lepine’s ‘Marine', Quidant and Guérin's ‘Ma Barque’, Gibby le cornemuse air) in 1847, at Orléans and Rouen, in the company of Mme Sabatier, ‘the lark of the salons’, and in March 1850, even the English press took notice when he sang at Henriette Sontag’s concert at the Paris Conservatoire: The Morning Chronicle reported ‘M Jules Lefort a young French baritone, with a magnificent organ, sang ‘La Monastère’ and other pieces with distinguished effect’. England would very soon have the opportunity to judge Mons Lefort for itself, for three months later the young vocalist made his first visit to London.
|18 June 1850|
He seems to have made his debut on the London platform at a concert given by his compatriot, the harpist Félix Godefroid, at Willis’s Rooms 15 June 1850, alongside Valérie de Rupplin, Sophia Schloss, Brignoli and Ciabatta, and the young Catherine Browne, soon to become fatally ‘Miss Crichton’. By 2 July, when he sang, in wholly continental company, at the concert of the German pianist, Mme Belleville d’Oury, The Times was able to describe ‘a French barytone [who] has produced an agreeable sensation in several concerts this season. He has a very agreeable voice, full-toned and flexible, and his singing, which is remarkably unaffected, has all the beauties with none of the ordinary defects of the French school’. Within days, the music publishers Rousselot and Arban of Conduit Street, had ‘Le Petit Enfant’ (Quidant/Boudin), ‘Loin de ma mère’ (Henrion) and ‘Ma barque’ (Quidant) ‘sung with so much success by M Lefort at Mme Oury’s concert’ in the music shops.
Lefort returned to Paris, but in October he again visited London to take part in a series of concerts dubbed ‘Grand National Concerts’, under the baton of Balfe at Her Majesty’s Theatre. ‘M Jules Lefort, who last season produced a very favourable effect at many private and public matinees..’ featured for a month on Balfe’s programmes, giving not only the romances which had captured London’s imagination (‘Ma barque’, Adam’s ‘Cantique de Noel’, Adhémer’s ‘L’Abordage’), but a series of operatic duets and solos (‘Il sangue tinto’ and Masaniello with Gustavus Geary, ‘Se un istanto’ with Sophia Messent, ‘A te, o cara’ with Mrs Alexander Newton, ‘Léonore, mon amour’, ‘Questo dunque’, ‘Cruda funeste’).
In spite of his undoubted success in Britain, Lefort did not return for the next two seasons. He apparently stayed in France, where I notice him at the Concerts Marmontel (‘M Jules Lefort a chanté deux délicieuses romances de M Pasdeloup, ‘L'aube naît’ and ‘Comment disait-il’’), at the Salle Pleyel (Jeane d’Arc, Joseph) and Salle Herz (‘Le roi solitaire’, ‘Ne me regardes plus’, Nibelle's 'Rêve d'enfant', Quidant's 'Chantez, gais matelots'), but in May 1853 he again crossed the Manche, preceded by an advertisement: ‘romances françaises: Mons Jules Lefort, whose singing in this particular branch of the art was so highly patronised during his last visit to London, three years ago, begs to inform the nobility and his friends that he has just come back for the season ... 4 Audley Street, Grosvenor Square’.
His first re-appearance was at the fashionable concert of Madame Puzzi (30 May), who would be one of his most sturdy patrons over the decades to come.
He was welcomed back firmly: ‘one of the most finished of those romance singers who are at present the delight of the Parisian salons’, ‘Nothing could be more tasteful than his execution of a couple of the current popular French songs of the day – Quidant’s ‘Petit enfant’ and Adolphe Adam’s ‘Noel’’, ‘One of the best features of the concert was the very artistic singing by M Jules Lefort of two romances…’. A steady stream of concert engagements followed, as Lefort brought out amongst other ‘Le petit mousse noir’ (Pierre-Jacques Chéret/Marc Constantin), ‘Le Muletier de Calabre’ (Victor Massé/Joseph Vimeux), ‘Tais-toi, mon coeur’ (Paul Henrion/Michel Tissandier), the latest romances of Jacques Blumenthal and an aria, ‘Champs paternels’, from Méhul’s Joseph. He ventured just occasionally into the operatic, as at Signor Puzzi’s Benefit or that of Mrs Arthur Stone, where he joined the Beneficiare in ‘La ci darem’, but it was his French songs that London wanted and, largely, that is what Lefort gave to the city. And, at the end of the season, Manchester. And, ultimately, with the publication in London of an album, Jules Lefort’s collection of romances and scenes, the whole country.
In what would become a regular annual routine, he progressed from London to some of Europe’s favourite watering places, before returning to Paris for the winter season.
I spy him there, more often than not in the company of Mme Gaveaux-Sabatier (concerts of Etienne Arnaud, Salle Herz etc), giving such pieces as the romance from Donizetti’s Il Castello di Kenilworth or ‘La nuit du bûcheron’, and duetting an Ambroise Thomas morceau from La Tonelli.
In April, with the Paris season done, the expected announcement appeared: ‘we understand that this distinguished vocalist after a most successful season in Paris will shortly arrive in London...’ And he duly did, equipped with all his old favourites and a few new ones, including a topical ‘Hurrah pour la France et pour l’Angleterre’ (Huilier/Méry), Hippolyte Audeval and Blumenthal’s ‘Pour ma mère’, Rosenhain’s ‘Je veux oublier’ and G Muratori’s ‘Le Prisonnier’ to the now regular appraisal ‘one of the best French chamber singers that ever visited this country’, ‘he has a good tenor voice and sang skilfully and with fine judgement’.
In the next seasons, Lefort – now thoroughly established, alongside Mme Gaveaux-Sabatier, as one of the most fashionable vocalists of his era – led a busy career on both sides of the Channel. In September 1854, he sang before Prince Albert at Boulogne, performing two pieces which would become staples of his repertoire: Luigi Bordese’s ‘David chantant devant Saul’, and the comical duet on ‘Au Claire de la lune’ from Boieldieu’s Les voitures versées. One this occasion, his coloratura partner was Marie Cabel, but later he would perform the same duet with a bouquet of well-known sopranos including Mme Gaveaux-Sabatier, Mme Lefébvure-Wély, Delphine Ugalde, Marie Rieder, Louisa Pyne or Helen Lemmens-Sherrington.
He introduced Alfred Dufresne’s patriotic ‘En avant les zouaves’ with words by a certain Jules Verne, Emile Durand’s ‘Un rayon de soleil’, Jules Couplet’s ‘L’oiseau de Berthe’ and ‘Pourquoi rêver’, and on the occasion of the Inauguration of the statue of Jeanne d’Arc at Orléans, he joined Alexis Dupont and Mlle Montigny as the soloists in Adolphe Nibelle’s occasional choral symphony. In 1856, he appeared with Mme Gaveaux-Sabatier before the Emperor and Empress ‘at home’, in one of the little ‘operas di camera’, which would become a feature of their work in the 1850s and 1860s, Tout est bien qui finit bien (J-B Weckerlin/Jules Malherbe) and, a few months later, with Johanna Wagner, Reichardt and Jenny Ney, before the British Queen, at her palace (‘David chantant devant Saul’, ‘Le petit mousse noir’, Henrion’s ‘Tais-toi, mon coeur’, ‘Une fievre brillante’ from Richard Coeur de Lion). When the celebrated comic Levassor visited Britain and gave one of his ‘concerts bouffes’, it was Jules Lefort who joined him to play Offenbach’s two-handed Les deux aveugles.
On the same occasion, Levassor performed a burlesque piece entitled Le voyage aérien of which Lefort was advertisedly the author. But what Britain loved most was 'those delicious little French ballads in which he is quite unequalled'.
In the mid 1850s, Jules Lefort had reached the pinnacle of his fame in France and in Britain, and in regular summer visits to, in particular, Baden, delivering such pieces as Monpou’s ‘L’Air de Piquillo’ (‘lui a permis d’étaler une voix large et sympathétique qu’il pourrait cependant conduire avec plus de méthode’), Nadaud’s ‘Cheval et cavalier’, Zampi’s ‘Le Chant du foyer’, de Beauvais’s ‘Le Testament divin’, Clémentine Batta’s ‘Hymne à la vierge’ and 'Juanita', ‘Comme à vingt ans’ (ly: Emile Barateau) and ‘Le Biniou’ (ly: Hippolyte Guérin) by Emile Durand, Henrion’s ‘Que je voudrais avoir de ailes’, Beranger's 'Le vieux caporal', Lamartine's 'L'Hirondelle', Gustave Héquet's 'Sans nommer' or items from Felicien David’s L’Eden, Spontini’s Milton, Le Maître de Chapelle, La Chaste Suzanne, Catrufo’s Félicie, Ma Tante Aurore, Les Dragons de Villars and others of the opéra-comique kind. Yet I spot him delivering the Les Huguenots duet, with Pauline Lauters as well! The French press had little need to record ‘Sa voix est belle, bien posée, son accentuation est parfaite, les milles nuances de l’expression, il les saisit à merveille’, and the British press, when he sang at Hortense Parent’s concert at Cambridge House, at ‘the most brilliantly attended concert of the season’, recorded that he sang with ‘astonishing verve’ going as far to assure that ‘he sang in a style worthy even of Duprez’.
He also brought out further opéras de salon, three of them Suzanne, Ariel and L’Esprit du foyer composed by Salvator Collin. Others included L’Héritier sans le Savoir of Pauline Thys, Les Deux Princesses by Emilien Pacini and Comte Wilfrid D’Indy, a piece by Mesigny and Massa (aristocrats both), and Jules Beer’s En état de siège (text: Cléon Galoppe d'Onquaire). Suzanne almost got him into bother, for the composer took to playing it without reference to his librettist, Prosper Mignard, who promptly sued all concerned for royalties and when he got only 50 francs, put a block on further performances.
In November 1858, Lefort introduced what would be one of his most memorable creations in the scena ‘Le Paradis perdu’ composed by Théodore Ritter to the words of Baron Darou de Coubaltes. The Paris press recorded, of the concert at the Sorbonne, in aid of the Société de Bienfaisance de la Monnaie: ‘Jules Lefort … excellent baryton a deployé des resources vocals qu’on ne le connaissait pas encore. Les deux la bémol [A flat] de poitrine qu’il a donné ont presque fait crouler les voûtes sous les bravos. Chaque strophe a été chaudement applaudie et a la fin du morceau un bis formidable sorti de deux mille bouches a obligé Theodore Ritter, qui l’accompagnait, a se rasseoir et Jules Lefort de redire ‘Le Paradis perdu’. C’est un succès aussi grand que merité…’
1859 was the year of ‘Le Paradis perdu’. Wherever Lefort went, his hit scena went with him, hailed as ‘le succès vocale de la saison’, from the concert of M and Mme Deloffre (‘artiste indefatigable ... voix des plus sympathétiques ... longuement applaudi dans une belle scène de M Th Ritter’) to Hector Berlioz’s concert at the Opéra-Comique. The authors attempted to follow up with a piece entitled ‘Le Réveil de l’Italie’, which the press compared favourably to ‘La Marseillaise’, but which didn’t have the same enduring capability.
Soon after, Lefort was involved in yet another ‘creation’, which would also survive to these days. When Hector Berlioz first tried out a few portions of his Les Troyens, in the rooms of the Parisian Beethoven Society (where Lefort was a member of the staff), Lefort and Anne Charton-Demeur gave the demo. And when, on 29 August 1859, Berlioz introduced ‘fragments d’un opéra inédit en cinq actes’ as part of a concert during the Fêtes de Baden, Lefort sang the ghostly Chorèbe to the Cassandre of Pauline Viardot Garcia, and shared with her the Dido/Aeneas ‘O nuit d’ivresse’, in the first public performance of those portions of the opera. Insurance had, however, been taken in the case of public disinterest. On the same programme Viardot gave ‘Nacque all’affano’ and Lefort … ‘Le Paradis perdu’.
From opera, Lefort returned to his round of romances and opéras de salon, supporting the evergreen ‘Le paradis perdu’ with such items as Nadaud’s ‘L’Insomnie’, Martini’s ‘Plaisir d’amour’, Durand's 'Comme à vingt ans', Ernest Boulanger’s ‘La Main du seigneur’, Pergolesi’s ‘Tre giorne’, Massé’s ‘Carnaval de Venise’, Louis Engel’s ‘Comment est-ce arrivé’ and the production of Edmond Hocmelle and Jenny Sabatier’s 1-acter Un Service d’ami, alongside his habitual operatic partner, Mme Gaveaux-Sabatier. Appreciation was as high or higher than ever, and when he gave his own concert in Paris in April 1861 he was greeted: 'M. Jules Lefort n’a pas manqué non plus d’appréciateurs de son charmant talent. Un auditoire brillant l’a chaleureusement accueilli. J. Lefort est du petit nombre de barytons qui chantent. Il ne pousse pas la voix, en lui donnant ce timbre de taureau si irritant, si insupportable, qu’on subit trop souvent dans les théâtres; il la laisse sortir tout simplement, et la conduit sans peine en lui donnant les plus douces inflexions. Sans doute l’énergie n’est pas sa qualité principale, mais les avantages qu’il possède ne sont pas de ceux qu’on rencontre aisément et auxquels il faille préférer la sonorité violente. M. Lefort vient d’être engagé pour trois ans, à de très belles conditions, par le directeur du Théâtre-Lyrique.’
It was true. At nearly forty years of age, the vocalist who had made his fame in drawing rooms and concert rooms, had been signed to make an operatic debut under the management of the Théâtre Lyrique. The vehicle chosen was the 3-act opera-ballet Le Neveu de Gulliver, the work of Henri Boisseaux and Théodore de Lajarte, with Lefort in the title-role. It opened on 22 October 1861. Lefort was by no means a failure. He was, as always, charming and sang delightfully. The Revue des deux mondes reported: ‘M Jules Lefort, un chanteur agréable de salon qui possède une voix de baryton aspirant au tenor par quelques notes flûtées avec lesquels il a tant soupiré la plaintive romance, s’est produit pour la première fois dans Le Neveu de Gulliver,ou il represente le héros de la légende. M Lefort a du goût, un physique convenable, et une certain habitude de la scène, qui lui ont merité un acceuil favourable. Tout donne lieu a éspèrer que M Jules Lefort se fera remarquer avec avantage dans une carrière aussi difficile que celle de chanteur dramatique’.
Elsewhere, one was gently positive ‘Le Neveu de Gulliver sous la figure sympathétique de Lefort a eu un veritable success ... dans le monde feminine surtout. C’est une pièce juste aimable qu’on écoute sans effort … Lefort a detaillé avec beaucoup de goût la charmante romance de Gulliver au 1er acte ‘Dans ses regards parlants’… ‘Son talent est toujours le même que les salons et les concerts applaudissent l’an dernier, un talent soigneux, parfois meme minutieux, il dit avec un goût exquis, qui lui est naturel, et un style excellent, ou on sent la méthode de son maitre del Sarte, c’est surtout un chanteur gracieux, le comédien est un peu naïf, mais avec l’intelligence de Lefort l’habitude de la scene viendra bientôt …’ The Revue contemporaine was less happy, referring to the ‘chanteur favori des salons et concerts qui, peut-etre, eût été sage de s’en contenter …’
To all evidence, the Revue contemporaine was right. Le Neveu de Gulliver was not a success, and Lefort went off to the London concert season where he gave ‘David chantant devant Saul’, the Joseph aria, the Voitures versées duet, Faure’s ‘Les Rameaux’ and Nadaud’s ‘Le Nid abandonné’, and the soon-to-be-famous Gounod serenade, ‘Quand tu chantes’, originally composed for Mme Lefébvure-Wély to words by Victor Hugo. He even performed Les Noces de Jeannette with Mme Miolan-Carvahlo in private theatricals at the home of Lady Molesworth.
He did, however, return to the Théâtre Lyrique, where he appeared as the King of Cocagne in Pauline Thys and Deforges’ Le Pays de Cocagne (24 May 1862, ‘Un soir j’errais’) for the two performances of its existence. And, in one more operatic outing, on 11 August 1862, when Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict was created at Baden, Lefort played the supporting role of Claudio, alongside Montaubry and Mme Charton-Demeur. The operatic experience, however, was one that Lefort, sagely, acknowledged to have been a step out of his defined area, and after this he returned to the world where he was supreme, the world of the French romance and the French comic-operatic duet, for the decade of active career that remained to him, a career in which he kept up his triple presence in France, England, and the fashionable watering-places of Europe (where he was hailed as ‘un des grand barytons du temps’) whilst making periodic side trips to other European countries.
In 1866 he can be seen singing at the Royal Palace and other lofty venues in Berlin in the company of such as Lucca, Wachtel, Anna Regan and Désirée Artôt, giving the faithful ‘Cantique de Noel’, Membrée’s ‘Page, Ecuyer, Capitaine’, 'Ma barque', Panseron's 'Au revoir, Louise' and duetting a duo espagnole by Yradier with Mme Artôt.
Later the same year he is in Spain, praised for his ‘unique style and expressive voice’. He also made a long tour in a concert party organised by the American impresario Ullman, teamed with Carlotta Patti, the violinist Vieuxtemps, the cellist Alexandre Batta, and pianist Eugene Ketterer, which set out from Nantes in the autumn of 1866. His contribution to their concerts included Gounod’s ‘Le Vallon’, songs of Nadaud, and the Barbiere di Siviglia duet with Mlle Patti.
In 1867, his London season included an appearance at Queen Victoria’s state concert on 18 June, at Buckingham Palace. Gounod was called upon again for the ‘Chanson de printemps’, the old Voitures versées duet came out again (with Louisa Pyne), the popular Alsatian duet from Offenbach’s Lischen et Fritzchen was given by Lefort and Amélie Deméric-Lablache, and he joined in the Cosi fan tutte quintet, ‘Di scrivermi ogni giorno’, which completed the programme.
The Lischen and Frizchen duet was henceforth advertised as ‘sung at Buckingham Palace by..’ and Lefort repeated it with other partners (Mme Vera-Lorini &c) during the season, along with ‘Le Vallon’ (‘with perfect taste’), Blumenthal’s ‘Le Chemin du paradis’, the unfailing ‘David chantant devant Saul’, and his usual ration of duets with lady concert-givers – Roméo et Juliette with Mathilde Enequist, ‘Legères hirondelles’ with Eleanor Armstrong -- before terminating his London season and heading off, again under the aegis of Mister Ullmann, for Vienna. He evidently pleased Ullmann, for, following another full London season (Alsatian duet with Mme Anichini, Berlioz’s ‘Ange adoré’, Sainton-Dolby’s ‘Out on the rocks’, Hamlet duet with a certain Mme Rouhaud de Cournon etc), the impresario sent him out on a second long tour with Carlotta Patti in 1868 (‘Quand tu chantes’, Barbiere duet), alongside Vieuxtemps, comic singer Berthelier and the same Félix Godefroid with whom he had sung in London, nearly 20 years earlier.
By this time, Lefort had already established himself as a teacher and pundit on singing. His book L’Emission de la voix was published in 1868, and it would later be followed by his Méthode de Chant (1874), but he had still a number of years as an active singer to fulfil, and he was still collecting accolades such as ‘[he] stands alone as a singer of French songs’ or the more craintive ‘perhaps the best singer of French songs the English public are in the habit of meeting with’. When he sang at Mons Paque’s concert in London, 24 May 1869, it was still thought worthwhile to dilate a little in the press on the talents of a man some twenty years a star of the British platform, and a presumably young or new journalist wrote nicely: ‘M Lefort is not so ecstatic as some of his contemporaries and refuses to tear a passion to tatters under any consideration. The same degree of forbearance is not always exercised by those who undertake to give French songs’. The nail was hit on the head. Mons Lefort may not have been, as the French press once exclaimed ‘the French delle Sedie’, but he had taste and judgement to resell, and, at nearly fifty years of age, his art meant that his voice was still in as good a shape as ever.
In March of 1871 he even made a first appearance at London’s august Philharmonic Society.
And his career as a drawing-room performer, too, was far from finished. If his fruitful association with Mme Gaveaux-Sabatier had been, now, some years of the past, there was a new partner in the offing. But, for the meanwhile, he paired with Mathilde Enequist in Les Noces de Jeannette, revived the old Tout est bien qui finit bien at one of Mme Puzzi’s now less glamorous concerts, whilst delivering Reichardt’s ‘J’aime, je suis aimé’, the ‘Mandolinata’, which was regarded as the province of Gardoni, Gounod’s ‘Ce que je suis sans toi’, or Panseron’s ‘Adieu [Au revoir], Louise’ to his untiring fans.
The partners of Jules Lefort’s final years as a performer were, in fact, two. One for the concert stage, another for the opéra de salon. In 1871, he teamed up with Helen Lemmens-Sherrington and her husband, for a major concert tour. Sherrington’s sister, Jose, tenor Nelson Varley and the violinist Alexandre Cornelis made up the party, which toured widely, with Lefort performing much the same role that he had alongside Carlotta Patti. The tour was notably successful, and the Lemmenses and Lefort worked together for several seasons (‘Pinsuti’s ‘I heard a voice’, ‘Adieu, Louise’, Lemmens’s ‘Mina’, Le petit chaperon rouge aria, ‘The Singing Lesson’, Le Maître de Chapelle duet, Lucia di Lammermoor duet, Toreador and L’Ombre ensembles). Part of their repertoire was a performance of the Rossini Stabat Mater in which Lefort took the bass role.
His dramatic partner of the era was Marie Dumas, a drawing-room performer of some fame with her ‘saynètes de salon’. The two of them came together to play a little piece which Dumas had written, under the title Une soirée perdue, and had set to music by Pauline Viardot Garcia. It was played at Lefort and Mme Conneau’s concert in London in June 1872, but the presence of French royalty meant that the social audience paid little heed to the piece. Lefort showed his staying power however, by going on to sing ‘Le Muletier’ in duet with Gardoni, and the Philemon and Baucis duet, ‘Du repos’, with Mme Conneau. Mlle Dumas staged a matinée of her own, later in the 1872 season, and the pair this time performed a piece entitled Le Rêve d’Yvon.
Lefort put in a season of 1873 as full-blooded as any he had ever played, and the British press insisted: ‘We have never heard this accomplished French tenor sing better’, ‘a couple of French romances given to complete perfection’ He gave Une soirée perdue and performances of Prince Poniatowski’s Au travers du mur during the London season, and then on 1 July came out in ‘his Farewell Concert’, ‘on which occasion he will sing the romance in which he has met with such success during his former visits to London, ‘J’aime je suis aimé’’. In fact, he sang ten of his favourite chansons. Mlle Dumas recited, and Jose and Grace Sherrington, Florence Lancia, Lizzie Purdy, Rizelli, Tito Mattei and Teresa Castellan took part, but it was Lefort who gathered the crits: ‘a rare treat… M Lefort is facile princeps among his countrymen in the same branch of art, and he holds that dignity by right of gifts and acquirements far beyond the common order’.
Of course, it wasn’t quite farewell. He appeared a few more times in London, including his last British operatic appearance, at St George’s Hall, in a repeat of Au travers du mur, before saying Farewell to the provinces, in one more round with the Sherringtons. At Bristol, the press noted: ‘the basso [was] unusually strong, M Lefort, veteran as he is, being as effective as ever’.
Back in Paris, he gave a soirée at his headquarters in the Rue de Batignolles, playing La soirée perdue with Mlle Dumas, and duetting ‘Per valli, per boschi’ with Anna Lagrange, a few months later, he was still in town, performing at the concert of Therese Castellan and with old colleague Carlotta Patti …
But by 1875 the mentions of Jules Lefort in the music magazines are all:
‘L’ECOLE DE CHANT DE M JULES LEFORT. Méthode basée sur la prononciation. Les cours ont lieu deux, trois et six fois par semaine chaque séance de deux heures ne comprend que huit eleves. S’inscrire jusqu’a midi chez M Lefort, 29 Boulevard des Batignolles ..’
Jules Lefort became a very successful singing teacher, and his method was even picked up overseas. In London, a Miss Louisa Bellamy advertised vigorously that her singing coaching was ‘après la méthode de M Jules Lefort’.
In 1891 he published another book on voice, Grammaire de la parole.
He died in Paris, at the age of 76.
Lefort, along with his fellow musician, Lefébure-Wély, also took a very active interest in the burgeoning world of photography. The pair were associated with Adrien Tournachon in the 1850s and Lefort is mentioned, in this connection, in a 1980 book on the photographer Nadar, Tournachon’s brother, where the obviously unmusical author describes the outstanding chamber singer of his generation as ‘un ténor médiocre’. It is thus that ‘history’ is made.
Lefort was married to Charlotte Jeanne Judlin, 7 October 1848. Their son, [Pierre Louis] Adrien Lefort (‘Robert Charvay’) (b Paris, 5 March 1856; d Paris, 30 December 1925), became a journalist (Echo de Paris) and writer of plays (notably Mademoiselle Josette, ma femme, L’enfant du miracle) and opérettes (Le fiancé de Thylda, Le Voyage avant la noce).