Huberte Vecray (1923 – 2009)

My first reaction  if I hadn’t known the name of the soprano would have been: Géori Boué, a once popular and now very much forgotten French soprano of the forties and fifties. Then doubt would have crept in as the voice soars in roles like Aida and Tosca which would have been above the powers of Boué. But it is clear that Huberte Vecray, a Walloon from the Verviers region (once rich enough to have an opera house) belongs to the French tradition of the sweet and sour voice like some pre-war predecessors as Charlotte Tirard, Jeanne Guyala and Germaine Martinelli. Sweet means that there is something girlish, almost virginal in the tone. There is even a hint of Mado Robin to be heard. At first Vecray’s voice gives the impression of a nice soubrette but that is soon belied by the steel in the sound, by the rich vibrato when ascending to her secure top notes. That first impression is belied to by a voice which cuts through all the ensembles on this record and by the fact that she never sounds overtaxed in an aria like “Ritorna vincitor” (in French translation). Though the voice may sound slender, she easily holds herself in the confrontation with the Amonasro of Walloon baritone Gilbert Dubuc, here at the outset of a good though not great career. His nasal sneer which became a bit  pronounced at the end of the seventies is here almost absent and many a listener will be surprised with the dark brown impressive voice which was recorded too sparingly. Anyway, Vecray easily has all the notes and doesn’t sound overtaxed at all. It is simply one is not accustomed to such a bright young sound in this role. But mind you, the voice is right on the mark, has all the notes and a crystal clear pronunciation as well. Though one pities Vecray and Dubuc at the break neck speed of conductor Doneux; not a very bright light as one of his instrumentalists once told me. As the CD unfolds the voice of Vecray grows on the listener. In Adriana Lecouvreur (in Italian) the Walloon soprano soars  magnificently; one of the great recordings in my opinion of the aria and approaching the mount Everest of Adrianas: Magda Olivero. The same goes for the “Signore ascolta”, recorded at the same concert. I liked her French version of Leonore’s aria in Fidelio as well She easily overcomes all vocal hurdles though such a sound could of course fool no one that this is a woman figuring as a man. There are two long extracts from almost unknown opera’s: Léon Jongen’s (a Walloon composer) “Thomas l’Agnelet” is a rather noisy piece while Auguste de Boek’s (Flemish composer) “La Route d’éméraude” is more lyrical and has better tunes. This last piece has the advantage of introducing as well the first recorded example of French tenor Claude Hector, who became well known in the German speaking countries when France didn’t warm up to him.

(Gilbert Dubuc as Scarpia and Escamillo, Claude Hector as Cavaradossi, courtesy Charles Mintzer collection)

Vecray had a strange career. She was discovered rather young and made her début at 23 at De Munt just a few days after she had finished her studies in 1946. De Munt in those days was not a national theatre as it is nowadays but a concession theatre with some subsidies from the city of Brussels (don’t mix it up with the far larger Brussels agglomeration). Everything in those days was still sung in French. Vecray was a good score reader and her sound made it possible to have her sing in lyrical as well as spinto and even dramatic roles in a not over big theatre as De Munt. Her musical memory was prodigious as well and therefore apart from her roles in the French and Italian repertoire she had to perform in a lot of local creations in often widely diversified repertoire (Albert Herring, The Consul, Friedenstag etc). More conventional roles were Amelia, Rachel, Aida, Maddalena di Coigny). Still when listening to this CD it still comes as a surprise that Turandot and Brunnhilde too were in her repertoire. She retired at the end of 1959 when she married (cfr. Rosanna Carteri) and left for the colony. By the age of 36 she had sung 38 roles in 759 performances. Congo was not the best idea as the country became independent in a lot of turmoil only a few months later. She returned home but never sang a single operatic performance though she gave some concerts of mélodies in her home theatre of Verviers. She taught voice at the Liège conservatory till her retirement in 1988.

All of the recordings on this CD come from radio concerts, often recorded at the very fine and legendary Studio 4 of public radio at the Flageyplein in Elsene (one of the 19 idiotic and inefficient baronies which constitute the Brussels agglomeration). All tracks were recorded between 1950 and 1958 at the time when Vecray was already an experienced singer. The orchestral sound is a little bit constricted but the voices ring out loud and clear. The interesting and complete sleeve notes are by Georges Cardol; probably the biggest operatic collector in Wallonia. The notes are in French, Dutch, German and English though the English version is not always state of the art. Mr. Cardol tells us that with the advent of the new general manager Maurice Huisman, the permanent company of singers at De Munt  folded up. In translation this becomes “at the end of this last season La Monnaie appointed a new director when Maurice Huisman left the company.” Quite the contrary of what Mr. Cardol wrote. There is a generous sprinkling of photographs of the singer as well in this very finely produced CD. The issue warmed my appetite for a portrait of the already mentioned Gilbert Dubuc who though a Walloon sang a better Dutch than 90 % of his Flemish colleagues. Anyway I hope this series ( will continue and I warmly recommend this recording.

Jan Neckers