Performing Wotan: Jean-François Delmas
In these images, bass-baritone Jean-François Delmas can be seen as both an actor and a man. The first images are Delmas as the imposing Wotan in La Valkyrie in 1893. Just as Bréval (the woman with whom he is pictured) had done for the role of Brünnhilde, Delmas premiered the role of Wotan for the Parisian audience. In the penultimate image we see him as a man of the early 20th-century, conversing on the opera stage with his peers during a break in the rehearsal. Among these colleagues are Hatto and Chambon, both of whom were also part of the 1904 La Valkyrie. Among Parisian audiences Delmas was noted for his extensive upper range that allowed him to sing baritone roles as well as traditional bass ones, such as Wotan (Steane). The final image offers some nice contrast to the first. This one is not necessarily of Delmas, but instead it is of the original Wotan costume for the production as drawn by costume designer Charles Bianchini. It not only allows us to see a colorized version of the costume, but also the changes that were made for the actual production.
This is a recording of Delmas singing “Wotan’s Farewell” from La Valkyrie. The sound quality is more than likely comparable, if not a bit worse, than that which was experienced with the théátrophone, and so modern listeners can understand to some degree what a Parisian would have heard on their théátrophones. The major difference that we experience with this recording is that Delmas is accompanied by a piano, rather than the traditional orchestra. Regardless, it allows us to develop an understanding for Delmas’ voice and presence. It also provides modern audiences a way to hear Wagner in the French translation, a practice common at the turn of the century, and one that was undeniably used in 1904.
Steane, "Delmas, Jean-François."