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The Art of Nance Grant

Forum Opéra (France)
Jean Michel Pennetier

Are you familiar with Nance Grant? No, I’m not either. Don’t go looking on Wikipedia; you won’t find anything there. Born who knows when, Nance Grant began her career as a soprano in Australia in the 1950s. She was awarded a first prize in a local competition in 1957. She sang for ABC TV from 1962 (L’Enfant prodigue). After a short stint in Bayreuth in 1974 to study Wagnerian repertoire, Nance became one of the principal artists in the Victorian State Opera company, based in Melbourne where she lives. From 1975 to 1982 (the year which seems to have been the end of her career) she appeared for them singing in English. At the same time, from 1971 to 1982 she sang at the Opera in Sydney and took part in the concert to open the Opera House there in 1973. Nance had a relatively small repertoire but an impressive one, too, due to the difficulty of some of the roles. Her voice was in the lyrical-dramatic soprano range (as much as such a classification makes any sense): Sieglinde, Amelia (A Masked Ball), Ortrud, Senta, Ariadne and Leonora (Fidelio) sat alongside the Countess (Marriage of Figaro), Elisabeth (Tannhäuser), Alice Ford, Donna Anna and, more surprising still Elettra and Elisabetta (Maria Stuarda). In this quick panorama it is important not to forget the recitals devoted to Lieder and mélodie.                

Confined to Australia, Grant’s path rarely crossed better known artists: Charles Mackerras, Edward Downes, Geoffrey Parsons. Much more of a stay-at-home than her compatriot Dame Joan, Grant preferred a life free of the rigours of the international career that was within her means. What’s more, she sang relatively little, preferring to meticulously prepare each new score. It follows then that the extracts chosen strike the listener with the maturity of the interpretation.   

The excerpts included in this compilation come from variable sources: radio broadcasts both public and not, recordings of rehearsals and perhaps even a tape recorder on someone’s knee. Nevertheless the quality is fairly uniform, the first CD (devoted to Grieg, Hageman and Strauss, with the piano of Geoffrey Parsons) being the best from this point of view. Taken as a whole, the sound is fair but never great. One can listen without annoyance but one is a little surprised by sound reproduction that seems more like good live recordings from La Scala in the 1950s than those from The Metropolitan in the 1980s.

One has to hear only a few random tracks to understand the interest in this homage. To start, one is struck by the opulent timbre, a powerful but agile voice (as the extract from Maria Stuarda bears witness), a firm middle and lower range, allied to a luminous top in a perfect blend of registers...Grant’s approach rests before all else on her musicality and her tone, marking her out as belonging to an older school of singing. If the unusual Elisabetta or Elettra strike us because of the quality of the singing – to the point where one forgets they are in English (which is not a small point) – it is above all in Wagner where Grant is revealed at her absolute best. (The soprano was, let’s remember, coached at Bayreuth.) The extracts from Die Walküre additionally give the feeling of hearing a total characterisation of the role.

To sum up, here is without doubt the best compliment that one can pay to this collection: More please!