Massenet’s Le Cid is based on a play by by Pierre Corneille of the same name. First performed in 1885 at the Paris Opera. Rodrigue (The Cid) was written for the great Polish tenor Jean de Reszke. The opera is in 4 acts consisting of 10 tableau. It had 150 performance at the Opera over the 34 years after its premiere. But then it went silent in Paris until 2014. It was performed at the Marseille Opera in 2011 and before that in Washington in 1999.

Its tenor aria from the 3rd Act, ‘O Souverain, ô Juge, ô Père’, has always been a favorite both in concert and on recordings. It is a prayer sung by the eponymous hero of the work. The real El Cid (Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1043 – 1099)) is a Spanish national hero who in reality was a warlord who easily changed sides during the wars between Christians and Muslims during the Reconquista. The aria (words below followed by an English translation) requires a spinto tenor capable of both vocal force and finesse, a difficult combination.

Of the eight singers presented below, only two (Domingo and Alagna) have sung the role in a staged production. Enrico Caruso recorded the aria late in his career. The sound on this acoustical recording is very good and gives a hint of what the Neapolitan really sounded like. In my youth, I knew several older opera goers who had heard Caruso in performance. They all said that his recordings missed more than half of what was really there. By the time this recording was made Caruso had completed his transition from lyric to spinto tenor, but he still retained the ability to shade his tone to the demands of the music. Caruso O Souverain

Giuseppe Di Stefano’s recording of the aria is taken from a recital he gave in San Francisco in 1950. The late tenor was still in his 20s and successfully covered his high notes avoiding the open sound that characterized his later work. He omits the aria’s introduction. Di Stefano O Souverain

Richard Tucker’s commercial recording of the number is fine, but his singing in the studio never matched what he could do in the house. I think he needed an audience to bring out his best. His French is somewhat strange. Tucker O Souverain

For sheer voice it’s hard to match Franco Corelli. He swallows the aria whole. Corelli O Souverain

This recording by Placido Domingo is from a recital that preceded his appearance as Rodrigue with the DC Opera. His virile sound is close to ideal for the music which lies in the strongest part of the tenor’s range. Domingo O Souverain

Ben Heppner’s voice gave out while he was still in his forties. His vocal decline started with his initial appearance as Otello, the Verdi version. Tenor’s are as fragile as orchids. Who knows why they wilt. He offered a reason, while I had had a different explanation. Regardless of cause, the departure of his voice was a great loss to opera. His version of this aria is, I think, the best of the lot. Beauty, power, and sensitive phrasing make this recording a delight. Heppner O Souverain

Roberto Alagna has the lightest voice of the eight singers presented here. Of course, his French is the best and he gives a very sensitive and nuanced reading of the aria. Alagna O Souverain

Jonas Kaufmann included this aria on his recent CD devoted to French music. He gives the prayer a knockout version that would be sure to catch God’s ear. Kaufmann O Souverain

Ah! tout est bien fini…
Mon beau rêve de gloire,
Mes rêves de bonheur
S’envolent à jamais!
Tu m’as pris mon amour…
Tu me prends la victoire…
Seigneur, je me soumets!
O souverain, ô juge, ô père,
Toujours voilé, présent toujours,
Je t’adorais au temps prospère
Et te bénis aux sombres jours!
Je vais où la loi me réclame
Libre de tous regrets humains!
O souverain, ô juge, ô père,
Ta seule image est dans mon âme
Que je remets entre tes mains!

O firmament, azur, lumière,
Esprit d’en haut penché sur moi
C’est le soldat qui désespère
Mais le chrétien garde sa foi.
Tu peux venir, tu peux paraître,
Aurore, du jour éternel!
O souverain, ô juge, ô père,
Le serviteur d’un juste Maître
Répond sans crainte à ton appel.
O souverain, ô juge, ô père.

Ah, it is all over.
My fine dream of glory
And my dreams of happiness
are gone forever!
You took my love,
now you take away my victory
Lord, I yield to You!
O Sovereign, o Judge, o Father,
always hidden yet always present,
I worshipped You in time of success,
and bless You in these dark days.
I go where Your law commands,
free of all human regret.
O Sovereign, o Judge, o Father,
Yours alone is the image
I carry in my soul,
which I commit into Your hands.

O firmament, azure, light,
spirit from on high bending over me,
it is as a soldier I despair,
but the Christian keeps his faith.
You can come, you can appear,
dawn of the eternal day!
O Sovereign, o Judge, o Father,
the servant of a just master
answers Your call without fear.
O Sovereign, o Judge, o Father