Léon Escalaïs was born in 1859 in the south of France, making his operatic debut in Paris at the age of 23. One of his signature roles was Arnold in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell which he sang in his first appearance with the Paris Opera in 1883. Escalaïs possessed a voice of scintillating heroism and effortless bright squillo. Facile, agile but remarkably strong and piercing, Escalaïs’ voice grew in power and excitement as it ascended – and he was capable of extreme acuti effortlessly singing all the way to a high D and beyond. A truly rare instrument that is most at home in the high heroic repertoire, one only really hears a voice of this quality once in a generation.
The voice was dark and dramatically robust in the middle but electric and furiously lustrous in the top, a quality which perhaps only Lauri-Volpi has ever matched. Quite simply, the modern opera world is starved of the kind of repertoire that Escalaïs defined as there truly are so few singers capable of navigating these difficult roles with such ease – roles like Arnold in Tell and the great heroic works of Meyerbeer. A truly astounding fact is that Escalaïs was equally adept as Otello, Samson, Radames and Manrico.
Presented here is Escalaïs singing “O Paradis” from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, recorded in 1905.