Cabanel, Paul

French bass-baritone, 1891 - 1958

Biographical notes:

Paul Cabanel was born in Oran. After studies of law he trained as a singer at the local conservatory and at the Conservatoire National de Paris. During military service he was severely wounded at the Verdun battle in 1916 and was not able to continue his studies until 1919. He made his debut as Hérode in Massenet’s Hérodiade at Kairo where he also appeared in Manon, Faust and Thaïs. Until 1932 he sang at various provincial opera houses also making some guest appearances in Belgium and Switzerland. He was engaged at the opera of Bordeaux during seven seasons as well as at the opera of Vichy. It was not until 1932 (!) that he made his debut at the Opéra-Comique as Scarpia where his singing was immediately warmly received. The following year he succeeded at the Grand Opéra as Méphistophélès in Berlioz’ La Damnation de Faust which became his most famous role. Cabanel became an admired member at both opera houses. His further repertory included Leporello, the High Priest in Samson et Dalila, Escamillo, Tonio, Figaro, Nikalantha, Basile, Colline, the four villains in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Papageno, Frère Laurent and Arkel in Pelléas et Mélisande including a number of Wagnerian roles. He appeared as Mephistophélès in Gounod’s Faust more than 1000 times! The artist was engaged at the operas of Rio de Janeiro, the Teatro Colón, the Teatro Liceo Barcelona and at Amsterdam. He was particularly admired at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels where he sang Boris at the end of his career in 1954. From 1942 to 1958 he was a sought-after singing coach at the Conservatoire National de Paris.


As Wotan in “Die Walküre”



Berlioz - La Damnation de Faust (Fournet 1943/Jouatte, Laurena)

Malibran      LYS

Debussy - Pelléas et Mélisande (Desormière 1941/Joachim, Jansen, Cernay, Etcheverry, Ben-Sédira)


Massenet - Thaïs (Excerpts/Gressier 1944/Dosia, Noré)


Saint-Saëns - Samson et Dalila (Fourestier 1946/Luccioni, Bouvier, Cambon)

Naxos Historical

Tomasi - Don Juan de Manara, Triomphe de Jeanne (Tomasi 1957/Jobin, Angelici, Vessières, Brumaire, Demigny, Peyron, Vermeil)



Charles Cambon, Paul Cabanel and Hélène Bouvier, rehearsing “Samson et Dalila”


There were considerable artists who are nearly “forgotten” today, probably due to their few recordings. Paul Cabanel is one of them, at least outside of France. To me, he belongs to the most complete French singers. I could listen to him for hours. What a pity that he recorded no excerpts from his Wagnerian repertoire (Wotan!).

Paul Cabanel’s dark-timbred voice is of great beauty and warmth. He is equally outstanding in dramatic (Athanaël) as well as in lyric parts. He shows through characterization, musicality  and a perfect French enunciation why he was such an acclaimed artist in his time.

Cabanel sings a lordly and tender Arkel in a reference recording of Pelléas et Mélisande performed by a great French cast. As Athanaël in Thaïs I even prefer Cabanel to the eminent Robert Massard with whom there is an integral recording (Renée Doria sings Thaïs). Cabanel was partnered by the Greek-French soprano Elen Dosia, alas a rather shrill and unattractive voice, but Cabanel’s Athanaël is a “must”. Do not miss the integral recording of Samson et Dalila conducted by Louis Fourestier. It is the most “French style” version of that opera. The role of Méphistophélès in La Damnation de Faust lies perfectly within Cabanel’s range. No wonder, that it was his most accomplished role on stage.



 Voilà donc la terrible cité! (Athanaël in Thaïs / Massenet / 1944)


José Luccioni and Hélène Bouvier as Samson and Dalila. Paul Cabanel sang the High Priest in a superb all French cast production, conducted by Louis Fourestier in 1946.