The De Reszke Family

Polish family of singers

Edouard de Reszke

1853 - 1917

Jean de Reszke

1850 - 1925

Joséphine de Reszke

1855 - 1891


Jean de Reszke

As Roméo, at his Met debut, 1891

”His noble stage appearance, his graceful, manly bearing, his sympathetic comprehension of every role, his nice adjustment of vocal and histrionic means to the end in view, his artistic sincerity, and his constant exercise of a cultivated and naturally keen discrimination, have combined to make him the greatest favorite the operatic stage has ever known.”

Jean de Reszke (Jan Mieczislaw, b Warsaw, 1850; d  Nice, 1925)

He grew up in a musical family. His father was director of the Warsaw railway organization. His mother had a beautiful voice and used to appear in private concert circles. His wife, Marie de Reszke, can be heard on a Mapleson cylinder (he accompanied her on the piano!).

Teachers : Jean began his career as a baritone and studied with two legendary singers and teachers, Francesco Ciaffei (Warsaw) and Antonio Cotogni (Milan). It was his younger brother Edouard who advised him to change to a tenor. Under Giovanni Sbriglia’s guidance Jean became the greatest (French) tenor of the later part of 19th century.

Debut: As Alphonse XI in Rossini’s La Favorite at La Fenice, Venice, 1874 (under the name Giovanni di Reschi).

Career: London debut at Drury Lane, 1874. His baritone roles included Almaviva, Fra Melitone, Don Giovanni and Valentin. From 1876 he appeared as Jean de Reszke. Soon afterwards he retired for almost fife years (!) to restudy, now as a tenor, under Giovanni Sbriglia. He made his tenor debut in the title role of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, at the Teatro Reale Madrid, in 1897, which was not successful at all. It was not until 1884 (!), when he made a triumphant reappearance as Jean in the first Paris performance of Massenet’s Hérodiade.The following year he created the title role in Massenet’s Le Cid at the Grand Opéra. He was to sing there five seasons, appearing as Radames, Vasco da Gama in Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine and in the title roles of Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète and Gounod’s Faust. During the next years he sang regularly at Covent Garden. His first Wagnerian role was Lohengrin, singing it in Italian as well as in German (he had studied the language for two years). It was in this role he made his American debut at Chicago in 1891. The same year, he gained tremendous success as Roméo at the Met. His repertory also included Werther, Riccardo, Don José, Siegmund, Young Siegfried and Siegfried in Götterdämmerung, Walther von Stolzing, Canio and Tristan, among many others.

Partners on stage: Adelina Patti, Darclée, Lillian Nordica, Marcella Sembrich, Lilli Lehmann, Nelli Melba, Elena de Cisneros, Sigrid Arnoldson, Emma Albani, Emma Eames, Victor Maurel, Elisabeth Schumann-Heink, Frances Saville, Rosa Olitzka, Mario Ancona, David Bispham, Milka Ternina and Johanna Gadski.

Recordings: Two Fonotipias, 1905. Jean was not happy with them and had the masters destroyed.  However, a faint record of his voice is available through some Mapleson cylinders (L’Africaine, Le Cid, Les Huguenots, Lohengrin, Siegfried and Tristan).

Students: Mme Charles Cahier, Richard Bonelli, Felicie Kaschowska, Carmen Melis, Arthur Endrèze, Mary Lewis, Albert Lindquest, Rachel Frease-Green, Johannes Sembach, Maggie Teyte and Bidu Sayao.

Comment: Jean de Reszke became the greatest tenor of his generation, being admired in the French repertory, as well as in Wagner roles and Italian repertoire. Michael Scott wrote: “We should remember that vocal style is the product of cultural identification, not the accident of birth - a baby born in a stable is not a horse. It was in Paris that Jean de Reszke had his first great triumphs and in the music of French composers, sung in the French language.”


As Tristan, at the Met, 1899


As Raoul, at the Met, a role he sang in Italian as well as in French


As Siegfried in Götterdämmerung, at the Met, 1899


Jean created the title role (Rodrigue) in Massenet’s Le Cid


Edouard de Reszke

Méphistophélès in Gounod’s Faust

“He is the ideal Méphistophélès unquestionably. Whether in the demoniac or the ironic moments, he always suits his mien to the situation, his words to his actions and his tones to his words. Singing is no impediment to his speech; he repeatedly moved the audience to laughter.”

Edouard de Reszke (Edward Mieczislaw, b Warsaw, 1853; d Garnek, Poland, 1917)

He was the younger brother of Jean de Reszke. The two brothers often appeared together, in Massenet’s Le Cid, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, as well as in the Meyerbeer operas.

Teachers: His bass voice was discovered by his brother Jean. Edouard studied with Filippo Coletti and Steller, later in Paris with Giovanni Sbriglia.

Debut : As the King of Egypt in the first Paris performance of Aida at the Grand Opéra, in 1876.

Career: He then appeared at the Théâtre Italien for two seasons where he was Indra in Massenet’s Le Roi de Lahore (Milan, 1979). He made his London debut in 1880, at Covent Garden, again as Indra. His vast repertory included the following roles, singing them in Paris, London, at la Scala, Chicago and at the Met: Saint-Bris in Les Huguenots, Rodolfo in La Sonnambula, Don Basilio, Fiesco in the first performance of the revised version of Simon Boccanegra (La Scala), Silva, Alvise, Giorgio in I Puritani, Frère Laurent, Phanuel (Hérodiade), Prince Gudal in Rubinstein’s The Demon, Ramfis, Daland, Assur, Alfonso in Lucrezia Borgia, Méphistophélès, King Henry, Zacharias (Le Prophète), Don Pedro (L’Africaine), Marcel (Les Huguenots), King Marke, Heinrich in Lohengrin, the Wanderer in Siegfried, Wotan in Rheingold and Walküre, Hagen, Hans Sachs, Rocco, Plunkett, Marcel, Leporello, Nikalantha in Lakmé and the King in Hamlet. What an astonishing list of roles!

Comment: His popularity was as great as Jean’s, not only in Paris, but also at the Met and London. Edouard de Reszke was a giant figure on stage. His voice was described as powerful and sonourous but lacked the fine artistry and finesse which was so admirable in his brother’s singing.

Recordings: He was one of the artists involved in the first USA Grand Opera series of records published by Columbia in 1903, sounding very much a French-school singer (Aida, Le Cid, Ernani,  Faust, Les Huguenots and Lohengrin). To me, they are disappointing when comparing them to Pol Plançon’s recordings.


Don Diègue in Massenet’s Le Cid.


As Hagen in Götterdämmerung, at the Met, 1899


As Leporello


Joséphine de Reszke

As Sitâ in Le Roi de Lahore - she created the role at Paris, 1877

Joséphine de Reszke (Józefina Reszke-Kronenberg, b Warsaw, 1855, d Warsaw, 1891)

She was the only sister of Jean and Edouard. After studying at the St. Petersburg conservatory, she made her debut in Venice, in 1874 in Gomez’ Il Guarany. For a decade appearances followed in roles such as Mathilde, Rachel, Valentine, Marguerite and both Isabelle and Alice in Robert le Diable. In 1877, she created the part of Sitâ in Massenet’s Le Roi de Lahore. Her Aida at Covent Garden was not a success. Her last appearance was as Salomé in Hérodiade, opposite her two brothers! Joséphine retired by 1885 upon her marriage, but died young at the age of thirty-six. No recordings are known.


Jean as Rodrigue and Edouard as Don Diègue in Le Cid

Jean and Edouard became an artistic combination whose presence defined the most elegant of turn-of-the-century performances at the Paris Opéra, Covent Garden, and the Metropolitan.

Le Cid was Massenet’s last attempt at a conventional Meyerbeerian grand opéra.. The performances by the two de Resze brothers confirmed Massenet’s reputation as a successful opera composer.