It is often said that the French are not a musical people. But Paris is still one of the great musical cities of Europe. It can’t compete with the opera of Vienna and Milan and its orchestras are not Europe’s best, but its interest and activity are tremendous. Nowhere else is musical controversy so sharp and almost nowhere else do concert audiences periodically get violent when they don’t like what the orchestra is doing. Composition and performance are not necessarily better in Paris than anywhere else, but the number of orchestras, for instance, is astonishing.
The weakest side of French music is its opera. The world shortage of good voices is particularly acute in France. Although the recordings made early in the century bear witness to the excellence of French singing at that time, it now seems that French methods of vocal training, modelled on techniques of diction, do not allow the full development or preservation of the voice. These methods, well suited to French vocal music which stresses the importance of words, account for the edginess and harshness of much of the French operatic singing. Singers all over the world can no longer train their voices thoroughly before undertaking big operatic parts, but it is particularly harmful in the case of French singers whose basic vocal training is at fault.