Émile Belcourt was born in 1926 in Lafieche, Saskatchewan, to a French-Canadian family. His mother was a church organist and piano teacher, and all seven children were musical. Émile studied both the violin and clarinet, and was a talented boy soprano. His service in the navy during World War II meant he didn't begin his pharmacy studies at the University of Saskatoon until 1946. However, his mother insisted he keep up his music by taking voice lessons. Belcourt's first teacher, Helen Davies Sherry, had been an oratorio singer in England. As well as appearing in leading roles in university operettas, Belcourt won the Justice Brown Award in 1949 as the best amateur singer in Saskatchewan. British adjudicator Helen Henschel advised the young winner to consider a professional singing career. Despite his lack of formal training, an audition in London with conductor John Pritchard led to the Glyndebourne Opera Chorus and comprimario and cover roles.
At Vienna's music academy in 1951, Belcourt studied technique with Edita Fleischer, who encouraged him to try the baritone repertoire as well as establish a career as an oratorio and lieder singer. Three years later, Belcourt accepted a baritone contract at the opera house in Ulm, Germany, where he spent three and a half seasons, followed by another in Bonn. However, by this point, Belcourt's voice was in total disarray, and baritone roles such as Sharpless were giving him difficulty. He and his family relocated to France, where he studied with famed soprano Germaine Lubin in Paris and relearned how to be a tenor. Through Lubin, he met coach Irene Aitoff, who encouraged Belcourt to learn the role of Pelléas. His performance in the opera was broadcast by Radio-Television Francaise, and on the strength of that tape, Alexander Gibson hired Belcourt for the Scottish Opera, which led, in 1963, to Edmund Tracey's invitation to the Sadler's Wells Opera, now the English National Opera. London became Belcourt's base of operations, and the ENO his home company for the next 20 years. In 1970, he appeared in Reginald Goodall's Ring at the ENO, inaugurating his signature role as Loge in Das Rheingold, which he performed with distinction in both London and Seattle for over a decade. Other roles in Seattle included Tristan and Siegmund, and he performed Shuisky in Boris Godunov in London, Glasgow, San Francisco and Toronto.
Belcourt's career includes such world premieres as the role of Dr. Oliver Sachs in Michael Nyman's 1986 opera The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. In musicals, his 1988 performance as Emile de Becque in Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific packed a West End theatre in London for over a year. He has also appeared in the title roles of Man of La Mancha and Sweeney Todd. He also recorded the soundtrack of Mike Newell's film Pushing Tin.
In 1992, Belcourt became a vocal coach at the University of Saskatoon, where he was joined by current wife, Irish soprano Norma Burrowes, and their children. The couple later resettled in Toronto in 1994 where they continue to perform recitals together and have established themselves as teachers and coaches.
-- Throughout this page, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on this website. BD
|Glencairn Alexander "Glen" Byam
Shaw, CBE (13 December 1904 – 29 April 1986) was an English actor and
theatre director, known for his dramatic productions in the 1950s and
his operatic productions in the 1960s and later.
In the 1920s and 1930s Byam Shaw was a successful actor, both in romantic leads and in character parts. He worked frequently with his old friend John Gielgud. After working as co-director with Gielgud at the end of the 1930s, he preferred to direct rather than act. He served in the armed forces during the Second World War, and then took leading directorial posts at the Old Vic, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and Sadler's Wells (later known as the English National Opera).
In 1962, despite describing himself as tone deaf, Byam Shaw accepted the post of director of productions at Sadler's Wells Opera. He worked closely with the company's managing director, Norman Tucker, and musical director, Colin Davis. Tucker's successor, Lord Harewood, recalled "a series of striking productions, including The Rake's Progress, Così fan tutte, Der Freischütz and A Masked Ball … a notable elegant and witty Die Fledermaus, Hansel and Gretel … and Gluck's Orpheus."
Byam Shaw's most celebrated opera productions were in collaboration with the conductor Reginald Goodall, first The Mastersingers, the company's last major production at Sadler's Wells Theatre, and, after its move to the London Coliseum in 1968, the four operas of Wagner's Ring cycle, in which Byam Shaw's co-director was his former assistant John Blatchley. Byam Shaw's last collaboration with Goodall was Tristan and Isolde in 1981.
He was awarded a CBE in 1954 and received an honorary DLitt from the University of Birmingham in 1959.
|Beryl May Jessie ("Wendy") Toye
was born in London on May 1, 1917, and died there on February 27, 2010.
She initially worked as a dancer and choreographer both on stage and on
film, collaborating with the likes of directors Jean Cocteau and Carol
Reed. Toye's debut film short, The
Stranger Left No Card (1952), won the Best Fictional Short Film
prize at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, while her Christmas-themed
short On the Twelfth Day…
(1955) received an Oscar nomination in the Best Short Subject category.
She directed films from the early 1950s until the early 1980s. Toye
also was an advisor to the Arts Council and lectured in Australia.
On 6 January 1958, she appeared as Roy Plomley's Guest on the BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs. Her choices were wide-ranging, including Bach, Mahler and Lena Horne. She was awarded the Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977, and appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1992 for services to the arts. She was made an honorary D. Litt. in 1996 by the City University.
She refused to write or authorise a biography during her lifetime, in spite of encouragement by her friends and family. Her theatrical archive is mostly in the Wendy Toye Archive, V&A Theatre & Performance Department, THM/343 of the Victoria and Albert Museum, with some items in the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.
© 1986 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded on the telephone on March 23, 1986. This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.