A little more than a year later, I was briefly in Victoria, B.C., and arranged to visit with Simoneau and Alarie in person.
We had a lovely drive around the city and then settled into their living room for a continuation of our conversation.
|Pierrette (Marguerite) Alarie.
Soprano, teacher, b Montreal 9 Nov 1921. The daughter of Sylva Alarie,
the Montreal choirmaster and assistant conductor of the
Société canadienne d'opérette, and the soprano and
actress Amanda Alarie (b Plante), she studied voice and acting with
Jeanne Maubourg and Albert Roberval and made her debut on radio at 14,
first as an actress, then as a singer of popular music. While studying
voice 1940 with Salvator Issaurel she met the tenor Léopold
Simoneau, and in 1946 she married him. She made her debut (1938) at the
Monument national with the Variétés lyriques in a
supporting role in The White Horse Inn. She sang Barbarina in The
Marriage of Figaro (1943) under Sir Thomas Beecham who at that time was
living in Montreal, Marie in La Fille du régiment (1945), the
title role in Mireille (1947), Rosina in The Barber of Seville (1949),
and Violetta in La Traviata (1951). On a scholarship to the Curtis
Institute, Philadelphia, she studied 1943-6 with Elisabeth Schumann.
Alarie won the 'Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air' in 1945 and made her Metropolitan Opera debut 8 Dec 1945 as Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera under Bruno Walter; in January she sang Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann with Raoul Jobin, conducted by Wilfrid Pelletier. She spent three seasons (1945-7) with that company, and in 1949 with her husband she was engaged by the Opéra-Comique in Paris and sang there the title roles of such works as Lakmé and Lucia di Lammermoor and Olympia and Rosina. As a team Simoneau and Alarie gained celebrity in both Europe and North America, appearing at a number of festivals, including that at Aix-en-Provence, where both performed a variety of roles and where Alarie in 1953 premiered two concert arias, Chanson and Romance du Comte Olinos, written for her by Werner Egk. She also appeared at the Edinburgh, Glyndebourne, Vienna, Munich, Baden-Baden, and Würzburg festivals and in 1959 sang Isotta in Richard Strauss' Die schweigsame Frau at Salzburg, conducted by Karl Böhm.
Alarie also had an important career in North America, appearing in opera with companies in San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York, Vancouver, and Toronto, and in recital, alone, in duo with her husband, and in the Bel Canto Trio with Simoneau and the baritone Theodor Uppman. In 1961 her recording of Mozart concert arias and duos, made with Simoneau, won the Grand prix du disque de l'Académie Charles-Cros, Paris. She starred in CBC radio and TV productions, including those of Arthur Benjamin's Prima Donna (1956), Gounod's Mireille (1957), Offenbach's La Grand Duchesse de Gérolstein (1958), Ravel's L'Heure espagnole (1959), J Sauguet's Les Caprices de Marianne (1959), Poulenc's La Voix humaine (North American premiere, 1959), Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice (1961), Offenbach's La Vie parisienne (1963), Rameau's Les Fêtes d'Hébé (1964), and The Abduction from the Seraglio (1967). For the Montreal Festivals she sang Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro (1956) and Constanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio (1960), a role which she had sung with the COC in 1957. With the Opera Guild of Montreal, she sang Blonda in The Abduction from the Seraglio in 1947, Juliette in Roméo et Juliette in 1961, and Zerlina in Don Giovanni in 1964. Her last stage role was The Merry Widow (1966) in Quebec City and Montreal with the Théâtre lyrique de Nouvelle-France. Her farewell concert appearance (with Léopold Simoneau) was in Handel's Messiah with the MSO, 24 Nov 1970. During the 1960s she taught at the École Vincent-d'Indy. In 1972 she moved with her husband and two daughters to California where she taught and staged opera in San Francisco until 1982. She then settled in Victoria, BC, where she founded and directed the Canada Opera Piccola with her husband. She also taught 1972-7 at the Banff SFA (Banff CA).
In the course of a 32-year career, Pierrette Alarie was eulogized by the international press. Her name ranked high among the most celebrated singers from Quebec who preceded her - Albani, La Palme, Edvina, and Donalda. An accomplished musician and talented actress, she established her command of the light and the lyric soprano repertoires before undertaking more dramatic assignments. On stage, as in concert, her crystalline voice, admirably produced, easily focused, and of great flexibility, was a constant joy to the most exacting critics and music lovers. She and Simoneau were the first recipients of the Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée in 1959, and in 1967 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1983 the CCA awarded her its Diplôme d'honneur and in 1990 she was named a Chevalière of the Ordre des arts et des lettres de France.
Author Gilles Potvin
|Léopold Simoneau. Tenor,
teacher, administrator; b St-Flavien, near Quebec City, 3 May 1916; d
Victoria, BC, 24 Aug 2006. BA (Laval) 1941, honorary D MUS (Ottawa)
1969, honorary LLD (Brock) 1971, honorary D MUS (Laval) 1973. In 1939
he began voice study with Émile Larochelle in Quebec City. He
continued 1941-4 with Salvator Issaurel in Montreal. At Issaurel's
studio he met the soprano Pierrette Alarie, who became his wife in
1946. His stage debut was with the Variétés lyriques as
Hadji in Lakmé (1941). His first major roles were with the
Variétés, in Mignon, The Daughter of the Regiment,
Mireille, La Traviata, and The Barber of Seville, usually opposite
Alarie. His first recitals were broadcast by the CBC, and in 1943 he
took on his first Mozartean role, Don Curzio in the Montreal Festivals'
production of The Marriage of Figaro under Beecham. In 1944 he won the
Prix Archambault, the award leading to his debut with the CSM orchestra
under Wilfrid Pelletier. He continued his studies 1945-7 in New York
with Paul Althouse. In May 1945 he was acclaimed in Montreal as
Ferrando in Così fan tutte and Tamino in The Magic Flute
(Canadian premiere of the latter opera, staged by the Opera Guild) and
in the Berlioz Te Deum. Simoneau's first US opera appearances were in
Central City, Colo, and New Orleans.
Simoneau's career took on an international dimension in 1949 when he made his Paris debut at the Opéra-Comique in Gounod's Mireille. He was coached in Paris by Berl Lilienfeld and in Vienna by Erik Werba, continuing to perform at the Opéra-Comique and the Paris Opera until 1954, appearing in the standard roles and, in June 1953, as Tom in the French premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (Le Libertin). The critics compared him with Edmond Clément. His reputation as a Mozart specialist grew steadily after 1950, when, at the Aix-en-Provence and Glyndebourne Festivals and elsewhere, he sang all the main tenor roles: Ottavio, Ferrando, Tamino, Belmonte, and Idamante in Idomeneo. He also was heard in Gluck operas (Pylade in Iphigenia in Tauris and Orpheus in the tenor version of Orpheus and Eurydice) and as Paolino in Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio segreto. During the 1952 Festival du XXe siècle in Paris, he appeared in a historic production of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex with the composer as conductor and Jean Cocteau as narrator. In 1953 he sang in Don Giovanni at La Scala in Milan under von Karajan, and in 1954 he was with the Vienna State Opera in London for its Royal Festival Hall appearances. He was heard shortly afterwards at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and at the Salzburg and Edinburgh festivals.
In the USA and Canada Simoneau appeared with major symphony orchestras and made numerous concert tours, often with his wife or as a member of the Bel Canto Trio with the baritone Theodor Uppman. He made several appearances at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, including one as Alfredo in La Traviata opposite Maria Callas. In Toronto he sang in Don Giovanni with the COC in 1956 and in The Abduction from the Seraglio in 1957. For the Montreal Festivals he sang in 10 performances of Don Giovanni in 1957 and in 8 of The Abduction from the Seraglio in 1960. In 1958 he repeated Ottavio in the Vancouver International Festival's Don Giovanni with George London as the Don and Joan Sutherland in her North American debut as Donna Anna. He appeared at the Stratford Festival in recital with Glenn Gould in 1962 and in a concert version of The Abduction from the Seraglio in 1969. His performance 18 Oct 1963 as Ottavio at the Metropolitan Opera (his only role with that company) won him a public ovation; according to Theodore Strongin, he sang 'with intelligence as well as beauty of sound' (New York Times, 20 Oct 1963). He repeated that role for the last time in April 1964 at the PDA for the Opera Guild, in two performances that marked his farewell to the operatic stage. He had sung the role 185 times. He continued to appear in concert and oratorio, however, and a Messiah (1967) and a Berlioz Requiem (1969) with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir were memorable. His final public appearance, 24 Nov 1970, was with the MSO in Messiah.
Appointed to the faculty of the CMM in 1963, Simoneau left in 1967 to join the MACQ as deputy head of the music division. At the ministry's request he prepared a report on the situation of opera in Quebec that led to the creation in 1971 of the Opéra du Québec. Appointed to the company as artistic director, he resigned at the end of the same year after a policy disagreement. In 1972 he moved to California with his wife and two daughters where he taught at the San Francisco Cons. He also taught 1973-6 at the Banff SFA (Banf CA) before settling in Victoria, BC in 1982. With his wife he then founded and directed Canada Opera Piccola.
Simoneau is considered one of the most distinguished Canadian singers of the century. His international reputation as a Mozart singer is attested by his presence at major festivals and events dedicated to this composer, as well as by his recordings. He is honoured also as an interpreter of French music both on stage and in the concert hall. An extensive legacy of recordings preserves this patrician singer's art. One of these - concert arias and duos of Mozart with Pierrette Alarie - was awarded the 1961 Grand prix du disque de l'Académie Charles-Cros, Paris. Simoneau and Alarie were awarded the 1959 Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée, thus becoming the first recipients of this important honour. In 1971 Simoneau was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 1983 the CCA awarded him its Diplôme d'honneur. In 1990 he was named an Officer of the Ordre des arts et des lettres de France. He was a member 1968-71 of the Régie de la PDA, and a judge at the Montreal International Competition in1977 and at the vocal competition of the Glory of Mozart festival held in Toronto in 1991. Simoneau wrote a two-part article entitled 'De la futilité des traductions des oeuvres lyriques,' (Montreal Le Devoir, 1 and 8 Dec 1962) and the article 'Voice of classicism,' in Mozart Metropolitan Opera (Jane L. Poole, editor, New York 1991). He also translated Reynaldo Hahn's work Du Chant under the title On Singers and Singing (Portland, Ore 1990). In 1991, he began to write opera surtitles in French and English.
Author Gilles Potvin, Nancy McGregor
The first interview was recorded on the telephone on May 1,
1986; the second was recorded at their home in Victoria, British
Columbia, Canada, on August 23, 1987. Portions were used (along
recordings) on WNIB in 1988 (both together); in 1991 & 1996
(Alarie); and 1988, 1993 and 1996 (Simoneau). A short portion of
the remarks by Simoneau (who was a Jubilarian) were used on the website
of Lyric Opera of Chicago as
part of their 50th Anniversary celebration. The
transcriptions were made and posted on this website in 2009.
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.