Nicholas Massue

Nicholas (Nicolas) Massue. Tenor, b Varennes, near Montreal, 31 Jul 1903, d there 1 Jul 1974. From the age of five, he spent long periods in Italy with his parents and was educated in Florence, Rome, and Fribourg, Switzerland. Not until he was 24 did he begin to pursue a singing career.

Massue, Nicholas

Nicholas (Nicolas) Massue. Tenor, b Varennes, near Montreal, 31 Jul 1903, d there 1 Jul 1974. From the age of five, he spent long periods in Italy with his parents and was educated in Florence, Rome, and Fribourg, Switzerland. Not until he was 24 did he begin to pursue a singing career. In Florence he studied with the baritone Mario Ancona and then continued his training in Milan. As Giuseppe Massù, he made his debut in 1931 in Lecco singing the Duke in Rigoletto; the critics praised his voice and stage presence. He then sang in Catania, Syracuse, Trieste, Palermo, and Legnano, finally making his debut at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1934 as Lorenzo in Auber's Fra Diavolo. La Scala soon offered him leading roles in such major works as Faust, Lohengrin, and Mefistofele. He took part in the premiere of Casella's La Favola d'Orfeo in 1932 in Venice and of Zandonai's La Farsa amorosa in 1933 in Rome.

He was engaged by the Metropolitan Opera and made his debut there 16 May 1936 as the Duke in Rigoletto. He remained for the five seasons 1936-41 and performed various roles including Arturo (Lucia di Lammermoor), the Astrologer (Le Coq d'Or), Cassio (Otello), Paris (Roméo et Juliette), the Italian Singer (Der Rosenkavalier), Narraboth (Salome), and Parke (Damrosch's The Man without a Country). In Montreal he was a soloist in Bach's St Matthew Passion in June 1936 during the first festival of the CSM orchestra and was soloist in January 1938 at one of its regular concerts. He gave a recital 18 Oct 1937 at Plateau Hall, which Frédéric Pelletier described in Le Devoir (19 October) as a 'fine evening of vocal art.'

In outlook, education, and training, Massue had become a true Italian artist. Thus it was an immense disappointment to him when, with the outbreak of World War II, Italy cancelled his contracts because of his Canadian nationality. Massue enlisted in the RCAF but eventually withdrew to the family estate in Varennes. For many, this renunciation of a flourishing career remains inexplicable. Yet his close friends knew that the war years had affected him so deeply that he preferred to live in seclusion near his mother.

His voice, 'with a timbre recalling that of Lauri-Volpi' according to the New York Herald-Tribune, may be heard in the 1939 recording Great Scenes from Verdi's Otello; he sings the role of Cassio, with Jepson, Martinelli, Tibbett, and the Metropolitan Opera chorus and orchestra, under the direction of Wilfrid Pelletier.

Massue was a knight of the Papal Order of the Holy Sepulchre.