Joseph Rouleau

Joseph (Alfred Pierre) Rouleau. Bass, teacher, b Matane, Que, 28 Feb 1929. He studied with Edouard J. Woolley and Albert Cornellier privately in Montreal and 1949-52 with Martial Singher at the CMM.

Rouleau, Joseph

Joseph (Alfred Pierre) Rouleau. Bass, teacher, b Matane, Que, 28 Feb 1929. He studied with Edouard J. Woolley and Albert Cornellier privately in Montreal and 1949-52 with Martial Singher at the CMM. He won the 1949 Prix Archambault in Montreal and was a semi-finalist 1950-1 in the CBC's 'Singing Stars of Tomorrow'. A JMC (Youth and Music Canada) concert tour of eastern Canada followed in 1951. On a Quebec government bursary he studied 1952-4 in Milan under Mario Basiola and Antonio Narducci. By 1950 he had sung small roles with the Opéra national du Québec and the Minute Opera in Montreal. He sang Colline to Irene Salemka's Mimi in the New Orleans Opera's La Bohème in 1955 and made his Opera Guild of Montreal debut as Philip II in Don Carlos in 1956, appearing also in concert and on radio and TV.

Engaged by Covent Garden, Rouleau sang with the company in Cardiff, Manchester, and Southampton prior to his London debut as Colline 23 Apr 1957. Leading roles followed in over 40 productions there during the next 20 years. His Count Rodolfo in Bellini's La Sonnambula, in 1960 with Joan Sutherland, led to a collaboration with the soprano which included his debut at the Paris Opera that year as Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor and a 1965-6 Australian tour during which he won high praise particularly for his Assur in Rossini's Semiramide. In Sydney, The Sun observed: 'Joseph Rouleau, as Assur, grew into magnificent stature, sang his fourth aria with outstanding artistic expression and intelligence.' He has sung in South America, South Africa, and Israel, and his tours of the USSR (1965-6, 1966-7, 1969-70), singing Faust, Don Carlos, and Boris Godunov, brought particular acclaim.

In Canada, Rouleau has appeared often with the MSO, the TS, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, and other orchestras. For the COC in 1967 he sang Basilio in The Barber of Seville and created the role of Bishop Taché in Somers'Louis Riel. He sang Ramfis in the COC's Aida in 1968 and made his New York City Opera debut as Méphistophélès in Faust the same year. Between 1974 and 1976 he gave 55 performances at the Paris Opera including the title role in Massenet's Don Quichotte. In Paris he was praised for his singing of the title roles in concert performances at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées of Rossini's Mosè and Boito's Mefistofele.

Rouleau has appeared with the Israel Philharmonic and with several European and US orchestras, among them the Philharmonia in London, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, the New York Philharmonic, and the Orchestre de la Suisse romande. His Judas in Massenet's Marie-Magdeleine, with Régine Crespin in the title role, was admired in New York in 1976. Rouleau made Montreal his home again in the late 1970s. In 1977 he was one of the founders and president of the Mouvement d'action pour l'art lyrique du Québec, a pressure group of singers whose efforts resulted in the establishment in 1980 of the Opéra de Montréal. That year he began to teach voice at UQAM where he founded an opera workshop.

Rouleau's performing career reached a crowning point in the 1980s. In 1982 the NFB produced the musical film Au pays de Zom with music by Jacques Hétu, in which the singer plays the leading role. In January 1983, the CBC presented a portrait of his career as part of the program 'Les Beaux dimanches'. In March 1984 with the Quebec SO, he premiered Les Abîmes du rêve which he had commissioned from Hétu. He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera 13 Apr 1984 as the Grand Inquisitor in Verdi's Don Carlos under James Levine. His concert performance of the title role of Boris Godunov conducted by Semyon Vekshtein at the St-Jean-Baptiste church of Montreal in February 1988 was a great triumph, and was broadcast live on the CBC. This performance was presented again at the Festival international de Lanaudière the next summer. In 1990 he made an LP recording of songs by Félix Leclerc which were then featured in recitals and concerts, including one with the Trois-Rivières Symphony Orchestra which attracted an audience of4000 at the amphitheatre of the Festival international de Lanaudière.

Rouleau was awarded the 1967 Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1977. In 1989 he became president of the JMC and was a jury member of the Montreal International Music Competition. The MACQ awarded him the Prix Denise-Pelletier in 1990.

Further Reading

  • 'Joseph Rouleau,' OpCan, vol 3, Sep 1962

    McLean, Eric. 'From Matane to Covent Garden,' Montreal Star, 29 Jun 1974

    Leroux, Andrée. 'Éclatants débuts de Joseph Rouleau au MET,' Montreal La Presse, 28 Apr 1984