Léopold Simoneau

Simoneau's career took on an international dimension in 1949 when he made his Paris debut at the Opéra-Comique in Gounod's Mireille.

Simoneau, Léopold

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'sDon 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.


Further Reading

  • 'Pierrette Alarie et Léopold Simoneau,' Musique et Musiciens, vol 1, Dec 1952

    'The Simoneaus: ''Their lives blend as happily as their voices'',' OpCan, vol 2, Feb-Mar 1961

    Blackburn, Marthe. 'Elegance is the hallmark in the home of Pierrette Alarie and Léopold Simoneau,' Jmc, Jan 1966

    Kutsch, K.J., and Riemens, L. A Concise Biographical Dictionary of Singers (Philadelphia 1969)

    Samson, Marc. 'La (curieuse) Rançon de la gloire au Québec,' Quebec City Le Soleil, 26 Aug 1972

    Gingras, Claude. 'Les Simoneau: dernier acte,' Montreal La Presse, 2 Sep 1972

    Piette-Rivard, Yolande. 'La nouvelle vie des Simoneau,' ibid, 8 Sep 1973

    Lee, M. Owen. 'Simoneau: a Mozart prince,' Mcan, 33, Oct 1977

    Roewade, Svend. 'A change of scene for Simoneau and Alarie,' Music, vol 5 Apr 1982

    Dumesnil, Thérèse. 'Alarie et Simoneau,' Madame au foyer, vol 18, Sep 1983

    Robert, Véronique. 'Les exilés de l'opéra,' L'Actualité, Nov 1988

    Maheu, Renée. Pierrette Alarie, Léopold Simoneau: deux voix, un art (Montreal 1988)

    Robert, Véronique. 'Quelques propos sur l'opéra avec Léopold Simoneau,' Aria, vol 12, Winter 1989

    Creative Canada, vol 1