Monique Leyrac

Monique Leyrac (b Tremblay). Singer, actress, b Montreal 26 Feb 1928. She studied drama with Jeanne Maubourg and in 1943 took the role of Bernadette in Franz Werfel's Le Chant de Bernadette on radio station CKAC's 'Radio-théâtre Lux'.

Leyrac, Monique

Monique Leyrac (b Tremblay). Singer, actress, b Montreal 26 Feb 1928. She studied drama with Jeanne Maubourg and in 1943 took the role of Bernadette in Franz Werfel's Le Chant de Bernadette on radio station CKAC's 'Radio-théâtre Lux'. After some years as a radio actress she turned to singing and appeared in 1948 at the cabaret Au Faisan doré with Charles Aznavour, Pierre Roche, and Jacques Normand, performing South American songs and drawing on the repertoire of Édith Piaf. She made a few 78s for RCA Victor (BMG), played and sang Pierre Pitel's songs in the film Lumières de ma ville (1949), and made a tour 1950-1 of France, Switzerland, and Belgium, and also performed in Lebanon. On her return to Montreal she sang in the cabarets Le Montmartre and Au St-Germain-des-Prés and met the French actor Jean Dalmain, whom she married in 1952. Following two sojourns in Paris (1952-4, 1955-8), during which she worked in the theatre, she was seen in Montreal in many roles, including Polly Peachum in the Brecht-Weill musical The Threepenny Opera (1962). With Pierre Thériault she co-starred 1962-4 in the CBC radio show 'Plein de soleil'.

The growing popularity of Quebec songwriters induced Leyrac to develop a new repertoire of their work, though she still retained some French songs. She completed her first recording of songs by Vigneault and Léveillée in 1963. The following year she was the host and featured singer in CBC TV's 'Pleins feux' and co-star at PDA with the Swingle Singers. She was chosen by the CBC to sing at the 1965 International Song Festival, Sopot, Poland, and won the Grand Prix of International Day for her rendition of Vigneault's 'Mon Pays' and that of Polish Day with 'La Petite Mélodie qui revient'. In the same year she won the Grand Prix at the Song Festival in Ostend, Belgium. She then performed at Town Hall, New York. The day after the concert Simone Auger wrote: 'Monique Leyrac is unique. And US audiences know it well, responding with deafening applause after each song and reserving an ovation for the end... All subjects and all registers suit her. She makes transitions from French to English and from past to present with extraordinary ease... Besides a voice and an intelligence she has at her command the skills of the actress'. (Montreal La Presse, 26 Mar 1966).

Shortly after this Leyrac starred in the variety show 'Pleins feux sur le Canada' at the Olympia in Paris and toured the USSR, appearing in Moscow, Leningrad, Tallinn, and other cities. She taped 39 radio shows for the CBC in Toronto. In 1967 she appeared at Massey Hall in Toronto, at Carnegie Hall in New York, and before Princess Margaret in London. Accompanied by the pianist André Gagnon, she also performed at the Expo Theatre and at the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67. She was a guest on 'The Rolf Harris Show' (BBC London, 1968) and 'The Ed Sullivan Show' (CBS TV New York, 1969). Parisians heard her once more at the Bobino theatre in February 1970. That year she took a major role in Paul Almond's film Act of the Heart and sang at the Place des nations at Man and His World (exhibition on the site of Expo 67) and at Le Patriote. In 1972 CBC TV presented her portrait-recital 'Une femme comme les autres' on the program 'Les Beaux Dimanches'.

Monique Leyrac gave recitals at the Comédie-Canadienne (1965, 1970), at the PDA (1968, 1971 with the MSO, 1972), at the Capitol Theatre in Ottawa (1968), and at the NAC (1969), and toured in Quebec (1965, 1968, 1970) and elsewhere in Canada (1967, 1970). In 1972 she performed at the Stratford Festival in The Threepenny Opera. That same year she went to France, where she stayed until 1975, returning to Montreal to play the title role in Robert Athayde's Mademoiselle Marguerite at the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde. She sang next at the Kennedy Center in Washington and the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg and recited and sang the poetry of Émile Nelligan in a concert she devoted to him at Le Patriote, the Gesù Hall, and on tour in Quebec and Ontario. (The show was revived at the Odéon in Paris in 1978 and in Montreal in 1985.) She sang songs of Félix Leclerc in a Montreal concert 'of incomparable richness' (Pierre Beaulieu, La Presse, 27 Oct 1976), and repeated the success in Quebec City. In the fall of 1978 she performed at the boîte à chansons of the Méridien Hotel and then was featured as the host of four shows in the CBC TV series 'Faut voir ca'. Her comedic gifts were particularly evident in 'Ragtime,' a show she presented at the PDA in April 1979.

During the 1980s, Monique Leyrac wrote and staged many shows in which she performed songs while acting. In 1981, she produced 'Divine Sarah,' based on the life of Sarah Bernhardt, which she performed in French and in English in Montreal, Quebec and in Toronto. This was followed the next year by 'Les Paradis artificiels,' on Beaudelaire, which played for three months at the Café de la PDA in Montreal. She then performed songs of Aristide Bruant and Yvette Guilbert in her 'Spectacle 1900,' also at the Café de la PDA. In 1986 and 1987, she played the role of Laurence in the CBC TV serial 'Des dames de coeur'. Returning to the stage, she premiered 'Paris-Berlin,' with Paul Savoie, on texts by Bertold Brecht and Jacques Prévert, and 'Sara and the Beast' by Michael Bawtree which she then performed in French in Montreal and in Quebec city. She has played the role of Bélize in Molière's Les Femmes savantes with the Nouvelle Compagnie Théâtrale (1990), for which she won the critics' award for best supporting actress.

Monique Leyrac was proclaimed 'best singer of the year' twice and 'woman of the year' twice in the Canadian Press' annual survey of women's editors. After an opening night at the Olympia in Paris, Pierre Kyria wrote: 'Monique Leyrac heightens emotion as she reconstitutes the seasons of the heart with the fullness of a spiritual adventure. Whether she is admirably served by poets like Vigneault and Léveillée or whether she chooses whimsy or tenderness in her surprisingly diverse repertoire, she sings with a sound and a degree of sensibility that are without deception' (Combat, 1 Sep 1966). She was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967 and received the 1979 Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée. She has published an autobiographical volume, Mon enfance à Rosemont (Montreal 1983).


Further Reading

  • Keable, Jacques. 'Une voix comme un vent long et doux, c'est Monique Leyrac,' Montreal La Presse, 30 Oct 1965

    Trent, Bill. 'Songs of her people,' Weekend Magazine, 22 Oct 1966

    Cobb, David. 'Monique Leyrac is the Canadian star,' Toronto Telegram, 18 Feb 1967

    'Reluctant chanteuse,' Time (Canadian edn), 3 May 1968

    Homier-Roy, René. 'Monique Leyrac: reculer pour mieux bondir,' Montreal La Presse, 13 Mar 1969

    Adam, Marcel. 'Monique Leyrac, un être de contradiction,' ibid, 24 Feb 1970

    Heller, Zelda. 'Monique Leyrac,' Montreal Star, 5 Sep 1970

    McDonald, Marci. 'Leyrac: chanteuse extraordinaire tries her hand at acting again,' Toronto Star, 24 Jun 1972

    Lemieux, Louis-Guy. 'La rencontre d'une interprète et d'un auteur,' Quebec Le Soleil, 29 Jan 1977

    Petrowski, Nathalie. 'Interview: Monique Leyrac,' CanComp, 140, Apr 1979