Ernest Blanc

As a young man Ernest Blanc was employed at the Toulon arsenal. Here his colleagues, impressed by his singing, encouraged him to enter local singing competitions. Success in these quickly led to more formal study between 1946 and 1949 at the Toulon Conservatoire, with Sabran; and his operatic début came in 1950 at Marseilles with Tonio/Pagliacci. Blanc then sang in both the French and Italian repertoires in many of the French regional opera houses before making his début at the Paris Opera in the title rôle of Rigoletto. He was to be the leading baritone at the Palais Garnier for twenty-five years, singing a variety of parts, including Valentin/Faust (Gounod), Amonasro/Aida, Germont père/La traviata, Renato/Un ballo in maschera, Wolfram/Tannhäuser, Enrico Ashton/Lucia di Lammermoor, Michele/Il tabarro and Andrey Shchelkalov/Boris Godunov, as well as Theogène in the première of Henry Barraud’s Numance (1955). In addition he often sang at the Opéra-Comique, enjoying particular success as Rigoletto and Scarpia/Tosca; and was a frequent guest at the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Blanc’s international career began with a much-praised interpretation of Telramund/Lohengrin, notable for immaculate German diction, at the Bayreuth Festival in 1958, the year in which he also made his début at Monte Carlo as Escamillo/Carmen. During the following year he appeared in America for the first time: in Chicago, as Escamillo. At the 1960 Glyndebourne Festival Blanc took the title rôle in Don Giovanni and also sang Riccardo in I puritani. In the same year he made his début at La Scala, Milan, as Escamillo, a rôle which he repeated at the Salzburg Festival in 1966. His first appearance at Covent Garden was as Rigoletto in 1961.

During the 1960s Blanc was active in many operatic centres throughout Europe and South America, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Florence, Geneva, Naples, Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, while remaining faithful to his hugely admiring audiences thoughout the French provinces. He repeated his stylish Puritani Riccardo at Carnegie Hall, New York in 1963: once again, as at Glyndebourne, singing opposite Joan Sutherland. His later years were notable for several highly affecting interpretations, such as Bluebeard in Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Opéra-Comique (1980), the Father in Charpentier’s Louise at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, Brussels (1983) and Golaud/Pelléas et Mélisande at Strasbourg (1983).

Blanc gave his farewell performance in 1987 in the same opera house (Marseilles) where he had made his début, singing Germont père; but continued to be musically active as a teacher in Paris. He possessed a beautifully graded baritone voice, even throughout the whole register, which he used with impeccable style and musicianship; and had in addition a fine stage presence. Among his many recordings, his Escamillo in Beecham’s Carmen and his Valentine in Cluytens’s stereo version of Faust are notable.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers).