Léopold Simoneau

Simoneau studied at Levis College and Laval University in Quebec City (where in 1939 he commenced his vocal studies with Émile Larochelle) before moving to Montreal where he was a pupil of Salvator Issaurel from 1941 to 1944. He made his operatic stage debut in 1941 in Montreal as Hadji / Lakmé at the Variétés Lyriques.

Here during the following years Simoneau went on to sing Wilhelm Meister / Mignon, Tonio / La Fille du Régiment, Vincent / Mireille, Alfredo / La traviata and the Count / Il barbiere di Siviglia, often opposite his wife, the soprano Pierette Alarie, whom he had met at Issaurel’s studio and married in 1946. He also sang in recitals broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and in 1943 appeared as Don Curzio / Le nozze di Figaro in a Montreal festival production conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. In 1944 Simoneau was awarded the Prix Archambault which led to his debut with the SCSM Orchestra (the forerunner of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra) conducted by Wilfred Pelletier. He received high praise for his accounts of Ferrando / Così fan tutte and Tamino / Die Zauberflöte, given during 1945 in Montreal.

While studying with Paul Althouse in New York between 1945 and 1947 Simoneau made his first US appearances (in Central City, Colorado and in New Orleans), his wife having made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1945 after winning the Met’s ‘Auditions of the Air’ in the previous year. She continued to sing there until the beginning of 1948.

Her husband made his European debut the following year as Vincent at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, where he continued his vocal studies with Berl Lilienfeld. He sang regularly in Paris at both the Opéra-Comique and the Opera and was quickly recognized as a Mozartian singer of note. He became very popular at the Aix-en Provence Festival where from 1950 onwards he sang the major Mozart tenor roles from Don Ottavio / Don Giovanni onwards, as well as Pylade in Iphigénie en Tauride (1952) and Orphée in the tenor version of Orphée et Euridice, both by Gluck. During 1952 in Paris he sang in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with the composer conducting, and in 1953 took the part of Tom Rakewell at the Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at the Opéra-Comique. During the same year he made his debut at La Scala, Milan, as Don Ottavio with Karajan on the podium.

At the Glyndebourne Festival Opera Simoneau first appeared in 1951, singing Idamante / Idomeneo and Don Ottavio, returning in 1952 and 1954. He was a key soloist in the Vienna State Opera’s performances at the Royal Festival Hall in London during 1954, the year in which he and his wife undertook an extensive tour of North America. For the Mozart bicentenary year, 1956, he sang Don Ottavio at the Salzburg Festival, returning in 1959 as Tamino as well as giving a solo recital.

During 1959 Simoneau appeared at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires and with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, singing Alfredo opposite Callas. He was extremely active in Canada, singing with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto (Don Ottavio, 1956; Belmonte / Die Entführung aus dem Serail, 1957) as well as in the Vancouver, Montreal and Stratford Festivals, where he appeared in recital with Glenn Gould in 1962. His only appearance at the Metropolitan Opera, New York was as Don Ottavio in 1963, when he was praised by the New York Times for singing ‘with intelligence as well as beauty of sound’. He sang this role (a part he had performed on 185 occasions) for the last time at the Place des Arts, Montreal, in 1964, these two performances marking his retirement from the operatic stage.

Simoneau continued to be active as a concert singer, as had been the case throughout his career, and made his final public appearance in Handel’s Messiah with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in 1970. He had been active as a teacher since 1963, initially with the Quebec Conservatoire, which also served Montreal, and in 1967 he joined the music division of the Quebec Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Here he prepared a report on opera in Quebec which led to the creation of the Opéra du Québec in 1971, of which he was artistic director for its initial year. Having moved to California in 1972 to teach at the San Francisco Conservatory, as well as at Banff between 1973 and 1976, he then settled in 1982 in Victoria, British Columbia, where he and his wife founded Canada Piccola Opera.

The pre-eminent Mozartian tenor of the 1950s, Simoneau always sang with an immaculate sense of style and good taste as well as with flawless vocal production, qualities which he also displayed in the French operatic repertoire. His discography also reflects his strengths as a concert singer.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).