Skip to main content

Richard Verreau – French Canadian Tenor

By August 14, 2018March 17th, 2023No Comments

This post has a real treat – a French Canadian tenor with a voice that I would call spinto.  A few sentences about him, and then on to the youtube links.

Richard Verreau (Verreault). Tenor, born Château-Richer, near Québec City, Jan 1, 1926, died July 6, 2005. Verreau began singing in his parish church. After winning a Québec Symphony Orchestra competition for young artists he decided in 1945 to enter Laval University. He studied there with Émile Larochelle and took private lessons from Louis Gravel. In 1949, on a Quebec government scholarship, he went to Paris and studied with Raoul Jobin. In 1951 he signed a six-month contract with the Opéra de Lyon to sing in Lakmé, Manon, Mireille, and Les Pêcheurs de perles. Returning to Canada in 1952, he met Beniamino Gigli and went to Rome to study 1952-4 with that maestro.

Why have I selected this particular singer?  It’s really the same reason for which I have selected all the other singers in this blog.  Verreau sings with no pressure on the voice.  The swallowing muscles are not engaged, the sound is not over-darkened, and the sound is free.  He can do whatever he wants with his voice.  I keep writing this, but what has been lost in today’s singing is freedom of the voice.  Instead we get a swallowed and squeezed sound that is over-darkened, has a wobble, and is out of tune.  That was not the which in which the great singers sang in the past.

Ah!, Fuyez, douce image

Je suis seul!
Seul enfin!
C’est le moment suprême!
Il n’est plus rien que j’aime
Que le repos sacré que m’apporte la foi!

Oui, j’ai voulu mettre
Dieu même
Entre le monde et moi!

Ah! fuyez, douce image, à mon âme trop chère

Respectez un repos cruellement gagné,
Et songez, si j’ai bu dans une coupe amère,
Que mon coeur l’emplirait de ce qu’il a saigné!
Ah! fuyez! fuyez! loin de moi!
Ah! fuyez!
Que m’importe la vie et ce semblant de gloire?
Je ne veux que chasser du fond de ma mémoire…
Un nom maudit! ce nom… qui m’obsède et pourquoi?

J’y vais!
Mon Dieu!
De votre flamme
Purifiez mon âme…
Et dissipez à sa lueur
L’ombre qui passe encore dans le fond de mon coeur!
Ah! fuyez, douce image, à mon âme trop chère!
Ah! fuyez! fuyez! loin de moi!
Ah! fuyez! loin de moi! loin de moi!

Ah, depart sweet image

I am alone
Alone at last!
The supreme moment has arrived!
There is nothing more that I love
May the sacred rest (in Heaven) bring me faith!

Yes, I wanted to put
God himself
between the earth and me!

Respect a rest cruelly obtained,
And dream, if I have drunk a bitter cup,
Let my heart fill it up with all that it has bled.
Ah! depart! depart! far from me!
Ah! depart!
What is this life and this semblance of glory?
I only want to chase it from the depths of my memory
A cursed name! I am obsessed by this name, and why?

I am going there!
My God!
From your flame
Purify my soul . . .
And dispel with your light
The shadow that still passes in the depts of my heart!
Ah! depart, sweet image, too dear to my heart!
Ah! depart! depart! far from me!
Ah! depart, far from me! far from me!

Les nuits d’été, Absence

Reviens, reviens, ma bien-aimée!
Comme une fleur loin du soleil
La fleur de ma vie est fermée
Loin de ton sourire vermeil.
Entre nos cœurs quelle distance!
Tant d’espace entre nos baisers!
Ô sort amer! Ô dure absence!
Ô grands désirs inapaisés!
Reviens, reviens, ma bien-aimée, etc.
D’ici là-bas, que de campagnes,
Que de villes et de hameaux,
Que de vallons et de montagnes,
A lasser le pied des chevaux!
Reviens, reviens, ma bien-aimée, etc.

Summer Nights, Absence

Return, return, my beloved!
Like a flower far from the sun,
the flower of my life is closed
far from your brilliant smile!
Between our hearts what distance!
What space between our kisses!
O bitter fate! O hard absence!
O great, unquenchable desires!
Return, return…
Between here and there what lands,
what cities and towns,
what valleys and mountains
to weary the feet of the horses
Return, return, my beloved!

Richard Verreau

Verreau was a frequent soloist 1953-60 with the MSO, and in 1956 he made his debut with the New York City Opera, singing Wilhelm Meister in Mignon. Immediately thereafter he sang Rodolfo in La Bohème and the Duke in Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House of Covent Garden in London (1957). He also appeared there in Berlioz’ The Trojans. Returning to North America, he sang in Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco. His interpretation of the tenor part in Verdi’s Requiem was greatly admired, and he frequently sang as a soloist in Montréal with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (1957, 1958, and 1962). He performed at the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of 1958, where he sang the Verdi Requiem. He was invited in 1960 to perform at the Vancouver International Festival. Verreau performed and travelled through Italy, Belgium, and France in 1959 and Austria in 1960. He then completed three tours of the USSR in 1963-4 where he performed in Faust, La Bohème and Rigoletto.

Verreau sang in Tosca with the MSO in 1963 and made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in Faust. While in New York he performed La Damnation de Faust with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Lincoln Center, directed by Charles Munch. He sang with the Opera Guild of Montreal (La Traviata 1962, Faust 1963, Madama Butterfly1965, and La Bohème 1966), with the Théâtre lyrique de Nouvelle-France (Werther, Tosca 1963, Manon 1967), with the Montreal Festivals (Werther 1963), and on CBC radio and TV (‘L’Heure du concert,’ ‘Récital,’ ‘Music Hall,’ ‘Sérénade’). In 1965 he repeated his role in Manon with the Metropolitan Opera, and in 1967 he repeated the title role in Faust with the MSO at Expo 67.

Verreau’s voice had a rare velvety quality. Unfortunately, in 1977, unsuccessful throat surgery ended his career.
In 1991, the Chamber de Commerce de Québec honoured Verreau with the title of Grand Québécois, and in 1996 he was established in the Canadian Pantheon of the lyric art.

Verreau was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1998 and an Officer of the Order of Quebec in 2000. In 1999 the Montreal International Musical Festival named the people’s choice award after Verreau and the Opéra de Québec gave him the honorary title of Ambassador of the Opera of Quebec.