March 6, 1890 in Boussu-Bois – May 1, 1972 in Brussels
Fernand Ansseau’s background was musical. His father played the organ in the village church of Boussu-Bois near Mons (Wallonia) where the artist was born. At the age of 17 he entered the Brussels conservatory and became a student of the noted teacher Désiré Demest. It was in church music (Mozart’s Requiem) he appeared for the first time. Demest trained him as a baritone, but Ansseau felt that he was making too little progress. His teacher directed him to change to tenor, noticing his student’s increasing ease with the upper register. After studying three years with the celebrated Flemish tenor Ernest van Dijck, Ansseau made his widely acclaimed debut as Jean in Massenet’s Hérodiade (the role was to become one of his most successful achievements). During his career he appeared in roles such as Sigurd, Faust, Julien and Don José. He was the tenor lead in Saint-Saëns’ first performance of Les Barbares. As a Belgian patriot he refused to appear on the operatic stage during World War I and sang only occasionally. After the war he resumed his operatic career at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, as Canio (1918). Particularly in Auber’s liberation opera La Muette de Portici he was much applauded. His repertory at “The Munt” included Radames, Samson, The Duke of Mantua, Jean, Don Alvaro, Faust (Berlioz), Des Grieux (Manon) and Cavaradossi. He remained at this important opera house until his retirement. 1919 saw his Covent Garden debut, singing Des Grieux with the soprano Marie-Louise Edvina as Manon and Beecham as conductor. Ansseau became a well-known singer at Covent Garden and appeared as Faust, Canio, Cavaradossi and Roméo, opposite Dame Nelly Melba. He refused a generous offer by general manager Gatti-Casazza in 1920 to sing at the Met, not keen to leave home for an extended period. In 1922 he sang at the Paris Opéra as Jean, Alain (Grisélidis), Roméo, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Admète (opposite Germaine Lubin) and again as Roméo. From 1923 to 1928 he was a regular member of the Chicago Civic Opera, enjoying remarkable popularity. The “Reigning Queen”, Mary Garden was full of praise for the tenor, becoming a favorite partner of the Diva. He was the tenor lead opposite her in Alfano’s Risurrezione and in Montemezzi’s L’Amore dei tre Re. Ansseau spent his active years in Brussels but often reappeared in Ghent and Antwerp. His last performance at the La Monnaie was in 1939. His rather early retirement was often linked to the war and given a patriotic twist, also by Ansseau himself. Some people who knew him attribute it more to saturation. From 1942 to 1944 he served as a Professor of Voice at the Brussels conservatory, devoting the following decades to his hobbies, fishing and gardening. He died where his was born, in Boussu-Bois.