Pierrette Alarie (1921-2011)by Jean-Pierre Sévigny
/ September 1, 2011
Flash version here
Lyric soprano and teacher Pierrette
Alarie passed away during the night on July 10, 2011 in Victoria, BC,
at the age of 89. Alarie was born into a lively family of musicians
and singers. Her father, Sylva Alarie, was a cellist and orchestral
conductor and her mother Amanda (née Plante) was a singer and actress--she
played Mrs. Plouffe on the television show "The Plouffe Family,"
written by Roger Lemelin.
From pop songs to arias
Alarie began her career as a radio actress. She won her first contest
singing Mireille's “Ma grand-mère était garde-barrière.” By age
15, she already had her own radio show, “Rythme et mélodie,” where
she performed popular songs by the chanteuses réalistes (realist
singers) in vogue in the 1930s. At age 17, the young singer made her
operetta debut at Montreal's Monument-National with Les Variétés lyriques
in White Horse Inn.
Already a star in Quebec because
of her radio show and her work with Les Variétés lyriques, Alarie's
career continued to flourish. In 1940, she attended Salvator Issaurel's
vocal arts studio--where she met her future husband, tenor Léopold
Simoneau--and for the next decade, established her reputation in the
Montreal arts community, playing lead roles in the operas La Fille
du régiment, Mireille, The Barber of Seville,
and La traviata.
“I want to be an opera singer”
In 1943, in one of the highlights of her young career, Alarie played
the role of Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro at His Majesty's
Theatre, under the direction of legendary conductor Thomas Beecham.
Following the performance's extraordinary success, Alarie decided to
go to the United States to perfect her art. Given the choice of attending
either Juilliard or the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, she
decided on Curtis; the reason was prominent voice teacher Elisabeth
Schumann. From 1943 to 1946, Alarie studied with Schumann and was introduced
to European-style singing, among other things. Schumann, who was a role
model for Alarie, often told her student that her “smooth and flexible”
coloratura voice was similar to that of Austrian soprano Lotte Schöne.
In 1945, Alarie won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air, singing
the “Bell Song” from Lakmé--a work she would revisit throughout
her career. In December of that year, shortly after her twenty-fifth
birthday, she made her Met debut as Oscar the page in Verdi's Un
ballo in maschera, conducted by Bruno Walter; the performance was
a huge success.
Alarie and Simoneau were married
in 1946. The Opéra-Comique de Paris later hired the couple, thanks
to conductor Louis Fourestier, and Alarie sang lead roles in Lakmé
and Lucia di Lammermoor. At the time, French influence on musical
culture was at its height. The Canadian singer won fame performing on
Europe's largest stages and at prestigious festivals in Aix-en-Provence,
Glyndebourne, Vienna, etc. Alarie sang numerous times on television
for Radio-Canada, notably on “L'Heure du concert,” which aired between
1954 and 1966. The duo left their mark, particularly with their Mozart
discography. The couple--nicknamed “Mr. and Mrs. Mozart” by critic
and historian Irving Kolodin--was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque in
1961 by the Académie Charles-Cros for a recording of concert arias
and duos by Mozart.
From stage to classroom
Alarie continued her career as a singer and soloist--in orchestral
performances and in recital, alone and with her husband--on North America's
biggest stages until the 1960s. On November 24, 1970, she bid the stage
adieu alongside Simoneau, as guest singers in the Orchestre Symphonique
de Montréal's production of Handel's Messiah.
Alarie dedicated the next part
of her life to teaching, mainly stage production. She followed Wagner's
belief that opera is a total work of art that combines all other art
forms. She repeatedly told her students that “opera is theatre--you
not only have to sing, but also have to act.” For more than twenty
years (1972 to 1982), Alarie taught at the École de musique Vincent-d'Indy,
the Banff Centre, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She also
did stage direction for various small opera houses in the San Francisco
area, particularly in Palo Alto.
In 1982, Alarie and Simoneau founded
Canada Opera Piccola in Victoria, B.C. The company offered two different
programs: voice and stage performance. With a mandate to provide young
Canadian singers opera training in a non-academic setting and allow
them to gain performance experience, the company toured across Canada.
In 1988, two years after Alarie worked as artistic director for the
very last time (for an Opéra de Québec production of La Fille du
régiment), Piccola's funding from the Canada Arts Council was cut,
and the company closed its doors.
Alarie received many awards throughout her career, including the
Prix Opus, awarded to her by the Conseil québécois de la musique in
2007 for her lifetime achievements. She was also an Officer of the Order
of Canada, a Chevalière de l'Ordre national du Québec, and a Chevalière
of France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Adored by audiences and praised
by critics internationally for her pure and crystalline voice, Alarie
was without a doubt one of the most illustrious voices in Canadian vocal
history. She joins legends Albani and Donalda, as well as Maureen Forrester,
who passed away last year.
Alarie leaves behind her two daughters:
Isabelle and Chantal. In the words of Isabelle, who has always seen
her mother as a brave and determined woman: “She was a fighter, never
giving up, right until the very end. She sang on stage despite her fear,
her stage fright. She was an independent and courageous woman.”
[Translation: Aleshia Jensen]
J. S. Bach's B-minor Mass, BWV 232
by Laura Bates
Assembled between 1747 and 1749, the
epic Mass in B minor is widely seen as Johann Sebastian Bach's seminal
work of sacred vocal music. It epitomizes the mastery of his compositional
technique, with scoring that spans from stile antico to modern
concertato style. The mass was not written in one fell swoop: it is
a patchwork of sorts, as Bach borrowed from and adapted his own previous
compositions. This “parody technique” allowed him to revise, update
or polish existing works and would have also been beneficial as a time-saving
For its first and second Discovery
CDs of the 2011-2012 season, La Scena Musicale and XXI Records
present a historical recording of the mass in its entirety, the first
part in September and the second in October. Under the direction of
maestro Hermann Scherchen with the Vienna Academy Chamber Choir and
the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, this 1960 recording features the celebrated
soprano Pierrette Alarie alongside contralto Nan Merriman, tenor Léopold
Simoneau and bass-baritone Gustav Neidlinger.