Magazine article Opera Canada

Joseph Rouleau

Magazine article Opera Canada

Joseph Rouleau

Article excerpt

A few years ago, the town of Matane in Gaspesie, Quebec, inaugurated a new cultural complex and named it after its most famous artistic son, Joseph Rouleau. Matane's inhabitants are rugged, proud, extremely determined and warmly charming folk; often confronted with adversity, they are used to facing life's challenges head on and emerging victorious. In a real sense, Joseph Rouleau embodies all these characteristics and more.

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I have known Joseph Rouleau all my life. Joseph likes to remind me that, as a close friend and colleague of my father, Andre Turp, he was one of the first people to see me after my birth. Upon reflection, I think that mine has been a privileged position. Like many others, I have seen, heard and admired Joseph Rouleau the singer on numerous occasions, but over the years, I have also come to fully appreciate the enormous energy, commitment and determination that seem to inhabit and drive Joseph Rouleau the man.

As singing students in Italy, Joseph and my father were part of a bohemian group of Quebeckers that also included, among others, Robert Savoie, Louis Quilico, Marguerite Lavergne and Constance Lambert. Ironically, Joseph, one of the youngest of the group, had initially left his native Gaspesie in order to study the classics in Montreal, but had discovered both a passion for music and an impressive bass voice. A period of private study with Edouard Woolley and Albert Cornellier, and later with Martial Singher at the Conservatoire de musique de Montreal, led to Joseph winning a host of vocal competitions and awards such as The Singing Stars of Tomorrow. These successes also convinced him to leave for Italy in order to perfect his craft with Mario Basiola and Antonio Narducci.

Upon returning to Canada, Joseph began his professional singing career, as did so many of his colleagues, by appearing on television and radio for Radio-Canada and the CBC. His appearances with the Montreal Opera Guild and l'Opera national du Quebec brought him to the attention of Sir David Webster, the director of London's Covent Garden. A successful audition led to a debut with the company in 1957, which in turn led to an astonishing 35-year association with the Royal Opera House. "I had the privilege and good fortune to sing over 875 performances on the Covent Garden stage over the years," says Joseph. "I think that from the very beginning, I tried to not only give of my best at every performance but also to respect every contract and agreement that I made. It meant that I lost out on several exciting opportunities, but I don't regret it at all."

It seemed predetermined that initially, Joseph would be joined in London by the others members of the so-called Four Canadian Musketeers, his student colleagues from his Italian days: Andre Turp, Louis Quilico and Robert Savoie. Indeed, Canadians were the cornerstones of the Covent Garden ensemble at the time. Jon Vickers, Victor Godfrey, Walter Dinoff, Irene Salemka and, later, Teresa Stratas and Napoleon Bisson were not only Covent Garden artists but also members of Canada's most remarkable generation of singers.

Joseph Rouleau was a Covent Garden fixture for 35 years and he appeared in a wide variety of leading bass roles for the company. He widened his repertoire considerably during this period, and it should come as no surprise to learn that he has, astonishingly, performed over 130 operatic roles during his distinguished career. Though he sang works from the German and English repertoires, he was obviously especially appreciated in French and Italian works. Certain composers hold a particular place in his heart: Bellini (La Sonnambula), Donizetti (Lucia di Lammermoor), Rossini (Il barbiere di Siviglia, Mose and Semiramide) and, above all, Verdi (Jacopo Fiesco in Simon Boccanegra, Jacopo Loredano in I due Foscari, Philip II in Don Carlo and Padre Guardiano in La forza del destino).

Happily, there are audio souvenirs of several other major roles that are particularly associated with Joseph, most notably Boris Godunov, Massenet's Don Quichotte and Mephistopheles in both the Gounod and Boito operas. …

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