Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Jeannette Zarou

Magazine article Opera Canada

Grand Tradition: Jeannette Zarou

Article excerpt

IN OPERA CIRCLES TODAY, THE NAME JEANNETTE Zarou is all but forgotten. Yet by all accounts, she possessed one of the loveliest lyric sopranos of her generation. Consider these credits: she was chosen by Leonard Bernstein as his soloist in Mahler's Fourth Symphony with the New York Philharmonic at Expo '67. She sang with many of the great leading men in German opera, among them Bernd Weikl, Rene Kollo, Peter Hofmann, Manfred Jung and fellow Canadian Paul Frey, during her years as a member of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. She created the title role in Healey Willan's Deirdre for the Canadian Opera Company, the company that gave Zarou her start, singing Liu, Marguerite, Micaela, Marzelline and Mimi in the '60s and '70s. In a recently published autobiography, the great Wagnerian soprano Astrid Varnay singled out Zarou as one of the best voices from Canada.

Zarou phased out her opera career in the early '80s, though she continued to sing in concerts. In 1979, she began teaching, and since then has been busy passing on her knowledge to a new generation of singers at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Dusseldorf, Germany, where she has lived for the past 32 years.

Born in Ramallah, Palestine, to a Palestinian father and a Canadian-born mother, her family emigrated to Corner Brook, Newfoundland, in 1947. Showing early musical talent, the young Zarou was chosen to sing at weddings and the local Catholic church. "We were exposed to music and culture at a young age," says Zarou. "I remember hearing Leopold Simoneau in recital when I was 15." She also remembers singing in Montreal for the great Canadian soprano Pauline Donalda, who accepted her as a student. But the family chose to relocate to Toronto, where Zarou took voice lessons from Halina Wyszkowski. Early successes at local competitions encouraged Zarou to continue her studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. She auditioned as a lyric soprano. "Would you believe my audition piece was Dalilah's aria, `Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix'?" says Zarou with a laugh. Nevertheless, she was given a scholarship as a part-time student.

After two years, she entered the University of Toronto Faculty of Music as a student of Irene Jessner. Upon graduation, she sang in the COC Chorus, and in 1964, was chosen to make her professional debut as the Priestess in Aida. Possessing a lyric soprano with a strong lower register, yet capable of flexibility at the top, Zarou was also given plum assignments at the opera school early on, such as the title role in the 1966 world premiere of Deirdre, by Healey Willan. …

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