Death of an immense French baritone, 95

Death of an immense French baritone, 95


norman lebrecht

May 13, 2020

The family of Gabriel Bacquier has announced his passing:

C’est avec une infinie tristesse que nous nous associons à Sylvie Oussenko-Bacquier pour vous annoncer le décès de Gabriel Bacquier, légende de l’opéra, ce matin, mercredi 13 [ ] 2020, dans sa quatre-vingt-seizième année à son domicile à Lestre, Manche. Il restera à jamais dans nos cœurs et cela fut une chance immense que d’avoir pu le côtoyer ces dernières années…

He would have turned 96 at the weekend.

Bacquier was a star in Brussels and Paris long before he was brought to America as the High Priest in Samson et Dalila- Chicago in 1962 and the Met two years later. He was reinvited to the Met for 18 successive seasons, unprecedented for a Frenchman.

He made numerous recordings.




  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    A great singer and an absolutely fantastic actor. The man was full of fun, was delightful. Rest in peace. – a long very worthwhile life.

  • Jack says:

    A wonderfully characterful singer.

    Memorable as Fra Melitone on the classic recording of La Forza with Domingo, Leontyne Price, Milnes and Levine.

    Was also an interesting Iago on an underrated recording of Otello with Cossutta, Margaret Price and Solti.

  • R. Brite says:

    I had the great good luck to see him not long after moving to Paris, in Gianni Schicchi at the Salle Favart. A wonderful singer with heaps of stage presence.

  • MezzoLover says:

    Gabriel Bacquier was an incomparable singing-actor, as evidenced by his four, differentiated portrayals in the “adversary” roles of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, a truly remarkable feat.

    My personal favorite recording of his is the 1974 Cosi conducted by Georg Solti, in which his Don Alfonso is perfectly matched with Jane Berbié’s Despina. Led by Pilar Lorengar’s Fiordiligi and Teresa Berganza’s Dorabella, this is Mozart’s ensemble masterpiece delivered by a fine ensemble of singers who were either appropriately young or in their prime. The performance is electric and, as one might expect, full of Mediterranean sunshine and élan. Just listen to “Soave sia il vento” sung by Lorengar, Berganza and Bacquier – it is almost too lovely.

  • Pat says:

    I only heard him once and it was in Chicago. It was a performance of the Elixir of Love. The other principal singers were Alferado Kraus and Judith Blegan. What a performance!

  • Don Ciccio says:

    A great artist who fortunately left behind an important legacy. One less known fact about him is the fact that he even sang tenor roles! For example, in a production of Enescu’s Oedipe at La Monnaie in 1956 he sang the role of the Shepherd! Later, of course, he recorded the role of Tiresias in Lawrence Foster’s seminal recording of the work. Likewise, he sang the tenor role of Achiles in Offenbach’s La Belle Helene, and later he recorded the role of Agamemnon under Plasson.

    May he rest in peace.

  • Bruce says:

    Very funny (and beautifully sung) Leporello in Solti’s Don Giovanni recording from 1970s.

    Seemed like one of those singers who was incapable of singing anything badly.

    • Joel says:

      I agree with You Bruce, his Leporello was very good, and a great chance to enjoy it again, now also in video, will be next Friday 22, because that day the MET will be streaming in its free daily operas the 1978’s “Don Giovanni” with James Morris, Joan Sutherland and Julia Varady, and where the also recently deceased John Macurdy sang the Commendatore. Let’s hope that the MET will stream soon another two great and funny Bacquier’s performances recorded from that theater: his “Don Pasquale” with Sills and Kraus (1978) and his Gianni Schicchi from “Il Trittico” with Scotto (1981).

  • almaviva says:

    What a loss to the music world! He was my favorite baritone, especially in the French operatic repertoire. Just listen to his marvelous diction and superb musicianship in ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (recorded live with Alain Vanzo, another giant of a singer):

    Que la paix soit avec lui.

    • Bruce says:

      That was marvelous. Vanzo too — we’re so used to hearing tenors force high notes to some degree.

      • MezzoLover says:

        Agreed. Vanzo was/is the best French tenor post-WWII, with Léopold Simoneau the only possible rival for that title.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Bacquier and Vanzo….
        Simply gorgeous. Gorgeous voices from another age. Those voices, and in fact that whole French singing style, are something we’ll never hear again.
        Rest in peace, maitre Bacquier.
        Thank heaven for recordings! The complete live “Pearl Fishers” from 1959, conducted by Rosenthal (from which this excerpt was taken), was once available on a Gala issue; it’s one of my favorite opera recordings. If you can find it, get it – you’ll love it! And the sound’s quite good considering its provenance.
        (PS I never thought of Bacquier as being immense – perhaps he went on a diet?)

  • Robert Groen says:

    What can I say? Bacquier was a great singer and his Falstaff was historic. Unfortunately, nothing and no one lasts forever. RIP.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    Thank you Norman. Unforgettable Golaud in Serge Baudo Pelleas and Melisande

  • Joe Pearce says:

    Yes, Bacquier was a truly great singing actor in both Italian and French roles, but not really quite a French stylist. If you listen to him as Iago, Don Pasquale, Scarpia, etc. (he was wonderful in the Italian rep), the voice does not sound at all French, whereas with previous generations of French baritones – Singher, Dens, Bourdin, Cambon, Billot, Musy, Dufranne, Renaud, Note, Soulacroix, etc. – the voice and singing style sound French, no matter what music they are performing. This is not a negative remark, as national styles of singing pretty much disappeared in the years after WW2, augmented in their decline by the career requirement of an “international” style for worldwide success. All this aside, Bacquier was my favorite French singer of any range to come along since I found Opera almost 70 years back, and we will all miss him.

    Small corrections: Bacquier did not sing 18 consecutive seasons at the Met, only in 13 seasons over 19 years, and this was hardly unprecedented there for a Frenchman, as Leon Rothier sang over 1,100 performances there over 29 consecutive seasons. On the distaff side, Lily Pons sang there for 29 seasons over 31 years, 28 of them consecutive.