— At the Festival

Published on September 14 2020

HOMAGE TO THE FRENCH SOPRANO CHRISTIANE EDA-PIERRE (1932-2020)

Gabriel Dussurget et Christiane Eda-Pierre, 1979 © Henry Ely
© Henry Ely

Christiane Eda-Pierre—a soprano from Martinique who was gifted with one of the most beautiful voices of the second half of the twentieth century, and who was the first French diva of international renown—has passed away. Her constantly-expanding repertoire ran the gamut from baroque (Monteverdi, Rameau) to bel canto (Bellini, Donizetti), French nineteenth-century opera (in particular, Berlioz) and contemporary creations (Chaynes, Messiaen); and her resplendent yet resonant voice flourished naturally, increasingly embracing operatic expression while never sacrificing its coloratura, its vocal line and its unparalleled musicality. Her major career achievements include the role of Antonia in Patrice Chéreau’s production of The Tales of Hoffman at the Opéra Garnier in 1974; Gilda in Rigoletto, alongside Luciano Pavarotti, in front of 250,000 audience members in Central Park in 1976; and the Angel in the world premiere of Messiaen’s Saint François d'Assise in 1983.

However, Mozart remained the core of her repertoire, which helps to explain her close ties with the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence for nearly twenty years. Indeed, Gabriel Dussurget would habitually seek out beautiful new voices straight from the conservatory for his choruses. If a talent was confirmed and continued to progress, he would have the young artists debut in a small role and would then support them in the development of their careers. Christiane Eda-Pierre was one of these talented artists, as were Nadine Denize and Roger Soyer: she thus played Papagena in 1959, followed by the Queen of the Night, and La Musica and Euridice in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, in 1965; Isabelle in Campra’s Le Carnaval de Venise in 1975; and Alcina in Jorge Lavelli’s legendary staging of Handel’s opera in 1978. “I lived with Alcina day and night!” she said of the experience, which she considered one of the great challenges of her life. “Because she’s an absolutely dreadful character, but one who, despite it all, is redeemed by love in the end. What could be more beautiful than that?”

You can listen to and watch Christiane Eda-Pierre: