— At the Festival

Published on May 14 2020

HOMAGE TO GABRIEL BACQUIER (1924-2020)

Falstaff - Dominique Bacquier - Festival d'Aix-en-Provence
© Ville d'Aix-en-Provence
The most famous French baritone of the second half of the twentieth century has passed away. His career was closely linked to the history of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.

In 1960, Gabriel Dussurget offered him two golden opportunities: first, in June, as artistic director of the Paris Opera, Dussurget cast him in the role of Scarpia, opposite Renata Tebaldi’s Tosca; then, a month later, as director of the Festival, he invited Bacquier to Aix-en-Provence, this time in the title role of Don Giovanni. Gabriel Bacquier’s dulcet vocal tones, his radiant presence (the Champagne Aria, and the Serenade!), and his way of bringing every detail to life—naturally, elegantly, and with a hint of humour—were truly wondrous. The production, including Cassandre’s legendary sets, was televised on Eurovision and launched the baritone as an unfailing international success. A second video recording, in 1964, would complete this striking portrait.

Gabriel Bacquier—the quintessential French Southerner—was to become a featured partner of the Festival for over thirty years. The first period was essentially devoted to Mozart, in the role of Don Giovanni, of course (reprised in 1967), but also as Alfonso in Così fan tutte (throughout the 1960s and in the late 1970s), and as Figaro and then as the Count in The Marriage of Figaro (in 1964 and 1970). Gradually, other offers came along, including some major roles that would showcase his extraordinary acting talent, in both tragedy (e.g., his gripping Golaud in 1966 and 1968) and comedy, as Falstaff (1971), Dulcamara and Don Pasquale (1975, 1978 and 1990), and the King of Clubs in The Love for Three Oranges (1989).

A report filmed in 1990 to mark the baritone’s thirty-year collaboration with the Festival d’Aix (he performed Don Pasquale a last time for the occasion) reunited him with his mentor, in a touching back-and-forth double homage. His voice had clearly lost a bit of its lustre, but this natural-born actor-singer’s vibrancy remained intact: “Mr. Bacquier may not have the best of voices,” admitted Dussurget. “No, I have the voice nature gave me,” acknowledged the singer, with his usual simplicity and verve. “But,” concluded the Aix master, “he is the greatest Don Juan I have seen in 50 years!”.