Canadian bass Joseph Rouleau died late last week at the age of 90 after a remarkable career as singer, teacher, mentor and promoter of young musicians. Born in the small town of Matane on the Gaspé Peninsula he studied in Montréal, Milan and New York before making in debut in 1955 in New Orleans. Much of his career was spent at the Royal Opera House in London where he debuted in 1957. He went on to sing 850 performances over almost three decades at the ROH. He was to sing at the Met for several seasons and appeared with the Canadian Opera Company and Opéra de Montréal on various occasions but his career was primarily centred in Europe.
His recording career had an auspicious start – he sang Rochfort on a recording of the final scene from Anna Bolena with Maria Callas. Later he became associated both on stage and in the recording studio with Joan Sutherland, who was a close colleague during those early years at Covent Garden.
Amongst his favourite roles was Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. He sang the blind monk Pimen with the great Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff as Boris but graduated to the role of the tortured Tzar shortly after. While performing the role at the opera house in Kiev he donned the costumes worn by the role’s most famous interpreter, Feodor Chaliapin. In a recent interview he said: Before each performance, I crossed myself, prayed for my father’s support, and said, “Mom, my God, I’ve come a long way from Matane.”
In 1983 Radio Canada recorded the death scene from Boris in the Rimsky-Korsakov realization. At close quarters it may seem a touch OTT but vocally it is a remarkable interpretation. I programmed the clip to begin as Boris feels approaching death and calls for his son Feydor. I am not sure if that feature is working or not so please feel free to fast forward to the 14:46 mark.
May he rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him.
July 17th has a plethora of celebrations: World Emoji Day, National Hot Dog Day, National Peach Ice Cream Day, National Tattoo Day, Wrong Way Corrigan Day (!) and Yellow Pig Day (!!). Take your pick.