Gilbert Duprez

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Gilbert Duprez GilbertDuprez.jpg
Gilbert Duprez

Gilbert-Louis Duprez (6 December 1806 – 23 September 1896) was a French tenor, singing teacher and minor composer who famously pioneered the delivery of the operatic high C from the chest. He also created the role of Edgardo in the popular bel canto-era opera Lucia di Lammermoor in 1835.

A tenor is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone voice types. It is one of the highest of the male voice types. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A2 (two As below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.

Bel canto —with several similar constructions —is a term with several meanings that relate to Italian singing.

<i>Lucia di Lammermoor</i> opera by Gaetano Donizetti

Lucia di Lammermoor is a dramma tragico in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Salvadore Cammarano wrote the Italian-language libretto loosely based upon Sir Walter Scott's historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor.



Gilbert-Louis Duprez was born in Paris. He studied singing, music theory, and composition with Alexandre-Étienne Choron and made his operatic début at the Odéon in 1825 as Count Almaviva in Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia . He worked in that theatre without much success until 1828, when he decided to try his luck in Italy. There, the operatic scene was more active and developed. As a result, Duprez was able to immerse himself in work, beginning principally with tenore contraltino roles such as Idreno in Semiramide and Rodrigo in Otello , both by Rossini. He appeared, too, as Gualtiero in Bellini's Il pirata . The latter role proved to be his first undisputed stage success, probably because it was free of elaborate coloratura passages, which were not considered to be his strong suit as a vocalist.

Alexandre-Étienne Choron French musician

Alexandre-Étienne Choron was a French musicologist. For a short time he directed the Paris Opera. He made a distinction between sacred and secular music and was one of the originators of French interest in musicology.

Gioachino Rossini 19th-century Italian opera composer

Gioachino Antonio Rossini was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, although he also wrote many songs, some chamber music and piano pieces, and some sacred music. He set new standards for both comic and serious opera before retiring from large-scale composition while still in his thirties, at the height of his popularity.

<i>The Barber of Seville</i> 1816 opera by Gioachino Rossini

The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution is an opera buffa in two acts by Gioachino Rossini with an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The libretto was based on Pierre Beaumarchais's French comedy Le Barbier de Séville (1775). The première of Rossini's opera took place on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, with designs by Angelo Toselli.

In 1831, in Lucca, Duprez took part in the premiere Italian performance of Guglielmo Tell , singing for the first time (in an opera theatre) a high C sung not in the so-called falsettone register, [1] as other tenors of that time were accustomed to do, but with a full voice, often described as coming "from the chest". His Italian career then proceeded on a highly successful course. It embraced, among other things, two premieres of operas by Donizetti, namely, Parisina (in the role of Ugo) at Florence in 1832, and, more significantly, Lucia di Lammermoor (in the role of Edgardo) at Naples' San Carlo in 1835.

Lucca Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Lucca is a city and comune in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the Serchio, in a fertile plain near the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital of the Province of Lucca. It is famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls.

Falsettone is a term used in modern Italian musicology to describe a vocal technique used by male opera singers in the past, in which the fluty sounds typical of falsetto singing are amplified by using the same singing technique used in the modal voice register. The result is a bright, powerful tone, often very high-pitched, although the sound is still different from and more feminine than what is produced by the modal voice. The term falsettone is also used for the mixed vocal register that can be achieved using this technique.

Gaetano Donizetti 19th-century Italian opera composer

Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti was an Italian composer. Along with Gioachino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini, Donizetti was a leading composer of the bel canto opera style during the first half of the nineteenth century. Donizetti's close association with the bel canto style was undoubtedly an influence on other composers such as Giuseppe Verdi.

His Italian reputation strongly established, Duprez returned to Paris in 1837 and scored an immediate success at the Opéra with his exciting new style of vocal delivery as exemplified in William Tell. Consequently, he obtained equal billing with Adolphe Nourrit as "principal tenor" of the theatre. Nourrit responded by leaving for Italy in emulation of his competitor; but unlike Duprez, he failed to master the new singing style during studies with Donizetti and committed suicide.

Paris Opera the primary opera company of France

The Paris Opera is the primary opera and ballet company of France. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the Académie d'Opéra, and shortly thereafter was placed under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lully and officially renamed the Académie Royale de Musique, but continued to be known more simply as the Opéra. Classical ballet as it is known today arose within the Paris Opera as the Paris Opera Ballet and has remained an integral and important part of the company. Currently called the Opéra National de Paris, it mainly produces operas at its modern 2700-seat theatre Opéra Bastille which opened in 1989, and ballets and some classical operas at the older 1970-seat Palais Garnier which opened in 1875. Small scale and contemporary works are also staged in the 500-seat Amphitheatre under the Opéra Bastille.

Adolphe Nourrit French opera singer

Adolphe Nourrit was a French operatic tenor, librettist, and composer. One of the most esteemed opera singers of the 1820s and 1830s, he was particularly associated with the works of Gioachino Rossini and Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Duprez maintained his leading position at the Opéra until 1849, singing the title role in the première of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini in 1838, and taking part in several further Donizetti premieres, including those of La favorite (as Fernand) and Les Martyrs (as Poliuto), both in 1840, and Dom Sébastien (in the title role), in 1843. Ironically the role of Poliuto, which Donizetti had written expressly for Nourrit in order to help him to maintain his exalted position, was to become associated in the public's mind with Duprez.

Hector Berlioz French Romantic composer

Louis-Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer. His output includes orchestral works such as the Symphonie fantastique and Harold in Italy, choral pieces including the Requiem and L'Enfance du Christ, his three operas Benvenuto Cellini, Les Troyens and Béatrice et Bénédict, and works of hybrid genres such as the "dramatic symphony" Roméo et Juliette and the "dramatic legend" La Damnation de Faust.

<i>Benvenuto Cellini</i> (opera) opera of Berlioz

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As Gaston in the premiere performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Jerusalem. Alexandre Lacauchie - Gilbert Duprez as Gaston in Verdi's Jerusalem.jpg
As Gaston in the première performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Jérusalem .

After singing in London at the Drury Lane theatre in the years 1843-1844, Duprez began to cut back on his stage performances, with a notable exception being the lead role in Giuseppe Verdi's Jérusalem . His last public appearance was in 1851 in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Théâtre des Italiens. He then devoted himself to teaching, first at Paris's Conservatoire (where he had been appointed to a professorship as far back as 1842), and afterwards privately. His students included the celebrated French virtuoso bass Pol Plançon (1851–1914), whose voice is preserved on gramophone recordings made in 1902-1908. Duprez also devised a system of written exercises for singers and composed a few less than successful operettas.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane West End theatre building in Covent Garden, London, England

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, commonly known as Drury Lane, is a West End theatre and Grade I listed building in Covent Garden, London, England. The building faces Catherine Street and backs onto Drury Lane. The building is the most recent in a line of four theatres which were built at the same location, the earliest of which dated back to 1663, making it the oldest theatre site in London still in use. According to the author Peter Thomson, for its first two centuries, Drury Lane could "reasonably have claimed to be London's leading theatre". For most of that time, it was one of a handful of patent theatres, granted monopoly rights to the production of "legitimate" drama in London.

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

<i>Jérusalem</i> Opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Jérusalem is a grand opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi. The libretto was to be an adaptation and partial translation of the composer's original 1843 Italian opera, I Lombardi alla prima crociata. It was the one opera which he regarded as the most suitable for being translated into French and, taking Eugène Scribe's advice, Verdi agreed that a French libretto was to be prepared by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz, who had written the libretto for Donizetti's most successful French opera, La favorite. The opera received its premiere performance at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris on 26 November 1847. The maiden production was designed by Paul Lormier (costumes), Charles Séchan, Jules Diéterle and Édouard Desplechin, and Charles-Antoine Cambon and Joseph Thierry.

In his 1880 book Souvenirs d'un chanteur, Duprez, a close friend of Donizetti's, related in deeply felt terms the bitter setbacks and obstructions which the Bergamo composer had suffered in the theatrical world.

Duprez died at Poissy, near Paris, in 1896. He was the father of soprano Caroline Duprez.

Vocal character

One can differentiate two distinct phases in Duprez's artistic life. Initially, being equipped by nature with a clear but comparatively thin voice, he appears to have stood in the French haute-contre tradition of singing. So, when he first went to Italy, he naturally assumed equivalent tenore contraltino roles in operas written by Rossini. However, he failed to make any great impression on Italian audiences with his Rossinian endeavours, perhaps because of his deeply rooted disinclination to indulge in displays of coloratura.

While in Italy, he began by modelling himself on the bel-canto tenor Rubini, whose bravura vocalism was a byword for sweetness and elegiac inflexion. Soon, however, he found a new source of inspiration in the person of Domenico Donzelli, the then greatest living "baritonal" tenor. Donzelli possessed a robust voice and a deliberately darkened timbre, coupled with firmly accented diction, immense nobility of phrasing and a vibrant, intense method of acting. The merging of Rubini and Donzelli's contrasting styles in Duprez, and the introduction of the famous high C from the chest (which soon became a standard feature of Romantic singing), gave rise to a fresh category of tenor, the tenore di forza. The dramatic tenor of the present day is a direct descendant in terms of range, tessitura and tonal thrust from this kind of mid-19th century voice first exemplified by Duprez. [2]

Duprez was a small man and, regrettably, the chest high C was an element of his vocal mechanism which soon took a toll on his physical resources. According to Berlioz, his voice sounded "hardened" as early as 1838, at the premiere of Benvenuto Cellini, and over the next 10 years, despite some isolated successes, his singing continued to deteriorate. Finally, Duprez was driven into an early retirement from the stage and he took up teaching.

Musical and dramatic works

Duprez's original manuscript from Jeliotte, 1853 Houghton M1500.D935 J4 1853 - Duprez 181.jpg
Duprez's original manuscript from Jéliotte, 1853

(List from German Wikipedia)

Published writings

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  1. 'Falsettone' is defined as a form of strengthened falsetto by which the white sounds in the upper notes are brightened and reinforced, while still remaining rather piercing and quivering. See Caruselli, S. (ed), Enciclopedia, vol 4, p 1196, article: "Tenore".
  2. The real origin of the "high C from the chest" is much disputed, nonetheless. For example, Paolo Scudo, a music critic employed by the Revue des Deux Mondes , considered that Manuel García, a tenor of an earlier generation to that of Duprez, was already capable of delivering the chest high C: but true or not, this reputed accomplishment does not diminish Duprez's historical significance. García (given his favoured style and personal taste) avoided delivering on stage any such "shriek of a strangulated capon" (as Rossini described the note's sound), whereas Duprez transformed it into "a cry of the soul", over which innumerable tenors, for better or worse, have tortured themselves ever since. (Recently developed vocal techniques have enabled some modern-day lyric tenors to sing not only the chest high C, but also to execute the notorious high F in Bellini's I puritani in a full head voice without resort to falsetto. The results, however, cannot be described as beautiful or alluring.)[ citation needed ]