Gabriel Bacquier, 95, Dies; Set Standard for French Baritones

Gabriel Bacquier, 95, Dies; Set Standard for French Baritones


Gabriel Bacquier, a French baritone whose supple voice, immaculate diction and keen dramatic instincts made him a cherished presence in opera houses and on concert stages worldwide, died on May 13 at his home in Lestre, in Normandy, France. He was 95.

His death was announced by his wife, the mezzo-soprano and author Sylvie Oussenko.

Mr. Bacquier was particularly admired as a proponent of French music, both opera and song. Among the roles with which he was most closely associated were Golaud in Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande,” the High Priest of Dagon in Massenet’s “Samson et Dalila,” and the four villains in Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann.” He made significant recordings of numerous French-language works, including Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell,” Massenet’s “Thaïs,” Ravel’s “L’Heure Espagnole” and Meyerbeer’s “Les Huguenots.”

He also commanded respect in Italian-language operas. His Mozart roles included Almaviva in “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Don Alfonso in “Così Fan Tutte” and both the devilish seducer Don Giovanni and his long-suffering wingman, Leporello. Among Mr. Bacquier’s most widely admired portrayals were Scarpia in Puccini’s “Tosca,” Dulcamara in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” and the title roles in Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” and Verdi’s “Falstaff.”

Having honed his craft early on with French and Belgian companies, Mr. Bacquier came to international attention with a portrayal of Don Giovanni at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1960, televised throughout Europe. Major debuts followed: Almaviva at the Glyndebourne Festival and the High Priest at Chicago’s Lyric Opera in 1962; Zurga in Bizet’s “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” at the Philadelphia Lyric Opera in 1963; and Riccardo in Bellini’s “I Puritani” at the Royal Opera House in London in 1964.

That year, Mr. Bacquier made his Metropolitan Opera debut as the High Priest. The performance, deemed “splendid” by the exacting New York Herald Tribune critic Alan Rich, was the start of a run comprising 123 performances over 18 seasons, at home and on tour. For the Met, Mr. Bacquier was a complex Scarpia, a wily Leporello, a nuanced Don Pasquale and more. He made his farewell appearance in 1982, as Dr. Bartolo in Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.”

Despite international success in the core operatic repertoire and the demand that resulted, Mr. Bacquier engaged in a broad range of musical pursuits. He was an exemplary proponent of French songs, performing works by Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc and Duparc, among others, and had an enduring interest in operetta. He created roles in new operas, including Menotti’s “Le Dernier Sauvage” and Daniel-Lesur’s “Andréa del Sarto,” and was active in the recording studio as late as 2007, when he created an album of songs by the French actor and songwriter Pierre Louki.

Gabriel Augustin-Raymond-Théodore-Louis Bacquier was born in Béziers, France, on May 17, 1924, the only child of Augustin and Fernande (Severac) Bacquier, both railway employees. He was fascinated with music from boyhood.

“When I was 5 years old, I found it necessary to sing as a way of expressing myself,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1978, “and it was not long before I developed an appreciation of opera, because my father had one of those windup phonographs with records that played only one side.”

Pressed by his parents to pursue a career in commercial design, Mr. Bacquier almost acquiesced, until a period of compulsory labor on the railroads during the German occupation brought him into contact with people who knew personally the singers he admired.

One encounter was with a well-connected voice teacher named Madame Bastard. “I began to study with her,” Mr. Bacquier said in the 1978 interview, “and no matter which shift I was working on, I managed to have a lesson every day until 1945.”

That year Mr. Bacquier entered the Paris Conservatory, graduating in 1950. He began his professional career in José Beckman’s Compagnie Lyrique (1950-52), followed by three years at La Monnaie, in Brussels. He went to the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1956, and then joined the Paris Opéra in 1959.

Mr. Bacquier concluded his stage career in 1994 with a production of “Don Pasquale” at the Opéra-Comique.

“The evening when I decided to leave the stage, I did not ask myself what I would become, knowing that I will always do something with my life,” he said in a 2010 interview with the French newspaper La Croix. The following year, he was the subject of a biography by Ms. Oussenko; the two married two years later. Complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.

Long past his retirement from the stage, Mr. Bacquier continued to give master classes and held teaching positions in Paris and Monaco.

“I would like to see the coming generation of singers exemplify what is to me the epitome of perfection,” he told The Times, “that is, to pay attention not only to the beauty of the voice, but to the making sure that the words and the drama are understood.”



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