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Martial Singher (Baritone)

Born: Aug 14, 1904 - Oloron Sainte Marie, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France
Died: Mar 10, 1990 - Santa Barbara, California, USA

The French-born American baritone and pedagogue, Martial (Jean-Paul) Singher, was encouraged during his early schooling in his native Pyrenees to pursue a career in teaching by his father, a civil engineer. He received his education as a public school teacher in Dax, and at the École Normale de Toulouse and the École Normale Superieure de St. Cloud. Although he had enjoyed singing in his childhood days, no thought had been given to his becoming a professional. At age 20, however, he began singing in public and was heard by Édouard Herriot, France's Minister of Public Instruction, who encouraged him to devote himself to the serious study of singing. After training at L'École Normale Supérieure at St. Cloud, Singher entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1927 and studied with Maurice Fauré, André Gresse, and Pierre Chéreau. When he graduated from the school in 1930, it was with high honours in both opera and opéra comique (premier prix for singing, 1929; premier prix for opera and opera-comique singing, 1930; Grand Prix Osiris de l'Institute de France, 1930). He also studied voice with Juliette Fourestier.

An offer from the Paris Opera was at first declined as Martial Singher wished to polish his technique a bit more, but he did make his opera debut on November 14, 1930, singing Oreste in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride in Amsterdam. Beckoned at intermission and speaking no Dutch whatsoever, Singher found himself taken to meet Princess Juliana while wearing only shorts and one sandal (he had thought that he was being taken to be paid his fee). In December 1930, the baritone made his debut at the Paris Opera, performing Athanaël in Thaïs. In the spring of 1931, Singher was called upon to replace Paris favourite Vanni-Marcoux as Iago to the Otello of Lauritz Melchior, and in 1932 he appeared as Telramund opposite the Ortrud of Marjorie Lawrence. Throughout the 1930ís, his performances at the Paris Opera (including numerous premieres) were met with growing approval. In 1936, he appeared for the first of several seasons in Buenos Airies, singing works in both the French and German repertories. Despite his high reputation in Paris and Amsterdam, however, Singher's 1937 London debut in Gluck's Alceste was described as unimpressive. He remained with the Paris Opera until 1941. He also sang at the Opera-Comique.

On January 10, 1940, Martial Singher married Margareta Busch, daughter of the conductor Fritz Busch. He went to the USA in the winter of 1941-1942. Offered a Metropolitan Opera in New York contract, he encountered immigration problems that delayed his debut at this opera house until December 10, 1943, when he sang the role of Dapertutto in Les Contes d'Hoffmann. Composer/critic Virgil Thomson described his Dapertutto then as being "of incomparable elegance" and attributed to Singher "a piece of singing that for perfection of vocal style has not been equaled since Kirsten Flagstad went away." Subsequently he sang the roles of the Count in Le nozze di Figaro, Lescaut in Manon, and all 4 baritone roles in Les Contes d'Hoffmann; remained on the roster, with some interruptions, until 1959. In 12 seasons with the Met, Singher proved himself immensely valuable, performing mostly French roles with occasional excursions into Mozart. He also appeared in Chicago and San Francisco.He also sang with the leading orchestras of the USA, and appeared widely in song recitals.

A distinguished artist, Martial Singher excelled not only to the French operaitic and song repertoire, but in certain Wagnerian roles as well despite lacking the vocal weight usually associated with that repertory; for sheer vocal ability he substituted incisive enunciation and subtly crafted phrasing, often to great effect. Slender and aristocratic in bearing, he was always a convincing stage figure and brought the same level of mastery and specificity to his recital appearances.

After retiring from the stage, Martial Singher served the faculties at Mannes College of Music in New York (1951-1952), the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia (1955-1968). Then then was director of the voice and opera department, and was the opera producer at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara (1962-1981). Later in his life, taught at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal, He was an accomplished and respected music teacher, one whose meticulous methods often reduced his students to tears, but put them on track for important and enduring careers. Among them were Jeannine Altmeyer, Judith Blegen, Philip Frohnmayer, Rodney Gilfry, Donald Gramm, Thomas Hampson, James King, Thomas Moser, Louis Quilico, John Reardon, Delcina Stevenson, Micheline Tessier, and Benita Valente. He wrote a book useful to vocalists aspiring to an operatic career, An Interpretive Guide to Operatic Arias: A Handbook for Singers, Coaches, Teachers, and Students (1983).

The collection of Martial Singherís recordings at the University of Calfornia, Santata Barbara consists of 32 discs, including 26 original acetate recordings, six 78 rpm shellac test pressings and 8 tape recordings. The discs were recorded over the period 1943-1954, and include solo as well as duet and ensemble performances with Lily Djanel, Eileen Farrell, Herta Glaz, Raoul Jobin, Jarmila Novotna and Beverly Sills. The collection includes performances of works by Canteloube, Chabrier, Charpentier, Debussy, Henri Duparc, Flotow, Lehman, Massenet, Mussorgsky, Puccini, Ravel and Schumann. The Ravel is a section of Don Quichotte a Dulcinee, which was written for Singher. Other notable items include two recordings under the direction of Eugene Ormandy and two recordings with the CBS Symphony under the direction of Bernard Herrmann. The tapes were recorded from 1975-1980 and include the master tapes from his two recordings with Berkeley's 1750 Arch Records as well as tapes of Singer reading French Poetry.

Source: All Music Webnsite (Author: Erik Eriksson); Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website (October 2010); University of Calfornia, Santata Barbara Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2010); Manfred Krugmann (Photos 02-09, July 2011)

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Gustave Bret


BWV 212 [sung in French]

Links to other Sites

Martial Singher - Biography (AMG)
Martial Singher (Jean-Paul Martial Singher) Biography

Martial Singher Recordings [PDF]
Martial Singher (Wikipedia)
Martial Singher Recordings, 1943-1980 (USCB)

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