The soprano Denise Duval has died at 94

Gramophone Wed 27th January 2016

Born October 23, 1921; died January 25, 2016

Denise Duval, who inspired some of Poulenc's greatest works for soprano (Photo: The Tully Potter Collection)

Denise Duval, who inspired some of Poulenc's greatest works for soprano (Photo: The Tully Potter Collection)

Denise Duval, who inspired some of Francis Poulenc's most powerful works for soprano, has died in Switzerland where she lived. Born In Paris, Duval made her stage debut in Bordeaux, where she studied, in Cavalleria rusticana, in 1943. She was a member of both the Paris Opera and Opéra-Comique companies from 1947 until 1965: she made her debut at the Opéra as Salomé in Hérodiade and at the Opéra-Comique as Madama Butterfly.

It was at Paris's Folies-Bergère in 1947, where she appeared in a revue, that Poulenc first heard her. It was to be the start of a long and creative musical partnership. Poulenc wrote three key works for Duval - Thérèse in Les mamelles de Tirésias (1947), the role of Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites (she didn't sing in the world premiere, which was in Italian, at La Scala, but she sang at the French-language premiere in Paris in 1957, later recording the role - incomparably – for EMI) and Elle in La voix humane (1959).  

Other operatic roles she was noted for include Francesca in Reynaldo Hahn's Le Oui des Jeunes Filles, Concepción in Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole (recorded for Decca in 1953 – 'Denise Duval's rather shrill tone…conveys to perfection Concepción's contempt for her aging husband and her exasperation with the mooning poet who will not rise to the occasion; and her famous line "Sans horloge" is delivered with a simplicity which contains a wealth of invitation,' wrote Lional Salter in Gramophone in November 1953), Massenet's Thaïs and Debussy's Mélisande (a role she sang at Glyndebourne and a live recording of which was later released on CD).

She was also a cherished recitalist, championing music by many of her contemporaries, composers like Henri Büsser, Albert Roussel, Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Jacques Ibert and Florent Schmitt. She would often perform with Poulenc at the piano, a magnificent partnership that, luckily, is well documented on film and disc. (A film exists, subsequently released on DVD by EMI, of a scene from Act 1 of Les mamelles de Tirésias, where Poulenc accompanies her, while singing the role of Le Mari himself. Reviewing the DVD in the March 2003 Gramophone, Patrick O'Connor wrote, 'This is sheer joy to watch, and confirms what a great artist Duval was, an actress and singer in the greatest tradition of the Paris theatre'.)

She retired from the stage in 1965 but continued to teach and direct. 

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