The eminent Canadian tenor, pefagogue, and administrator, Léopold Simoneau, studied at Levis College and Laval University before continuing voice studies in Montréal with Salvator Issaurel. There he met Pierrette Alarie. They sang together in a number of local productions before he appeared in his first Mozartian role as Don Curzio in the Montreal Festival’s 1943 production of The Marriage of Figaro, Sir Thomas Beecham conducting. A year later he won the Prix Archambault; this led to studies in New York in 1945, the same year Pierrette Alarie made her debut at New York’s famed Metropolitan Opera, having won that company’s “Auditions of the Air” competition in 1944. She and Leopold were married in 1946.
In 1949, Léopold Simoneau made his Paris debut with the Opéra Comique and established his reputation as a Mozart specialist in 1951 at the Aix-en-Provence and Glyndebourne festivals. In 1952, he appeared in a historic production of Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with the composer as conductor and Jean Cocteau as narrator, and in 1953, sang Don Giovanni at Milan’s La Scala. Of this same role sung during the bicentennial of Mozart’s birth at Salzburg, McLean wrote in The Montreal Star, “Simoneau was a hero in this Don Giovanni simply because he gave the best performance of the lot. I don’t think there is anyone alive who can sing Don Ottavio better than he.”
Throughout the 1950’s, Léopold Simoneau and Pierrette Alarie made numerous concert tours, many of them with the Bel Canto Trio that included the baritone Theodor Uppman. They also performed in operas, gave numerous concerts in Canada and the USA, and made a number of records together. One of these won the first Prix de musique Calixa-Lavallée, awarded in 1959, and the Académie Charles-Cros in Paris selected their recording of concert arias and duos of Mozart for the 1961 Grand Prix du disque.
In 1962, Léopold Simoneau appeared in a recital with Glenn Gould and the following year once more sang the role of Don Ottavio in his only season at New York’s Metropolitan Opera (debut October 1963). Theodore Strongin of the New York Times declared that he sang “with intelligence as well as beauty of sound.” Two years later, with his 185th appearance as Don Ottavio, he retired from performing operatic roles on stage but continued to do concert and oratorio performances until 1970 when he made his last public appearance in George Frideric Handel’s Messiah with l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.
Léopold Simoneau was appointed deputy head of the music division of Quebec’s Ministry of Cultural Affairs, a position which led directly to the creation of l’Opéra du Québec in 1971. That same year he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He was also made an Officer of the Ordre des arts et des lettres de France in 1990.
A profile in the International Dictionary of Opera sums up the voice of Léopold Simoneau, claiming he was “the Mozart tenor of his generation.” To celebrate the 1956 bicentennial of Mozart’s birth, Simoneau made several records with some of the world’s outstanding conductors including Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir John Pritchard, Herbert von Karajan, and Bruno Walter, who universally praised “his consummate musicianship, silvery tone, faultless technique and heartfelt projection of the inner drama of the Mozart roles.”
Over a 30-year professional career, Léoppold Simoneau performed on stages worldwide with such other world-famous conductors as Busch, Otto Klemperer, Krips, and Georg Solti, and sang, in the opinion of one critic, “more beautifully than any tenor since John McCormack.”
Léoppold Simoneau’s repertoire was not confined to Mozart. Eric McLean, a former music critic of the Montreal Star wrote that Simoneau sang “a repertoire that ranged from Antonio Vivaldi to Verdi, Gluck to I. Stravinsky and Mozart to Offenbach.” Many of his performances on stage, in concerts, and in recording studios were made with his Montréal-born wife, Pierrette Alarie. Together they sang such well-known couple roles as Romeo and Juliet, Vincent and Mireille, Tonio and Marie, Almaviva and Rosina, Alfredo and Violetta, and, most often, Belmonte and Blondchen.
The Simoneaus with their two daughters moved in 1972 to California where he taught voice at the conservatory and Pierrette Alarie became stage director of a number of small opera companies along the California coast. By 1978, the family had moved to Victoria, British Columbia, to join the Festival Concert Society summer music program, and there he and Pierrette Alarie established the Canada Opera Piccola that was soon recognized as one of the most successful centres for advanced training in opera. Cutbacks in government support, however, forced the project to close after the 1988 season, and the Simoneaus, who once had an article about them titled “Their Lives Blend as Happily as their Voices,” now live relatively quiet lives on Vancouver Island.