Martial Singher


Born: August 14, 1904; Oloron Sainte Marie, Pyrénées-Atlantiques   Died: March 9, 1990; Santa Barbara, CA  
A distinguished artist, and later a demanding pedagogue, Martial Singher excelled not only to the French repertory, 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 Read more mastery and specificity to his recital appearances. He later became a respected teacher, one whose meticulous methods often reduced his students to tears, but put them on track for important and enduring careers. Among them were James King, Jeannine Altmeyer, Benita Valente, John Reardon, Louis Quilico, and Judith Blegen.

During his early schooling in his native Pyrenees, Singher was encouraged by his father, a civil engineer, to pursue a career in teaching. Singher initially undertook his advanced studies at the University of Toulouse. 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 Grasse, and Pierre Chéreau. When he graduated from the school in 1930, it was with high honors in both opera and opéra comique. An offer from the Paris Opera was at first declined as Singher wished to polish his technique a bit more, but he did make his opera debut in November 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 favorite 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 1930s, 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.

Wartime traveling difficulties notwithstanding, Singher was able to come to America in the winter of 1941 - 1942. Offered a Metropolitan Opera contract, he encountered immigration problems that delayed his first appearance until December 10, 1943. 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." In 12 seasons through 1959, Singher proved himself immensely valuable, performing mostly French roles with occasional excursions into Mozart. He also appeared in Chicago and San Francisco. After retiring from the stage, he served the faculties at the Curtis Institute and later, the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. Read less

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