Rhinegold Photo credit: Mady Mesplé as Lakmé - a role she sang more than 140 times

Simon Smith

Remembering Mady Meslpé – French opera’s leading lady

2:39, 1st July 2020

Opera Now was sad to learn of the death of Mady Mesplé, the French coloratura soprano who won renown for the extraordinary precision and clarity of her singing, with a range that extended to the A-flat above high C,  and the elegance of her style.

Mesplé made her professional debut in Liège in January 1953, in the title role of Lakmé, a role that she went on to perform more than 140 times. She quickly established herself in the standard lyric and coloratura roles of the French repertoire, such as Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann, Philline in Mignon, Leila in Les pêcheurs de perles, Juliette in Roméo et Juliette, Ophélie in Hamlet, the title roles of Dinorah and Manon, and Sophie in Werther.

She was acknowledged as the most important exponent of French opera, operetta and song of her day, and was particularly identified with the music of Poulenc. She made her Paris  Opera debut in 1958 as Sister Constance in Les Dialogues des Carmelites, and throughout the 1960s she championed the work of contemporary composers, frequently appearing on television to bring new music to a wider audience.

Languages were never a strength and she sang only a handful of German roles: the Queen of the Night in  Die Zauberflöte, Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos.

Mesplé also enjoyed a successful career abroad, appearing at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Royal Opera House in London, La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York,( where she sang Gilda in Rigoletto), and Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

Mesplé retired from the stage in 1985 and turned to teaching in Paris and Lyons. She learned she had Parkinson’s disease in the 1990s and wrote a book about her experiences called La voix du corps (The Body’s Voice). She died on 30 May in her native Toulouse, aged 89.

Read our full tribute in the September/October issue of Opera Now.

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