Nicholas Levasseur


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(b Bresles, nr Beauvais, 9 March 1791; d Paris, 7 Dec 1871). French bass. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1807 and made his début at the Opéra as the Pacha in A.-E.-M. Grétry's La caravane du Caire (1813). However, the Opéra's repertory lacked deep bass roles, and for two seasons he sang in Italian opera at London, making his début at the King's Theatre in Johann Mayr's Adelasia e Aleramo (1815). He returned to the Opéra as an understudy but in 1819 joined the Théâtre Italien, first appearing as Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro. The following year he appeared at La Scala, Milan, in the première of Giacomo Meyerbeer's Margherita d'Anjou. At the Théâtre Italien, Levasseur sang in many Rossini operas new to Paris, notably in the title role of Mosè (1822), a role he repeated with considerable success when Rossini revised the work for the Opéra (1827) (though Rossini himself reportedly forgot to attend the first performance as he was playing dominoes in the Opéra café). In 1828 he rejoined the Opéra as one of its leading singers, and was one of the celebrated trio that included Nourrit and Cinti-damoreau. Over the next 12 years he created virtually every important new bass role in the Opéra's repertory, including Bertram in Robert le diable (1831 see colour plate 6), whose ‘ironie moqueuse’ in the duo bouffe was particularly praised, Brogni in La Juive (1835), Marcel in Les Huguenots (1836) and Balthazar in La favorite (1840). Other roles he created included the Tutor (Le comte Ory, 1828), Walter Furst (Guillaume Tell, 1829), Moses (Mosè in Egitto, 1819, Moïse et Pharon, 1827), and Zacharie (Le prophète, 1849). His pure, expressive voice was, like that of Louis Ponchard, inspired by C. W. Gluck, W. A. Mozart and the Italian school; he also had a talent for comic effects as well as for serious roles. He left the Opéra in 1845, but at Meyerbeer's request returned to sing in the première of Le prophète (16 April 1849), and finally retired in 1853. His ease with intimate scenes meant that he was also suited to salon performances, and he was one of the singers involved in Charles Lebouc's soirées of musique classique et historique organized for audiences of amateurs. Levasseur taught at the Conservatoire from 1841 to 1869, and on his retirement he was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur. He became blind shortly before his death.

From The Grove Book of Opera Singers in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Opera.

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