Opera Canada

La Langue Maternelle

When Opéra de Québec staged Bizet’s Carmen in May 2018, most of the cast was French-Canadian, except for the three leads, who hailed from Brazil, Mexico and the country Georgia. Critics reviewing the premiere took the non-Francophones to task for what they felt was an inadequate grasp of the French language.

Carmen is a French opera, with a French style, a text in French,” wrote Le Devoir’s critic. “When the main protagonists have no understanding, no idea of this style and colours [of the language], many things collapse.” One singer in the cast displayed a “recurring problem of colours and vowels” while another was “terrifyingly nonchalant” in his French pronunciation.

A reviewer for the website Bachtrack similarly complained about a “questionable mastery of French,” reflected in poor diction, differentiation of vowels and “excessively rolled r’s.”

Dion Mazerolle, an Acadian bass-baritone who sang the role of Dancaire in the production, acknowledges that the nuances of French diction and vocal colour can bring out the nitpickers. “Not to harp on those details, but they’re important details,” he said. Mazerolle added that

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