French-Canadian mezzo soprano Huguette Tourangeau has died at the age of 79. Perhaps best known to audiences as a frequent recording partner of Joan Sutherland’s, Tourangeau was unsurprisingly a virtuosic singer with abundant gifts. Her smoky, sizable instrument was allied with an artistic bravery that made for exciting recordings, with Tourangeau considered something of a cult diva by fans who thought she never really emerged from Sutherland’s shadow.
Born August 12, 1938 in Montreal, she studied at the Conservatoire de musique du Québec à Montréal in 1958. Her operatic debut occurred in 1964 as Mercédès in Carmen, conducted by Zubin Mehta. That same year, Tourangeau won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, as well as singing Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro with Richard Bonynge at the podium, soon to be a frequent collaborator along with Sutherland.
It was in the following year that she toured 56 cities throughout the United States as Carmen with the Metropolitan National Company. Not long after that she began performing regularly with Bonynge and Sutherland, with notable recordings including Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, Handel’s Rodelinda, Massenet’s Esclarmonde and Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots. A recital disc of rarities, Arias From Forgotten Operas, is considered one of Tourangeau’s best recordings. It too was conducted by Bonynge. Tourangeau also sung with Joan Sutherland in Australia for the inaugural season of the Sydney Opera House in 1974.
Tourangeau made her official Metropolitan Opera debut as Nicklausse in 1973 opposite Placido Domingo in Les contes d’Hoffmann. She would later receive acclaim as Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte, Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro and Parséïs in Massenet’s Esclarmonde.
Tourangeau became the first recipient of the Canadian Music Council Art of the Year award in 1977, and was later appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1997.