Friday 16 October 2009

An anecdote about The Phantom of the Opera

I discovered yesterday something quite interesting: one of the versions of one of my favourite silent horror movies, The Phantom of the Opera, has my former opera teacher as the singer in the soundtrack. The Phantom of the Opera, Special Collector's Edition, which is maybe the most easily available high-quality versions of the classic movie in the UK (according to this guy, a Phantom buff), used a score interpreted by I Musici of Montreal, with the voice of Claudine Côté for the songs (mainly Faust arias),which was originally used back in the early 1990s. I loved that version, even though I only knew Claudine by reputation then. You can find more about it here.

With my love of horror stories and my love of operas, I was bound to discover the story. I first came to the Phantom through Gaston Leroux's original novel, rather than any cinematic version, or the Andrew Lloyd Webber's cheesy, marshmallow musical (which I used to like, but not anymore). It is a shame that the musical is now its most famous version, because the novel was a great read and the 1925 silent movie was both a very faithful adaptation and an entertaining, terryfying horror flick. The novel also made me discover Faust.

So yes, I love The Phantom of the Opera, but I wanted this post to be more about Claudine than the Phantom. Getting info about the silent movie made me remember that I once was friend with her, which makes it weird to see her name on Amazon or imdb. Back when she did the soundtrack, she was quite a famous soprano in Québec, having sung with Pavarotti right after she graduated. Now she is criminally underrated. When I started university in Montreal, I was looking for a new singing teacher (well, "new", I had only started a few months earlier) and got Claudine's phone number through a friend (small world, but it is true that she was from Saguenay like myself). She was living close to my flat, she was a respected singer, so she was the obvious choice. It was nice to do something different than literature and it was really a great hobby. Since I knew close to nobody in Montreal, the lessons cured me for any feeling of loneliness. Claudine taught me quite a lot and it is in great parts thanks to her that I still have a pretty good singing voice and a relatively good Italian pronunciation. She was also a great person to talk to, always smiling and enthusiastic. And a cat lover. She loved cats so much, she was adopting half the alley cats in her neighbourhood. She even saved the animals of a pet shop near her place when its building went on fire. So she was a generous person too. (And thinking about it, my wife would love her, as she was also an almost vegetarian for ethical reasons). I still remember her tone of voice when was calling me, always starting the conversation with "Bonjour Guillaume, c'est Claudiiiiiiiine", with the "i" prolonged, I think it was due to her line of work. She had gained an "accent chantant".

So I only have nice memories of her. I never got into contact with her after the three years it took me to do my degree in Montreal. I left for England in 1999 and never managed to get in touch with her after that. It is a shame really, as she was important to my artistic/dilettante life at the time. But hey, I can still listen to her, I can even find her voice here in England. So not all is lost.


The Artful Gypsy aka Wendy the Very Good Witch said...

Ahh...very interesting stuff here Guilluame. So help me to understand you better in case I have something wrong. You are French yes? Or are you Italian? But you lived and schooled in Canada (Montreal) and now reside and work in England with your wife, who is a vegetarian, although you are not! You are a teacher, but you have also been trained in opera singing? Do I have any of that correct? Or do I have it all mixed up? Do you ever sing for other people, like for a job, or just for fun for your wife? We have a chain Italian restaurant here called Romano's Macaroni Grill, and they hire wait staff who can sing very nice Opera to sing for the patrons and to sing Happy Birthday to guests on occasion. Do you enjoy singing in front of people, or are you shy with your singing?

Gosh, I feel even worse now that I am not cultured enough in the art of Opera. I enjoy learning things about people, call me nosy if you want....but it's really just an insatiable curiosity to understand other people and to learn about how we differ and what makes them unique. Maybe it's my little way of virtually traveling to other places and meeting the people there, even though I haven't been able to literally travel there. Guess that's why I love the internet so much. :o)

Guillaume said...

No, you are not nosy at all, and I will try to answer as best as I can. Okay, so to answer your questions, or a few of them: I am Quebecker and a native French speaker, but not French, as I was not born in France and never lived there. And while my Italian pronunciation is pretty good (or so my Italian friends said), I have not, as far as I know, Italian blood. I am a teacher (or almost, or was, it is not clear) and never studied opera seriously, just as a hobby. It is one I miss sorely. I considered at a time doing acting professionnally, but then decided to stick to literature. I sing for fun, but to myself mainly, not to my wife, as she does not like opera. But I did sing in front of a public and I am not shy at all to do so. And I don't always like Italian operas (written by Italian composers), but love many operas in Italian, if that makes sense.

Gwen Buchanan said...

I really enjoyed your post Guillaume.. such an enlightening experience you had.. a memory that has lasted ......

The Artful Gypsy aka Wendy the Very Good Witch said...

So then your family is not of French heritage, but rather you are Canadian? But because you all lived in a French province of Canada, you just grew up speaking French? Obviously your parents must have spoken it too. But for some reason that seems strange to me that people who are not French by blood, would actually speak French instead of English if they are actually Canadian? Fascinating...ha!

So how did you get to England to live and work? Did you travel a lot, or go overseas to go to University? And I am guessing that is where you met your wife and she is English? I am just amazed at how traveled you all are, and how you can speak different languages.

I have a friend who lives in Italy, whose daughter just started high school, and she is taking English, Latin, French and eventually German. She loves languages and obviously that will be a big benefit to her when it comes time to seek out employment. We are required to take very little foreign language here in school and college. I took Spanish which is of great use here in the states, especially Florida. But I love Language too and wish I had been encouraged to take more like French and Italian.

And I think it's fabulous that you can sing opera and aren't afraid to sing in front of an audience. I'm not a bad singer, but I am mortified to sing in front of anyone other than my husband and kids...ha!

Guillaume said...

Well, as almost all French speaking Quebeckers I am of French heritage, but that dates back from the XVIIIth century at the latest. From my mother's side I have Scottish and/or Irish blood, we are not quite sure. Almost all Quebeckers have some Irish blood.

As for how I ended up in England, that is a long story that started ten years ago. It started because I wanted to study abroad and I have always been very Anglophile.

TaylorSwift said...

As many of Musicals lovers I LOVE the Phantom of the Opera! It is my favourite ever... Last year I’ve been in NY & I tried to get my ticket …guess what everything was sold out that show how great the show is. Anyhow I end up getting it from a site through Next week I’m going to visit my sister and I just got some pretty good tix from the same place .So I'll be analyzing as well as enjoying the show.