Savoie, Robert

Robert Savoie. Baritone, teacher, administrator, b Montreal 21 Apr 1927, d Montreal 14 Sep 2007; honorary D MUS (Moncton, 1988), honorary LL D (Concordia, 2001). He studied for five years with Pauline Donalda and made his debut in 1948 with the Opera Guild as the Second Philistine in Samson et Dalila. For the next four years he sang secondary roles with that company as well as taking part in various competitions, notably 'Singing Stars of Tomorrow' and 'Nos Futures Étoiles.' He then studied with Antonio Narducci in Milan. He made his Milan debut as Scarpia in Tosca at the Teatro Nuovo and sang an important role in Di Viroli's La Madre under the name Roberto Savoia.

Performances in Canada

After returning to Canada in 1954, Savoie pursued a career in radio and TV as well as on stage. With the Opera Guild he sang Rodrigo in Don Carlo (1956), the title role in Falstaff (1958), Leporello in Don Giovanni (1964), Sharpless in Madama Butterfly (1965 and 1969), Marcello in La Bohème (1966), and Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro (1967) and in The Barber of Seville (1968). He also took part in many Canadian productions at the Montreal Festivals, including The Marriage of Figaro (1956), Don Giovanni (1957), L'Heure espagnole (1961), and Così fan tutte (1962). In 1958 he helped found the Grand Opéra de Montréal, for which he again sang the title role in The Barber of Seville. In 1967 he sang at Expo 67 in Faust (the role of Valentin) and was Lescaut in Manon with the Théâtre lyrique du Québec. In 1968 he participated in the Stratford Festival, singing Dandini in Cenerentola, and in 1977 he performed with Festival Ottawa. With Opéra du Québec (1973-4) he performed in productions of Don Giovanni, Manon, Falstaff, and Madame Butterfly.

Performances Abroad

In 1961 Savoie signed a five-year contract with Covent Garden, making his debut as Schaunard in La Bohème and then singing the title role in Rigoletto. In 1966 he also sang with Sadler's Wells, London, and the Scottish Opera, Glasgow. In France he performed in many theatres, and in 1966 he sang the role of Dourakin in the French premiere of Prokofiev's opera The Gambler in Toulouse. The critic Claude Rostand praised him and the production: 'A work of the first order; a beautiful voice, healthy, well managed: a distinguished artist' (Figaro littéraire, 31 Mar 1966).

Savoie next appeared in Johannesburg, singing in Falstaff and Britten's War Requiem. He was soloist in Matton'sTe Deum in 1969 when it was premiered in France with the orchestra and choirs of the Office de la radiodiffusion-télévision française (ORTF). In southern France he sang Sancho in a touring production of Massenet's Don Quichotte, with Joseph Rouleau in the title role (1970). He sang Falstaff in Washington at the inauguration 9 Sep 1971 of the John F. Kennedy Center. In 1972 he performed in the Damnation of Faust at Carnegie Hall and again sang Rodrigo in Don Carlos, this time in the original French version for the BBC, with Canadian singers Édith Tremblay, André Turp, Émile Belcourt, and Joseph Rouleau. Savoie's operatic repertoire included 95 roles in six languages. Beginning in 1981, he performed mainly in recital.

As Director and Teacher

In 1973 Savoie was artistic director of a series of mini-operas presented in Montreal and Quebec City by the Théâtre de la Poudrière. In 1976 he became the artistic director of the city of Lachine, where he was responsible for its cultural programs and for the organization of the Festival de musique de Lachine (1985-). He also founded the Société des concerts Lachine. He was vice-president 1977-80 of the Mouvement d'action pour l'art lyrique du Québec and in this capacity worked to establish the Opéra de Montréal and the Orchestre métropolitain of which he was president 1981-5. He also gave master classes in Canada and the USA, notably at the Yale School of Music, and served on the jury committee for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Voice Competition (2004).

In 1991 he was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Pléiade and in 2002 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. His autobiography, Figaro-ci, Figaro-là : mémoires d'un baryton voyageur, was published in 1998. Savoie was a brother of pianist André-Sébastien Savoie, and baritone Gaétan Laperrière was his nephew.