Sensual velvet of timbre, innate sense of line, flawless technique, Christiane Eda-Pierre was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful voices of the second half of the 20th century.e century. High-class Mozartian heroine, passionate lover in Verdi, the coloratura soprano was also the unforgettable angel of Saint Francis of Assisi de Messiaen, which she premiered at the Paris Opera in 1983: the singer of Martinican origin, the first black Frenchwoman to have made an international career, died on September 6 at her home in Saint-Maurice-la- Fougereuse, in Deux-Sèvres, at the age of 88.
Born March 24, 1932 into a literate family in Fort-de-France (her father, William Eda-Pierre, is a journalist, her mother, Alice Nardal, a music teacher), the young Christiane was introduced to the piano early on. Her aunt was none other than Paulette Nardal, who was the first black student admitted to the Sorbonne, a committed intellectual and journalist, pioneer of the concept of negritude before Léopold Sédar Senghor and Aimé Césaire whom she attended (she devoted a thesis to the American abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, author in 1852 of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
At 18, after secondary studies with the canonesses of Saint-Augustin, Christiane Eda-Pierre left Martinique for the metropolis and Paris. She also sang with her mother, but was destined to play the piano and entered the Normal School of Music in Paris. She also follows the lessons of the great Swiss baritone Charles Panzéra, who encourages and prepares her at the Paris Conservatory, where she enters in 1954. Brilliant and gifted, the young woman, who works singing with Louis Noguéra and diction with the actress Gabrielle Fontan, will release in 1957 a winning trifecta in his pocket: three first prizes in singing, opera and opéra-comique. In the meantime, she won the Lucienne-Bréval, Ambroise-Thomas and Alice-Ducasse competitions.
Crystal clear highs
The career of the one who was then the only black singer in France began in 1958 at the Opéra de Nice with Leila in The Pearl Fishers, by Bizet (with the late Gabriel Bacquier in Zurga). Sa Gilda in the Rigoletto de Verdi, set up in Mulhouse the same year, was immediately a success. It was in this Alsatian town that she returned a year later to take the title role in Lakmé, by Léo Delibes, where his crystalline highs work wonders (“L’Air des clochettes”) – the role will be one of his hobby horses. His first appearance at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, in 1959, as Papagena in The Magic Flute, by Mozart, marks the beginning of a long friendship with the owner, Gabriel Dussurget.
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