Contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux has been dazzling audiences in some of the most prestigious halls in the world for many years already. She will be performing at the Maison symphonique from December 17 to 19, as part of the Great Voices of Quebec Sing Christmas concert.
Marie-Nicole Lemieux was born in Dolbeau-Mistassini, Quebec, in 1975, into a family that loved to sing: “My parents were always singing duets, […] singing meant happiness in our family. I can’t even imagine a home where people don’t sing.” The family listened to and sung Nana Mouskouri, Claude François, Michel Fugain, as well as classical music. Her father especially enjoyed tenors like Richard Verreau or Raoul Jobin. One day, he came home from work with an LP that changed Marie-Nicole’s life.
She still remembers: “Now THIS is a tenor,” her father said, clutching a Luciano Pavarotti record in his hand. Ten-year-old Marie-Nicole was especially enraptured by the “Sanctus” fugue from Fauré’s Requiem. She remembers thinking, “This is what paradise must be like.” The recording sparked the desire, passion and curiosity for classical music in a young girl who would go on to become one of the greatest contraltos in the world.
As a teenager, Marie-Nicole longed to learn the piano or the cello. But as she didn’t have access to either of these instruments, she opted to play the flute in the school band before abandoning music for science at the age of 17. “I swear, it felt like I had stopped breathing,” she says. Convinced in the depths of her soul that she needed to return to music, she enrolled in a program at the conservatory in Chicoutimi, where her unique talent was quickly recognized.
Marie-Nicole sings Brahms’s Geistliches Wiegenlied
The turn of the millennium brought increasing success to Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who, through perseverance and determination, went on to win one competition after another. However, it was her triumph at one of the most prestigious competitions on the planet, the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, which would constitute her greatest achievement and open wide for her the doors of the European continent.
Marie-Nicole Lemieux first performed songs and lieder, unaware of her formidable versatility. It was Luc Beauséjour who convinced her of her talent for Baroque music, and, it was in Toronto that she was offered her first operatic role: Cornelia, in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. In 2003, she appeared in Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. She later confessed in an interview that she was paralyzed with stage fright. But she sang from her soul, utterly enthralling the Parisian audiences. Major roles continue to terrify Marie-Nicole Lemieux, but she always finds a way to overcome her fear.
Marie-Nicole looks back on the roles that have had the greatest impact on her. She thinks of Cassandre in Berlioz’s Les Troyens: “It took 20 years of vocal work to get there”; her first performance of Carmen in Bizet’s homonymous opera, at the Champs-Élysées in 2017; or Miss Quickly in Verdi’s Falstaff, in Frankfurt, in 2003. Over the course of her career, she developed a particularly special relationship with Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. In recent seasons, audiences have had the pleasure of hearing her luscious voice in Verdi’s Requiem, Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand,” Bach’s Mass in B minor and, most recently, in Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, on tour in Europe with the OSM.
Marie-Nicole Lemieux sings Verdi’s Falstaff
No one calls her a contralto anymore. They say her voice is simply… Marie-Nicole Lemieux. Noted for its richness, warmth and resonance, her voice is unusually flexible and able to transcend the limits of the usual “contralto” register. Come and hear one of Quebec’s most stunning voices in the Great Voices of Quebec Sing Christmas concert, from December 17 to 19 at the Maison symphonique.