A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Nourrit, Louis
NOURRIT, Louis, tenor-singer, born Aug. 4, 1780, at Montpellier, and educated in the Maîtrise there; through the influence of Méhul entered the Conservatoire at Paris, became the favourite pupil of Garat, and won prizes. He made his first appearance at the Opéra as Renaud in Gluck's 'Armide.' A good singer, but unambitious and cold, he contented himself with taking Lainé's parts in the old operas, and seldom created new rôles. He retired in 1826, and lived at his country house at Brunoy till his death, which took place on Sept. 23, 1831. During the whole of his operatic career he carried on the business of a diamond merchant, and wished to make a tradesman of his eldest son.
Adolphe, born in Paris, March 3, 1802. This gifted youth received a good classical education at the Collège Ste. Barbe, but was then put into an office, the drudgery of which he beguiled by studying music in secret. On the representation of Garcia, however, he was allowed to follow his wishes. His first appearance at the Opéra took place Sept. 10, 1821, as Pylade in Gluck's 'Iphigénie en Tauride,' when he was favourably received, partly because, in voice, manner, and appearance, he was strikingly like his father. This resemblance suggested to Méhul an opéra-féerie, 'Les deux Salem' (July 12, 1824), which however failed. Adolphe was intelligent and well-educated, and determined to succeed. Flexibility of voice he acquired by singing in Rossini's operas, and he studied hard to excel as an actor both in comedy and tragedy. On his father's retirement he succeeded him as leading tenor, and for more than ten years created the first tenor rôle in all the operas produced at the Académie. The following is a list of the parts written for him:—1826, Néoclès in 'Le Siége de Corinthe.' 1827, Aménophis in Moïse'; and Douglas in 'Macbeth.' 1828, Masaniello in 'La Muette de Portici'; and 'Le Comte Ory.' 1829, Arnold in 'Guillaume Tell.' 1830, Léonard da Vinci in Ginestet's 'François I à Chambord'; and Un Inconnu in 'Le Dieu et la Bayadère.' 1831, Adhémar in 'Euryanthe'; Guillaume in 'Le Philtre'; and Robert in 'Robert le Diable.' 1832, Edmond in 'Le Serment.' 1833, 'Gustave III'; and Nadir in Cherubini's 'Ali Baba.' 1834, Don Juan in a new translation of Mozart's opera. 1835, Eléazar in 'La Juive.' 1836, Raoul in 'Les Huguenots'; and Phoebus in 'La Esmeralda' by Louise Bertin. 1837, 'Stradella' in Niedermeyer's opera.
The writer of this article was a personal friend of Nourrit's, and heard him in nearly all the roles which he created, and to which he imparted a distinct stamp of his own. Though rather stout, and short in the neck, he had a fine presence, and could be refined and pleasing in comedy, or pathetic and commanding in tragedy at will. He used his falsetto with great skill, and was energetic without exhausting his powers. He was idolised by the public, and his influence both with them and with his brother artists was great. He was consulted by managers and authors alike; he wrote the words for Eléazar's fine air in 'La Juive,' and suggested the abrupt and pathetic close of the duet in the 'Huguenots.' His poetic imagination is shown by the libretti for the ballets of 'La Sylphide,' 'La Tempête,' 'L'Ile des Pirates,' 'Le Diable boiteux,' etc., danced by Taglioni and Fanny Elssler—all which were written by him. Besides securing large receipts for the Opéra, he popularised Schubert's songs in France, made the fortune of various composers of romances, and was always ready to sing the 1st act of 'La Dame Blanche' with Mme. Damoreau for any charitable purpose. In conversation he was witty and refined. Duprez's engagement at the opera was a severe mortification for so earnest and so popular an artist, and rather than divide honours to which he felt he had an exclusive right, or provoke comparisons which would in all probability have been made in his favour, he resolved to retire. On his last appearance at the Académie (April 1, 1837) he received the most enthusiastic and flattering ovation ever perhaps accorded to a French artist, but nothing would induce him to remain in Paris. He obtained leave of absence from the Conservatoire, where he had been professeur de déclamation lyrique for the last ten years, started for Brussels, and thence proceeded to Marseilles, Lyons, and Toulouse. His idea was to produce during his tournée scenas or acts composed expressly for him, and Ambroise Thomas furnished him with a dramatic cantata called 'Silvio Pellico' (words by Legouvé), which he carried off with expressions of delight at having found something which would display his powers in a new light. Of this piece, however, nothing has ever been heard since. While at Marseilles and Toulouse Nourrit's customary excitement increased to an alarming degree, and was aggravated after his return to Paris, by a series of newspaper articles praising Duprez at his expense. These drove him away a second time. He started for Italy in a state of deep depression, but was temporarily restored by Rossini's kindness and by the cordiality of his reception in most of the great towns. Unfortunately 'Polyeucte,' which Donizetti had composed for him, was interdicted in Naples, and he made his first appearance at San Carlo in Mercadante's 'Il Giuramento.' He was well received both in this and in 'Norma,' but could not be persuaded of the fact. After singing at a benefit concert in a state of great mental fatigue, he had a sudden access of delirium in the night, and throwing himself out of window was killed on the spot, March 8, 1839. His remains were brought to Paris, and interred amid a crowd of sorrowing friends. He was much valued by Mendelssohn, who made his acquaintance in 1831, and who notices his death in terms of great sorrow. (Hiller's Mendelssohn, p. 137.)
There is a fine marble medallion of Nourrit by Pradier; and he was often painted in scenes from 'La Muette,' 'Robert,' 'La Juive,' and 'Les Huguenots.' The portrait by F. R. Spencer is very like. M. L. Quicherat, one of his sons-in-law, published 'Adolphe Nourrit; sa Vie,' etc. (Paris, 1867, 3 vols.) containing ample details.His brother Auguste (born Paris 1808, died at l'Isle d'Adam July 11, 1853), was also a distinguished tenor singer, and for some time directed the chief theatres at the Hague, Amsterdam, and Brussels. He visited the United States, and after his return devoted himself to teaching singing.
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