The Variétés lyriques succeeded the Société canadienne d'opérette, which had ceased to exist in 1934 after 10 years of activity. The inaugural show, Lehar's Land of Smiles 22 Sep 1936, was followed by six other operettas. There were 426 subscribers for that first season. Lopez' La Belle de Cadix, given 26 times during the 1950-1 season, held the record for a single production by the company, and the 1951-2 season was the largest, with a total of 97 performances.
When the Variétés lyriques closed its doors 30 Apr 1955 with Offenbach's La Fille du tambour-major, the subscribers numbered 14,096 - not enough, however, to save the operation. The main reasons given for closing were the ever-increasing production costs (at this time no government subsidies were granted to theatre projects) and declining audiences after 1952 caused by the competition from TV.
French operetta was the mainstay of the company. The repertoire included works by some 20 composers, ranging from Hervé and Lecocq to Paul Misraki, Maurice Yvain, and Francis Lopez, and including Audran, Messager, Offenbach, and Planquette. Most of the classics of French operetta were performed at one time or another. Viennese works (by Lehár, Kalman, Fall, and Oscar Straus) were popular, as were US operettas (by Herbert, Romberg, Friml, and Youmans). Romberg's The Desert Song was the work most frequently revived by the Variétés.
The company presented its first opera, Werther, in its second season and subscribers subsequently heard Carmen, Manon, The Barber of Seville, Lakmé, Les Contes d'Hoffmann, La Traviata, Mignon, La Fille du régiment, Mireille, Faust, Rigoletto, and Madama Butterfly, at a rate of one opera a season. The entire repertoire was performed in French.
The Variétés lyriques regularly called on outstanding Quebec talents - singers, actors, instrumentalists, and conductors - and many young performers began their careers with the company. Participants included the sopranos Pierrette Alarie, Rita Bibeau, Yolande Dulude, Caro Lamoureux, Marthe Lapointe, Thérèse Laporte, Marthe Létourneau, Jacqueline Plouffe, and Irene Salemka; the mezzo-soprano Jeanne Maubourg; the contralto Anna Malenfant; the tenors Jacques Gérard, Raoul Jobin, Jacques Labrecque, Gérard Paradis, Léopold Simoneau, André Turp, and Richard Verreau; the baritones Napoléon Bisson and Louis Quilico; and the basses Yoland Guérard, Jean-Pierre Hurteau, and Joseph Rouleau. Daunais and Goulet sang numerous roles besides taking responsibility for stage direction and administration.
Actors such as Fred Barry, Paul Berval, Guy Hoffmann, Juliette Huot, Jean-Pierre Masson, Guy Mauffette, and Henri Poitras also appeared. Starting in the second season, stars were brought from Paris. Performers such as Adrien Adrius, Gérard Boireau, Réda Caire, André Dassary, Michel Dens, Rudy Hirigoyen, Jacques Jansen, Armand Mestral, Germaine Roger, and Ugo Ugaro took prominent roles, some for several seasons. Most of the chorus was recruited from Les Disciples de Massenet.
The orchestra consisted of about 30 musicians, conducted most often by Jean Goulet, but also by Jean-Marie Beaudet, Lionel Renaud, and, on occasion, Charles Goulet. Maurice Lacasse-Morenoff was in charge of choreography. The sets and costumes were made locally, sometimes from Parisian designs. Daunais and Goulet staged most of the productions, but on occasion invited Henri Montjoye, director of the Gaîté-Lyrique of Paris, to produce a particular work.
Under the resourceful and enthusiastic direction of its two founders, the Variétés lyriques formed an important chapter in Montreal's entertainment history. From 1939 on, the company's avowed objective was 'to make lyric theatre the top artistic attraction of the metropolis, bearing in mind the changing taste of the public.' Its contribution over 20 difficult years, marked by the end of the Depression and by World War II, was remarkable, especially considering that the company received no public or private financial assistance. The Lionel Daunais Collection at the BN du Q contains scores and other documents relating to the Variétés lyriques. In 1986, with the aim of reviving the Variétés, Bruno Laplante founded the Nouvelles Variétés lyriques which performed, at the Salle Maisonneuve of the PDA, Offenbach's Orphée aux enfers in 1986 and La Vie parisienne in1987, and Johann Strauss' A Night in Venice in 1988.
Author Marie-Claire Lefebvre
Goulet, Charles. Sur la scène et dans la coulisse (Quebec City1981)
Lefebvre, Marie-Claire. 'Les Variétés lyriques: leur histoire et leur importance,' Aria, vol 9, Autumn 1986
Robert, Véronique. 'La Résurrection des Variétés lyriques,' L'Actualité, Sep 1987