Béatrice La Palme

(Marie Alice) Béatrice (Béatrix) La Palme. Soprano, violinist, teacher, b Beloeil, near Montreal, 27 Jul 1878, d Montreal 8 Jan 1921; ARCM 1900. She studied violin with Frantz Jehin-Prume and performed successfully in public in 1894. She left for London in 1895, as first winner of the Lord Strathcona scholarship to the RCM, and studied there with Enrique Fernandez Arbos. Shortly thereafter she began studying voice with Gustave Garcia and sang at an RCM concert in July 1898. In Montreal she appeared as both singer and violinist in Karn Hall in October 1898 under the patronage of Lord Strathcona.

Returning to London, La Palme followed Emma Albani's advice to devote herself exclusively to singing, working with Nelly Rowe, a pupil of Mathilde Marchesi. In Paris, La Palme sang for Massenet who, according to Romain Gour, declared: 'It is unbelievable, you move me to tears with my own music!' The day after a concert at the Windsor Hall in Montreal (17 Oct 1902), La Presse wrote: 'One cannot imagine a soprano voice greater in range, clearer, or more admirably beautiful'.

La Palme made her Covent Garden debut 18 Jul 1903, replacing Fritzi Scheff at the last minute as Musetta in La Bohème at a gala performance in the presence of Edward VII. The cast included Melba, Bonci, Scotti, Journet, Gilibert, and Dufriche. She sang Mireille and Micaëla in Lyons during the 1903-4 season and in Royan during the summer of 1904. She also portrayed Juliette, Mimi, and Lakmé in Royan. One of her singing partners was the French tenor Salvator (Issaurel), whom she married in Paris in 1908.

La Palme made her Opéra-Comique debut 10 Sep 1905 in Mireille and for four years sang numerous roles there, including Sophie (Werther), Eurydice (Orphée et Eurydice), Marie (La Fille du régiment), Bettly (Le Chalet by Adam), Rhodis and Myrtho (Aphrodite by Erlanger), the title role in Mignon, and Madelon in the world premiere, 5 Jun 1907, of Messager's Fortunio. During the summer of 1909 La Palme was a member of the Moody-Manners Company at the Lyric Theatre in London. Singing in English, she interpreted the roles of Marguerite (Faust), Elsa (Lohengrin), Eva (Die Meistersinger), and Leonora (Il Trovatore) in London and on tour. The following year she was engaged by Thomas Beecham for the summer season at His Majesty's, where she sang with Maggie Teyte and Zélie de Lussan. La Palme opened the season in Werther and then sang Suzanna (The Marriage of Figaro), Despina (Così fan tutte), Miss Silverbell (The Impresario), Adele (Die Fledermaus), Antonia (The Tales of Hoffmann), and Lisa (Summer Night by G.H. Clutsam). When Beecham retained her for his autumn season at Covent Garden, she added to her repertoire the roles of Aline in Le Chemineau by Leroux and Gretel in Hansel and Gretel. She also established herself as a singer of Lieder and French art songs in two recitals at Aeolian Hall in May and June 1911.

In July 1911 La Palme returned to Montreal with her husband. Her homecoming recital, 2 October at the Monument national, was a resounding success. With the Montreal Opera Company she made her debut in November in the role of Micaëla and then sang Juliette, Marguerite, Mimi, and Rosina and visited Quebec, Toronto, and Ottawa. In November 1912 she undertook a second season with the company, adding to her roles Gilda (Rigoletto), Giulietta (The Tales of Hoffman), and the title-roles in Madame Chrysanthème by Messager and Cendrillon by Massenet.

La Palme made her debut at the Century Opera House, New York, at the end of November 1913, in the title role of Thaïs. In 14 weeks she sang 56 performances of 15 operas. In addition to her regular roles she sang Manon, Louise, Martha, Nedda, Santuzza, and the newly created roles Nuri (Tiefland by Eugène d'Albert), Eunice (Quo Vadis? by Jean Nouguès), and Natoma in the opera of that name by Victor Herbert. From 27 Jun to 6 Sep 1914, La Palme was in Chicago for the season at Ravinia Park. In addition to eight roles from her repertoire, she sang Countess Gil from The Secret of Susanna and Maliella in The Jewels of the Madonna, two operas by Wolf-Ferrari. 'Her art is astonishing,' wrote the critic for the Music News (Sep 1914).

However, physical exhaustion, hearing problems, and the uncertainty created by World War I ended La Palme's career prematurely. When negotiations with the Metropolitan Opera failed, she settled permanently in Montreal at the end of 1914. Only 36 years old, she nevertheless decided to devote herself to teaching and joined her husband in the studio he had opened in 1911. Among her numerous pupils were Camille Bernard, Marie-Anne Couture, and Graziella Dumaine. She sang in public for the last time 14 Nov 1919 in a recital with her husband at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montreal.

After Emma Albani, Béatrice La Palme was the first Quebec singer to star in the great opera houses. Her gifts as singer and actress, her personality, and the range of her voice made her an artist much sought after. Remembering her, Sir Thomas Beecham, in a letter written to Romain Gour on 23 Apr 1945, described her as 'a highly accomplished singer and one of the most resourceful and versatile artists of my time'. Unfortunately no recording of this distinguished artist is known to exist.