Thursday 12 May 2011
Tribute to Jane Rhodes

Jane Rhodes, who gave the historic first performance of Carmen at the Palais Garnier, passed away on May 7th at the age of 82.

Born in Paris in 1929, Jane Rhodes studied the dramatic arts at the "rue Blanche" before joining the singing class at the Conservatoire. In 1953 she made her solo debut in La Damnation de Faust at Nantes Opera. The following year she created the role of Renata (Prokofiev's L'Ange de feu) at the Opéra-Comique, which she recorded in 1957 with conductor Charles Bruck. It was this performance that brought her into the limelight and led to her being invited to join the Paris Opera company.


In 1959, Carmen was performed for the first time at the Palais Garnier in a historic production staged by the film director Raymond Rouleau. In the orchestra pit was the 22-year-old conductor, Roberto Benzi, whom Janes Rhodes was to marry in 1966. Her interpretation of the bewitching gypsy, seen by the General de Gaulle himself who attended the performance, thrust her onto the international stage: from Paris to New York and from Tokyo to Buenos Aires, she was celebrated for her mellow timbre, her dramatic intensity and her extraordinary beauty.


Nevertheless she remained profoundly attached to the Paris Opera where she performed Tosca and Salomé (see photographs opposite), roles that she would also sing at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, Princess Eboli in Don Carlos, La Damnation de Faust, Conception in L'Heure Espagnole and Poulenc's La Voix Humaine. In 1961 she sang in the Coronation of Poppea at Aix. The following year saw her Metropolitan Opera debut in Salomé and her performance in the title role of the film The Drama of Carmen, filmed by CBS and conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Her repertoire also embraces Offenbach's major operetta roles: La Belle Hélène, La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein, La Périchole and Métella in La Vie parisienne. At the end of the 1970s, she gradually retired from opera and devoted herself to recitals, excelling in the French melody repertoire with works by composers like Debussy, Fauré and Duparc. Her last years were spent passing on the secrets of her art with unbridled enthusiasm.