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27 May 2011

Jane Rhodes, 82, French Soprano Nicknamed "Bardot of the Opéra," Has Died

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Paris, France, March 13, 1929 — Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, May 7, 2011 

Jane Rhodes, a voluptuous beauty who earned the nickname of "the Bardot of the Opéra" and became a favorite with audiences in Paris for her famed interpretation of Carmen, has died. She was 82.   

The soprano sang in the chorus at the Châtelet briefly before making her debut, in 1953, as Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust at the Grand-Théâtre de Nancy, where she also created Isadora in the world premiere of Marcel Landowski's Le Fou (1956) and Mague­lone in the world premiere of Georges Delerue's Le Chevalier de Neige (1957). Within the next few seasons, Rhodes sang Lisa in the French premiere of The Queen of Spades (Strasbourg, 1957), Strauss's Salome at the Paris Opera (1958) and Tosca at the Opéra-Comique (1958). She became an overnight celebrity in France in 1959, when she was chosen to sing Carmen in Raymond Rouleau's lavish Paris Opera staging of Bizet's opera, which marked the first-ever production at the Palais Garnier for the work, previously a specialty of the Opéra-Comique. (There had been two previous special gala performances of Carmen at the Garnier, one in 1900 and another in 1907.) The first-night audience included ninety-five ambassadors, the cream of Paris society and French president Charles de Gaulle, who made his entrance into the auditorium accompanied by the Grand March from Aida

Rhodes was generally praised for her superb looks and for her formidable grace under the pressure of the occasion; opinion was divided as to her voice, which some critics found inadequate in size and deficient in color. Nevertheless, to judge from televised excerpts of Rhodes's Carmen at the Garnier — and from her 1960 Philips recording — her Gypsy was an impressive accomplishment, firm of purpose and undeniably alluring. Carmen established Rhodes as a favorite with Paris audiences, and she remained so for the next thirty years, her potent chic undiminished as she passed from prima donna roles to less strenuous assignments in the French operettes that she adored. One of Rhodes's most ardent admirers was Roberto Benzi, the twenty-one-year-old conducting prodigy who led her first Garnier performances of Carmen and who later married her.

In the fall of 1960, Rhodes's Gallic flair and charm were praised when she brought her Carmen to the Met for a single performance. Although her company debut was counted as a success, Rhodes's four-performance run at the Met the following season as Richard Strauss's Salome was not: she was unable to sustain the punishing final scene of the opera without a substantial cut, and she ceded the Salome broadcast to American soprano Brenda Lewis. Rhodes never sang with the Met again. 

Other notable Rhodes performances were Monteverdi's Poppea at Aix-en-Provence (1961); Isabelle in the world premiere of Landowski's Les Adieux at the Opéra-Comique (1961); Carmen in Japan, Buenos Aires, Paris and Belgium; Tosca at the Paris Opera; a double-bill of Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole and Poulenc's La Voix Humaine at the Opéra-Comique (1968); the title role in Offenbach's La Périchole at the Théâtre de Paris (1969); Marguerite in Maurice Bejart's staging of La Damnation de Faust (1970) and Public Opinion in Michel Plasson's 1978 recording of Orphée aux Enfers

Rhodes made several other distinguished recordings, beginning in 1957, when she was Renata in the first-ever recorded performance of Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel, led by Charles Bruck. In 1962, the soprano was featured in the CBS-TV special The Drama of "Carmen," Leonard Bernstein's scene-by-scene analysis of Bizet's opera. She appeared in several films, and was one of the stars of Serge Friedman's 1976 comedy, Un mari, c'est un mari, playing a diva named "La Sangria." Rhodes retired from the opera stage in 1980, but continued to appear in concert and recital and on television for the following decade. Rhodes was a Commandeur of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a Chevalier of the Ordre National du Mérite. spacer 


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Photo: Rhodes as Carmen at the Met, 1960 
Louis Mélancon/OPERA NEWS Archives


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