Fernand Ansseau (1890-1972) was a remarkable Belgian tenor who enjoyed an impressive career that stretched across a quarter century. Born in Boussu-Bois, Ansseau came from a musical family. His father was a church organist who encouraged the boy to pursue a career in music. In 1907, Ansseau entered the Brussels Conservatory where he studied with celebrated tenor and teacher, Désiré Demest (1864-1932). Demest trained the youth as a baritone but Ansseau never felt completely comfortable in that range. Noticing that his student’s upper register was beginning to develop, Demest decided to send him to retired tenor Ernest van Dyck (1861-1923). It was under the tutelage of van Dyck that Ansseau discovered his true tenor range.
After receiving first prize at his final juries at the Conservatory, Ansseau continued his studies with van Dyck (he spent a total of three years with the famed tenor) and made his operatic debut as Jean in Hérodiade at the Opéra Municipale de Dijon in Dijon in the fall of 1913. His success was tremendous and the young tenor remained in Dijon for the next year and a half, singing a variety of roles. When war broke out in Europe, however, Ansseau decided that he would use his singing talents for patriotic causes. He temporarily abandoned stage work and concentrated on concerts, patriotic rallies and benefit performances. These activities kept the tenor quite busy over the course of the next four years and at the war’s end, he found himself more popular than ever. Late in 1918, he resumed his stage career with Pagliacci at Brussels’ Théâtre de La Monnaie. La Monnaie would remain Ansseau’s artistic home throughout the remainder of his career.
His career now in full swing, Ansseau appeared to great acclaim the Opéra-Comique and the Opéra de Paris, London’s Covent Garden and the Salle Garnier in Monte Carlo. His repertoire grew to over 30 roles in such operas as Carmen, Faust, Louise, Samson et Dalila, Messaline, Manon, Werther, La Muette de Portici, Roméo et Juliette, Alceste, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, La Damnation de Faust, Orphée et Eurydice, Sapho, Grisélidis, Monna Vanna, Sigurd, L’Amore dei Tre Re, La Favorite, Rigoletto, Aïda, La Forza del Destino, Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. Although he refused all invitations to sing at the Met in New York, he appeared in San Francisco during the 1925/26 season and was immensely popular in Chicago, where he appeared frequently between 1923 and 1928.
Ansseau returned to Europe and limited his operatic appearances to Paris and Brussels. As the 1930s drew to a close, the tenor began to curtail his work. Early in his career, he was quoted as saying, “My dream is to stop singing when I am 40 and take an old house in the country, near a good trout stream.” Although he did make it well past forty, he still retired quite young and at the peak of his powers. Ansseau bid farewell to the stage following a 1939 Pagliacci, but continued to concertize for another year. On May 5, 1940, he took part in a gala concert in Brussels, which turned out to be the tenor’s final performance. Five days later, the Nazis began their occupation of Belgium. In protest, Ansseau refused any invitation to sing and never set foot before the public again. The 50-year-old tenor turned to teaching before retiring altogether in 1944. As he had predicted a quarter century earlier, Ansseau spent the rest of his life happily fishing for trout in the local stream. Fernand Ansseau passed away on May 1, 1972 at the age of 82.
Ansseau made dozens of recordings for HMV between 1919 and 1930. A powerful, well produced voice is heard on these discs along with some very exciting singing. Here, Ansseau sings "Vois, ma misère, hélas!" from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. This recording was made on two separate discs for H.M.V. in Paris in March of 1923.