Etienne Dupuis and Nicole Car: reconnecting with family at the Opéra de Montréal

Actualités lyriques


September 09, 2022

Text : Véronique Gauthier
Photos : Tam Photography

Opera’s favourite duo is back on the boards at the Opéra de Montréal to delight our ears and eyes in performances of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. For this production, baritone Etienne Dupuis and soprano Nicole Car are both making role debuts alongside a dazzling, almost entirely Canadian cast.

What has the return “home” been like for this couple with a deeply rooted sense of family? We spoke to the two infinitely talented, accessible, and genuine artists, whose tangible and refreshing affinity for each other transcends the stage.


A timely work

When artistic director Michel Beaulac approached the couple to ask which opera they would like to come sing in Montreal, Nicole Car did not have to think twice. With a track record of strong and demanding roles, the Australian soprano dreamt of diving into the score for Leonora, the central character in this opera by a young Verdi.

“I had sung the arias from Il Trovatore when I was younger, I even won a competition with Leonora’s second aria. Who would think they could manage that at the age of 21? Me, apparently!” says the soprano with a laugh. “I knew it would perfectly suit my voice at this moment. The bel canto from this point in Verdi’s career is absolutely incredible. It allows me to stay in the middle register, while having coloratura embellishments. At 36 years old, with the technique I have now, I feel that I’m ready to sing the role.”

Her spouse goes further: “Sopranos with a warm and meaty middle register, with vocal agility, and who can act—there aren’t many of those! It’s an excellent gateway to another category of roles for her.” For his part, though the baritone was at first rather hesitant to don the clothes of Count di Luna, it didn’t take much to convince him. “I told him that if the baritone was good, he’d win the evening. And he accepted!” his wife affectionately teases.


A family reunion

A role debut is always an exciting experience, even after many years in the profession. Taking on a role on familiar ground, among kind and gracious colleagues, is a truly happy moment. “I consider myself a Canadian by adoption,” says Nicole. “We’re with family here, with the cast, Jacques Lacombe conducting, Michel-Maxime directing, the whole team. It takes off a lot of pressure and it’s nothing but joy!” Etienne adds, “I grew up with this company. I recognize the room, I know the audience, and I love it here.”

The Paris-based singers made their way to Montreal as a family, in fact, accompanied by their young Noah, for one of the final times this season. “Unlike what we’ve done in previous years, because of school, we decided that one of us would stay home while the other is away for a contract. That way, we can both take advantage of our careers and family, which is very important to us.”

Presenting a classic: still relevant?

Il Trovatore is the first opera Etienne Dupuis ever saw and, to say the least, his memory of it is not exactly the fondest. “At the time, I was 17 years old, I was studying jazz piano and wondering whether I should make the leap to classical singing. I came to the Opéra de Montréal to get a look at what it was all about, and I found it to be so boring! The cardboard set, singers planting themselves in front of it to deliver their arias… Leonora was dull, and I couldn’t understand why she would kill herself for this man.”

Luckily for us, the experience did not put a halt to his operatic ambitions, and now here he is, ready to prove his first impression of Il Trovatore was wrong!


Acting: an aspect that cannot be ignored

Now about to present the work on stage, has his opinion of it changed? “I think a lot depends on how it is presented. It’s a very complicated story, and if part of the plot is left by the wayside in its interpretation, it’s uninteresting,” he replies. In terms of the quality of its interpretation in this case, the audience will be well served, as the two artists are well-known to whole-heartedly invest themselves in their characters.

“It’s important to keep in mind everything your characters are going through over the course of their journey in the opera,” explains the baritone. “There’s got to be a thread running through their development, otherwise it’s just superficial arias. And Nicole is a very instinctive actress, her acting is very natural. When she comes on stage, you see the character right away. Without it being highlighted or artificial in any way.”

Understanding our reality by revisiting the classics

For the baritone, seeing a classic can open your eyes to our current reality. “Do we really do things differently today than we did back then?” wonders Etienne Dupuis. “Don’t we insult people we don’t know on social media just because they don’t share our opinion? Sometimes, you need to show that though the wheel keeps turning, we haven’t changed.”

Getting ready for your evening at the opera

To enjoy your evening to the fullest, the baritone suggests you do a little research before coming to the venue. “Read about the story, go online and listen to excerpts of the opera. It’s so nice to recognize arias you’re already familiar with!”

All that’s left to do is take your seat, watch the curtain go up, and let the magic happen, masterfully guided along by these two exceptional artists.