American tenor Stephen Gould died of cancer at 61

He was the great heroic Wagnerian tenor of the last quarter of a century: the American Stephen Gould died at the age of 61, killed in a few weeks by a devastating cancer.

1er July, we learned that the star tenor of the Bayreuth Festival, Stephen Gould, was withdrawing, for health reasons, from the three productions he was to sing there this year: Tannhäusera role where he was essential, Tristan in Tristan and Isoldewhere he was not really less, and Siegfried in The twilight of the Gods.

On August 25, Gould’s artistic agency announced his permanent withdrawal from the scene. That day, the singer’s reported speech was still reassuring: “I will first devote myself entirely to my health and then realize my second dream: teaching talented young singers in master classes and accompanying them on the way of their career. »

But on September 5, on his website, the Roanoke, Virginia native made the terrible news public: “To all my fans and everyone who wishes me luck: I waited until the end of the Bayreuth Festival to not to hinder the considerable and heroic work deployed by the team this year. […] I was diagnosed with bile duct cancer with complications. It is a cholangiocarcinoma, a fatal disease with a prognosis of a few months to 10 months. There is no cure. I did not want anything to overshadow this year’s achievements, and I am grateful to Bayreuth for teaching me everything I could have hoped to know about performing the works of this great musician. »

Unprecedented journey

Stephen Gould “was” a Heldentenor, we now read on Wikipedia, and we can’t believe it to see him so named as an artist from the “past”. In the lyrical world, these tenors often seem like indestructible rocks, especially when, like Stephen Gould, they are real apparitions. Like many tenors, Gould began as a baritone. He had a great career in musical theater. His biography credits him with 3000 performances of Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber. This artistic “long-distance runner” (according to his own definition), with whom we associated the image of “ ironman vocal”, began in the register that made him famous around his forties, first in Rossini in 1989 then very quickly in Wagner, where he seemed on a mission.

“Wagner is not entertainment, it’s a meditation, a mantra,” he said in an interview with Bavarian Radio. In fact, as columnist Johann Jahn, who had interviewed and worked with him, pointed out on Thursday on the German channel: “With this in mind, he disciplined himself and did what many do not do: he took his time with Wagner, studying a role for two years with vocal and language coaches. » By learning the RingGould said he would wake up at night dreaming about the text, worrying about potential pronunciation errors.

Just like the Canadian Jon Vickers, one of his most glorious predecessors, Stephen Gould also wanted to tackle, apart from Wagner, the complex character of Peter Grimes by Britten, as well as Otello by Verdi. He also made his mark in Korngold’s opera The dead city.

The Bayreuth Festival paid tribute to the memory of its star tenor, saying: “The Bayreuth Festival and the entire opera world have lost an outstanding singer, performer, teacher, friend and colleague. »

The art of Stephen Gould is notably documented at its peak in the provocative but luminous Tannhäuser by Tobias Kratzer, on DVD and Blu-ray from DG, and on disc in the Tristan and Isolde by Janowski at Pentatone.

To watch on video

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