Obituary: Bernard Lefort

BERNARD LEFORT had three careers. The first was as a distinguished baritone. In the second he combined musical administration with the flair of a market-minded impresario. And in the third, that of singing teacher, he passed on the techniques learned in the first career in a framework informed by the second.

Having obtained his baccalaureat in philosophy, Lefort was studying politics and law, simultaneously taking classes in voice and solfege at the Paris Conservatoire, when he was interrupted by the Second World War. With the return of peace, he decided to concentrate on music alone, pursuing his vocal studies in Milan, Berlin and Vienna. By then he had already made his debut in a series of wartime recitals in the Salle Gaveau in Paris, presenting in particular French melodies by contemporary composers, such as Les Six, Olivier Messiaen, Andre Jolivet and Henri Dutilleux.

He was also heard in the opera house, making his stage debut (at the Palais Garnier) in Don Giovanni and Verdi's Macbeth. With Germaine Tailleferre, the only woman member of Les Six (the others were Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric and Louis Durey), Lefort formed a regular duo partnership, touring together from 1949 to 1957. Tailleferre responded to Lefort's musicianship by composing her Concerto for Baritone for him; other composers were to pay him similar honours during the course of his singing career - which was abruptly cut short by serious illness in 1960.

Lefort therefore embarked on his second occupation, the one for which he will be best remembered. He began his life as a musical administrator as second-in-command at the Lausanne Festival, taking over the Marseilles opera in 1965. His three years there were marked by a refreshing openness to new repertoire, both old and new. Lefort looked out old bel canto operas that had long fallen into neglect (Ponchielli's La Gioconda and Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, for example) and put on contemporary works, often for the first time in France, such as Jancek's The Makropulos Affair, Henze's The Prince of Homburg and Britten's The Turn of the Screw.

He then moved up through a series of appointments: head of the autumn festival at Royaumont (1969), artistic advisor at the Theatre de la Ville, Paris (1969-78), temporary head of the Opera de Paris (1971-72, with Daniel Lesur) and director of the festival at Aix-en-Provence (1973-80). It was at Aix that he scored some of his most notable successes, perhaps the best of them his bringing together of Montserrat Caballe and Marilyn Horne in Rossini's Tancredi. He also lightened the atmosphere considerably: to the discomfort of Aix's old guard, jeans replaced evening gowns as standard attire, and the festival came alive.

When Rolf Liebermann left the Paris Opera in 1980, Lefort was called back to succeed him, but his efforts at reform met such systematic opposition from the unions that he resigned halfway through his contract, in July 1982.

This was when career number three began. Lefort taught singing at Mannes College in New York and at the Academy of Vocal Art in Philadelphia; at the Juilliard School in New York he produced a student production of Gounod's Mireille. And in the late 1980s, he founded the cole d'art lyrique in Paris.

Lefort was diplomatically referred to as a "personnage flamboyant" and a "caractere difficile" and earned a reputation for his short temper. He is generally assumed to have been homosexual, although Paris musical gossip talks obscurely of an earlier marriage to a well-off American woman. Whatever the truth of it, he faced old age as poor as he was lonely. He had already attempted suicide on several occasions and a week after moving back to Paris from homes in Lausanne and the Midi, he finally succeeded.

Bernard Lefort, singer, administrator, teacher: born Paris 29 July 1922; died Paris 19 January 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'