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Spotlight on Dominique Côté, baritone

Baritone Dominique Côté is renowned for his supple voice and moving interpretations. Armed with a vast and varied repertoire, Côté has performed across Europe, the United States, and Canada under the direction of illustrious conductors such as Kent Nagano, Christophe Rousset, Theodor Guschlbauer, Jacques Lacombe, and Samuel Jean. His performances include Les feluettes ou La répétition d’un drame romantique (Edmonton Opera), and La chauve-souris (Geneva and Montréal), as well as appearances in several productions of the opera Nelligan and numerous concerts with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal.

Dominique makes his ATMA Classique recording debut with Amour et Fantaisie: mélodies de Lionel Daunais, a portrait that pays homage to a unique artist on the Canadian musical landscape. Amour et Fantaisie will be released on February 11, 2022. We recently caught up with Dominique to chat about his career and his affinity for the music of Lionel Daunais.

How did you first discover that you had a special talent for singing?

CD: I have always sung. My mother was choirmaster in my hometown of Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire. I began singing solos in church at a very young age. Then I studied music and choral singing in high school, and I was also in the drama group. I participated in absolutely every possible show at my school and in my region. I was very keen and really wanted to pursue a career as a performer.

In addition to being a baritone, you are also a gifted actor who has appeared on stage and television. Was there ever a time when you had to decide to focus on one area more than the other for your career?

CD: Not really. It all happened naturally, as contracts came in and I started making contacts. There were years when I was more in demand for singing than for acting, and vice versa. I never had a career plan.

I like diversity, changing between different styles and genres. In a given week, I can find myself rehearsing a concert with the OSM, recording voices for cartoon characters, playing in a series and auditioning for a baroque opera—and I really love it! It might confuse people, but I think that it has become my strength over time. I find that these different worlds feed off each other and are essentially the same profession: that of a performer. Whether I am acting or singing, in an opera or in a musical, on stage or on screen, I am dedicated to performing the work, and I’m at its service.

Where did the idea for an entire album devoted to music by Lionel Daunais come from? Why makes Daunais’s music so special for you personally? And is there anything in particular that we should be listening for on the new album?

CD: I wanted to record Daunais’s music as soon as I discovered it. As artists, we are similar: we are both eclectic—exploring many different styles—we don’t take ourselves too seriously but do things seriously, we love the theatre, theatrical roles, the stage. I felt that I could bring my personal touch to his music.

I like telling stories through music, putting the text front and centre, singing in the simplest manner possible to put the music and words in the spotlight. And I find it inconceivable that no recording of his music is available! He is a musician who deserves to be rediscovered (he was very popular in his time). I am even considering recording more of his numerous and very diverse works. There is a world of difference between La Tourtière, L’Astronome and Tout à perdre! It sounds like three different composers!I hope that people will be touched by the sweet melancholy of his love songs and that his zany stories will have them smiling. His melodies are beautiful, and there is a very catchy side to them; there are a few earworms in Daunais’s music! I think it’s important to pay attention to the lyrics because many of his songs are actually like short movie scripts.

In your notes, you thank your first voice teacher, Lucette Tremblay, saying that she took you under her wing and forever changed your life. How did Lucette change your life, and what impact did she have on your development as a singer?

CD: Without Lucette, I don’t know where I would be today. Because I just happened to fall into classical singing. Singing has always been a part of me, yet I had never taken singing lessons, and I knew nothing about classical singing and opera. In 2002, while acting, I severely injured my voice. I was mute for three months and needed to have surgery on my vocal cords. The ENT specialist who treated me (Thanks, Dr. Guertin!) told me right away that I wouldn’t be able to continue my career as an actor if I didn’t take it more seriously and find an excellent voice teacher. And that’s when Lucette came into my life. She had no more available slots at her studio, but she must have taken pity on me: she made room for me! At first, I saw her every day because my journey back to singing was a long one. It was a bit like learning to walk again. Then quite quickly, she introduced me to a voice I didn’t even know I had, and a whole new world of music opened up to me. She literally changed my life; she was incredibly generous. Sadly, she is very ill at the moment, and it saddens me to think that she can’t come to my concerts anymore. She was quite the critic, but her criticism was always fair and well intended.

You also acknowledge the role played by Louise Grenier, Lionel Daunais’s youngest daughter. How did she help in the preparation of the album?

CD: She gave me a lot of information about her father’s life, how he wrote, how he was a great actor on stage, how important acting and the texts were to him. What’s more, I had access to some archives, which will also be of great use for my upcoming concerts. It’s great to be able to talk to a composer’s daughter, it’s quite rare!

If music had not been possible as a career, what would you most likely be doing now?

CD: Of course, there was always theatre and acting. But without the arts, I don’t know what I would do… I can’t do anything else! I’ve always worked hard, and I’ve always known that I was privileged to be able to make a living from my art. I love skiing and cooking, dogs and horses, comics and flower gardens, so maybe I could have made a living with something like that.

What are the upcoming projects that you are most excited about?

CD: There are obviously the concerts that will follow the album release, and I am very much looking forward to singing this music live. I’m also excited about the complete recording of the opera Nelligan, which will be released on ATMA Classique in November. My role in Nelligan, which I have performed many times, has always been very important to me and very dear to my heart. In March, I will make my debut with Les Violons du Roy, an orchestra that I greatly admire. I’m absolutely delighted that they have invited me to perform with them, especially as I love singing baroque music and my voice feels more and more at home with the style. Lastly, I am working along with composer Christian Thomas on the creation of an opera based on a work by writer Michel Tremblay. I find the creative process very exciting: venturing into the unknown gives you a great sense of freedom of interpretation.

Interview by Luisa Trisi, Big Picture Communications