Denise Duval studied at the Conservatoire in Bordeaux, where she made her operatic stage debut as Lola / Cavalleria rusticana in 1943 before turning to light music, appearing in revue at the Folies Bergères in Paris during 1944. Her debuts at the two major Parisian opera houses came in 1947: as Salomé in Massenet’s Hérodiade at the Opera and as Butterfly at the Opéra-Comique, where in the same year she created the role of Thérèse in the premiere of Les Mamelles de Tirésias at the invitation of the composer Francis Poulenc, who was to become a lifelong musical colleague. Later premieres in which she participated at the Opéra-Comique included Le Oui des jeunes filles by Reynaldo Hahn (1949) and Dolores by Michel-Maurice Lévy (1952). At the Opera she sang the title role in Massenet’s Thaïs (1950), Rozenn / Le Roi d’Ys, the Princess in Henri Rabaud’s Mârouf, Portia in Hahn’s Le Marchand de Venise, Concepción in Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole and Blanche in the Paris premiere of Poulenc’s masterpiece Dialogues des Carmélites (1957).
A frequent guest at the Monte Carlo Opera, Duval appeared there as Thaïs (1950); as Concepción and in The Love of Three Oranges (both 1952); as Musetta / La Bohème and the Princess (both 1953); and in Menotti’s The Medium (1967). She made her debut at La Scala, Milan in Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher in 1953, the same year in which she appeared in Rameau’s Les Indes galantes at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, returning as Concepción in 1955. Duval’s American debut came in 1951 with the American Opera Society, New York as Thérèse.
In 1959 at the Opéra-Comique Duval created the part of Elle, the central character in Poulenc’s La Voix humaine, reprising this role at La Scala, in the American premiere at Carnegie Hall, and in the first British performance with the Glyndebourne company at the Edinburgh Festival (both during 1960). She returned to Glyndebourne to sing Mélisande / Pelléas et Mélisande in 1962 and 1963. Duval appeared at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, in 1960, 1964 and 1965 (Dialogues des Carmélites), at Dallas as Thaïs and at the Piccola Scala, Milan in the creation of Jean-Pierre Rivière’s opera Pour un Don Quichotte (both in 1961) and sang in Milhaud’s Les Malheurs d’Orphée at the 1962 Aix-en-Provence Festival.
Having retired from the operatic stage in 1965, Duval subsequently taught in Paris and was active as a stage director. She often sang in concert with Poulenc at the piano. An artist of great subtlety, she was a significant figure in French music throughout her career.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).
Role: Classical Artist