Janine Micheau studied singing at the Toulouse and Paris Conservatoires and made her operatic stage debut in 1933 at the Paris Opéra-Comique as the Newspaper Girl / Louise. Early roles included Loys in Erlanger’s Le Juif polonais, the Neighbour in Ibert’s Angélique and such other small roles as Miss Rose / Lakmé and Andreloun / Mireille. Later roles with the Opéra-Comique included Nanetta / Falstaff, Mimì / La Bohème, Micaëla / Carmen, Rosina / Il barbiere di Siviglia, Olympia / Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Susanna / Le nozze di Figaro, Zerbinetta / Ariadne auf Naxos, the title roles in Lakmé and Mireille, Leila / Les Pêcheurs de Perles and Mélisande / Pelléas et Mélisande.
During 1935 Micheau was invited to sing Lakmé in Marseilles and (at the invitation of Pierre Monteux) Mélisande in Amsterdam. She made her debut at Monte Carlo in 1936 as Olympia and participated there in the premiere that year of Raoul Gunsbourg’s opera Les Contes d’Andersen. At the Florence Maggio Musicale Micheau sang Mélisande with the Opéra-Comique company in 1937, the year in which she made her debut at the Royal Opera House, London as Micaëla, a role she was to record more than twenty years later with Sir Thomas Beecham, the artistic director of pre-war Covent Garden.
In America Micheau first appeared with the San Francisco Opera in 1938; also singing Sophie / Der Rosenkavalier at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires (under Erich Kleiber) and in Rio de Janeiro during 1939, as well as taking part in the first performance in Italy of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges in Florence. She made her debut at the Paris Opera in 1940 as Créuse in Milhaud’s Médée; later roles at the Opera included Gilda / Rigoletto, Violetta / La traviata, Pamina / Die Zauberflöte, Konstanze / Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Juliette / Roméo et Juliette and Sophie, while at the Opéra-Comique in 1941 she created the role of Caroline in André Lavagne’s Comme ils s’aiment.
After the end of World War II Micheau’s career maintained the international trajectory it had assumed before hostilities began. She made her debut in Chicago in 1946, singing Violetta and Micaëla, and at La Scala, Milan in 1948 in L’enfant et les sortilèges. The same year she returned to Monte Carlo, to sing Zina in Gunsbourg’s Le Vieil Aigle and in 1952 performed there in L’enfant et les sortilèges as well as singing Pamina and Mélisande. At the Paris Opera Micheau sang the role of Manuela in Milhaud’s Bolivar in 1950 (repeated in Naples in 1953) and took the part of Ann Trulove in 1951 when Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress was given at the Opéra-Comique. She appeared in Rabaud’s Mârouf in Venice in 1955, sang Mélisande in Rome in 1956 and returned to San Francisco up until 1957.
An extremely versatile performer, Micheau sang for French radio in lesser-known examples of French operetta (such as Messager’s Isoline, 1947, and Madame Chrysanthème, 1956) as well as in eighteenth-century operas (such as Rameau’s Les Indes galantes, Paris 1952 and Florence 1953, and Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice and Rameau’s Platée, both in Aix-en-Provence, 1955 and 1956 respectively).
Having retired from the Opéra-Comique in 1960, Micheau taught at the Paris Conservatoire from 1961. Her final operatic appearance was as Pamina, at Rouen in 1968.
Possessed of a pure light voice, with a wide range and even production, which she was able to use with skill, care and taste, Micheau was one of the leading French lyric sopranos of her generation.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).