opera singer, pianist, music teacher
June 22, 1900 - November 23, 1973
Jennie Tourel (born Jennie Davidovich) was a well-known American operatic mezzo-soprano, a piano performer, as well as a teacher in New York's prestigious Juilliard School.
Jennie Tourel was born Jennie Davidovich in Vitebsk, then Russian Empire and now Belarus, in the family of Belorussian Jews. After the revolution of 1917, her family moved to Paris, where the girl studied piano, flute and singing, dreaming about a career on a theater stage. She began to take singing lessons from Reynaldo Hahn and Anna El-Tour.
It is said that her new name was derived from the last name of one of her teachers - El-Tour - with the two syllables transposed. Tourel always denied this.
She made her European debut at the Opéra Russe in Paris in 1931, and later sang at the Opéra-Comique in Carmen (1933), in Le médecin malgré lui (1938), and The Marriage of Figaro (1940).
She even created three of her own signature roles at the Salle Favart: Labryssa in Tout Ank Amon (1934), Missouf in Zadig (1938) and Zouz in La nuit embaumée (1939)!
Her American début happened at the Chicago Civic Opera in Ernest Moret's Lorenzaccio in 1930. Several years later she appeared on the stage of New York's Metropolitan Opera.
She decided to continue her career in the Old World, but life destroyed all of her meticulously crafted plans...
In 1940, with German troops moving in the direction of Paris, she escaped to the United States, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1946.
During the first years in her new homeland and on her new home stage, Tourel performed songs by the famous Russian-American composer and musician Leonard Bernstein, as well as Francis Poulenc and Paul Hindemith.
In her later years, she concentrated on piano recitals and orchestra engagements, becoming an authority in French operas. She also taught at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, and at the Aspen School of Music in Colorado.
Her last opera performance, as Dona Marta, was at the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri's Black Widow at the Seattle Opera in 1972. She died peacefully less than a year later, in the fall of 1973, in her home for New York City.
Bernheimer, Martin. "Jennie Tourel", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy
Baker's Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians, Schirmer Books