Jean Henry-Laurens

Jean Henry-Laurens

1913 or 1914 Toulon – 20 July 1984 Nice

Picture of J. Henry-Laurens in Werther
Jean Henry-Laurens as Werther

On July 20th, 1984, there was a gas explosion in an apartment in the historic center of Nice, killing a 70-year old man. That man was tenor Jean Henry-Laurens, a native of Toulon, who had retired fifteen years earlier. That piece of news appeared, in slight variations, on a number of US newspapers, from the Lethbridge Herald to the New York Times, between July 21st and 24th... strange enough, because Henry-Laurens was certainly far from being a celebrity in America. Somehow, his gas explosion death must have made it to a news agency report (July, the silly season...).

To make things even stranger, the US newspapers said Jean Henry-Laurens (whom they all call Jean-Henry Laurens, which is wrong) had been a lead tenor at La Scala, and had appeared at the Metropolitan Opera and the Théâtre de la Monnaie. Well, I cannot vouch for La Scala, but after 1950 (the period for which the Scala archives are available to the public), he did not sing there, in any case. It's definitely not true that he sang at the Met, at least not as a soloist, although even the New York Times (which should have known better) parroted that news agency mistake. But he did sing at the Monnaie, albeit for just one season in 1952/53: Gounod's Faust (11 performances), Pinkerton (3 performances), Werther (5 performances), Rodolfo (5 performances), Cavaradossi (6 performances), Nicias (6 performances), Massenet's des Grieux (8 performances).

Before his Brussels contract, he was a member of the Strasbourg opera theater in 1950, and as such, he made guest appearances in Avignon: as Roméo in February 1950, and as Gounod's Faust in March.

The fact that Henry was part of his family name and not of his first name confused already his contemporaries, and he figured usually as Henry Laurens, although he always signed his photos as "J. Henry-Laurens".

What he did between 1953 and 1984, I do not know.

Reference 1: La Monnaie archives; reference 2: New York Times, 23 July 1984; reference 3: Lethbridge Herald, 21 July 1984; reference 4: Janesville Gazette, 23 July 1984; reference 5: La Gazette provençale, 11 February 1950; reference 6: La Gazette provençale, 23 March 1950

I want to thank Georges Cardol for the picture.

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