Obituary: French Tenor Gilbert Py Dies at 87

By Francisco Salazar

On Oct. 9, 2021, French tenor Gilbert Py died at the age of 87.

Born on Dec. 9, 1933 in Sète in the department of Hérault, Py spent his youth in a caravan on the fairgrounds with his family. He lived with his family in Montpellier for a short period and at the age of five, he took his first piano lesson.

However, due to his parents’ low income, Py didn’t have an instrument to work with and therefore practiced on an accordion. At the age of six, he began violin lessons and he later started dance classes in Montpellier.

With the ballet corps, he danced in “Die Fledermaus” and the Polovtsian Dances from “Prince Igor.”

He eventually took up singing lessons and began his career when he entered the Cannes contest and won second prize. He made his debut on Nov. 14, 1964 at Verviers in Belguim as Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly.” A year later he sang his first Mario Cavaradossi in “Tosca” in Tourcoing and became broke out.

That would lead him to sing some of the most difficult tenor parts in the repertoire including John the Baptist in “Hérodiade,” Don Jose in “Carmen,” Radamès in “Aida,” Otello, and Samson in “Samson et Dalila.” In 1966 he performed at the reopening of the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in Liège.

Throughout the late 60s, he would perform in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nice, and at the Opéra Comique in Paris where he sang “Werther,” “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” “Pagliacci,” and “Tosca,” among others.

It was in 1969 that he made his debut at the Paris Opera in “Carmen;” he went on to perform in Berlioz’s “La Damnation de Faust,” “Tosca” and “Il Trovatore.”

Throughout his career, he would sing in the United States, France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium.

Py left several recordings including “Carmen” with Régine Crespin, “La reine de Saba” with Suzanne Sarroca, “La vestale” with Gundula Janowitz, “Hérodiade/Salomé.”