French-Italian bass / baritone, 1877 - 1962

Biographical notes:

He was born Giovanni (Jean-Emile Diogène) Marcoux in Turin. Vanni, an Italian abbrevation for Giovanni, reminds us that he was the son of a French father and an Italian mother. He studied with Collini at his hometown and with Frédéric Boyer at the Paris Conservatoire. After successfully completing law studies, Marcoux decided to devote himself full to singing. His debut took place at Turin in 1894 as Sparafucile. It was not until 1899 that he made his first stage appearance in France, at Bayonne as Frère Laurent. Thereafter he toured a number of provincial theatres and was a guest at the La Monnaie in Brussels. In 1905 he debuted at Covent Garden as Basilio and returned there every season until 1912, singing comprimario parts as well as Colline and Sparafucile.  Eventually he was given such parts like Arkel, Marcel in Les Huguenots and the Father in Charpentier’s Louise. In 1909 he made his debut at the Opéra Paris, creating Guido Colonna in Henri Février’s Monna Vanna, a role which brought him fame. Three years later he appeared in the title role of Massenet’s Don Quichotte (probably his greatest achievement). Massenet wrote his opera Panurge especially for him. Its creation took place in 1913. Before World War I Vanni-Marcoux was predominantly a bass, singing even Hunding and Fafner. For nearly 40 years he was a familiar and much admired figure in Parisian musical life, mainly at the Opéra, but also at the Opéra-Comique, creating a number of roles in contemporary operas such as Gunsbourg’s Lysistrata, d’Olonne’s L’Arlequin, Février’s Monna Vanna and La Femme nue, and Honegger-Ibert’s L’Aiglon.


As Guido Colonna in Février’s “Monna Vanna”


Subsequently he was engaged by Henry Russell to the Boston Opera where he established as a star. His first performance was in Pelléas et Mélisande, now as Golaud. His dramatic conception of Méphistophélès in Faust was also much admired by the public. The four roles in Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Coppélius, Dr Miracle, Crespel, Dapertutto) belonged to his greatest histrionic achievements. Without doubt, Vanni-Marcoux owed much of his success in the United States to Mary Garden. Her popularisations of the works of the modern French composers soon provided him with all sort of dramatic opportunities. There was the rumour that he had divorced his second wife in order to marry Mary Garden. She declined, but she shared the stage with him in many performances of Thaïs, Tosca, Don Quichotte, Pelléas et Mélisande and Carmen. He followed her to Chicago in 1913 and was a regular guest there between 1926 and 1931. When Mary Garden finished her career, French opera could not survive without her, and thereafter there was no place for him. La Scala saw him as Boris (in French) under Arturo Toscanini and Sigismund Zaleski in 1922. He was generally regarded as the finest exponent of the role after Chaliapin. Paris invited him to sing the title role in the first French performance of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. From 1948 to 1951 Vanni-Marcoux was director of the Grand Théâtre at Bordeaux.


In the title role of Massenet’s “Don Quichotte”


“One of the most remarkable aspects of his representation [Don Quichotte] is the absence of sentimentality. Sentiment deep and abiding was in his very fibre, yet the strength of his manhood even at the moment of dissolution was without taint of the feebler quality. No weakness of the spirit dwelt in him. Miscalculations he might make as to the physical world about him, since he looked rather with the inner than the outer eye, but his mistakes he stood ready to pay for with the last farthing with no quibbling nor could such error disturb his sense of the fitness of things.”

(Chicago Post, 1929)



As Méphistophélès in Gounod’s “Faust”


In the title role of Massenet’s “Panurge”



Vanni-Marcoux (Arias and songs by Février, Massenet, Laparra, Thomas, Verdi, Mussorgsky, Debussy, Berlioz, Schumann, Fauré et Martini)


Debussy - Pelléas et Mélisande (Coppola 1927/Brothier, Panzéra, Tubiana)


Thomas - Hamlet (featuring French singers like Cambon, Deldi, Doria, Endrèze, Féraldy, Lovano, Norena, Peyron, Scharley and Tessandra)


L’Opéra-Comique Vol. 1 and 2


Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Record of Singing Vol. 2 and 3



Vanni-Marcoux as Iago - he had studied the role with Victor Maurel


As the Father in Charpentier’s “Louise”


“The most famous Scarpia on the French opera scene” (Giacomo Lauri-Volpi)


Vanni-Marcoux is generally regarded as a “singing actor” or “an actor who sang” (Scott). It is an instrument of rather a dry quality, but its color is characteristically French. His enunciation is a model of literal quality of the French language. His voice sounds very little like a bass, sounding high even when well down on the bass stave. It is because of this brightness, that the voice presents a much younger character than most basses, and it is remarkable to hear a King Philip,  performed with almost a tenoral timbre.

Another great record is the death scene of Boris. I will always return to Vanni-Marcoux’s rendition. He gives a truly touching portrait of the dying Boris, neither sentimental nor exaggerated, but with fine and almost tender expression.

Vanni-Marxoux’s recordings of Monna Vanna, Pelléas et Mélisande and Don Quichotte (La Mort de Don Quichotte!) show this highly interesting artist as his best.

 Death of Boris in French (Title role in Boris Godunov /Mussorgsky / 1927)


Mary Garden



Many thanks to Dirk Körschenhausen and Marcelo T. Galvão de Castro