As a baritone, composer and lyricist and, later, stage director, Lionel Daunais had an undeniable influence on the musical society of his time. For more than half a century, he was one of the chief artisans of the lyric scene and, as such, has helped many Quebec talents emerge.
After studying voice, performance, harmony and composition for many years, Lionel Daunais, in 1923, won first prize of the Montreal Musical Festival, organized by the Metropolitan Choral Society. Daunais made his opera debut in January 1926 in Mireille and, in March, gave his first recital at the RitzCarlton Hotel. The same year, Daunais received the Prix d’Europe to further his studies in Paris. In 1929, he began as first baritone of the Opera of Algiers. When he returned to Quebec in 1930, Daunais joined the Troubadours de Bytown quartet, took part in the 3rd Canadian Folk Song and Handicraft Festival in Quebec City and, a few months later, joined the Société canadienne d’opérette, where he sang numerous parts until 1935.
In 1932, with Anna Malenfant and Ludovic Huot, Daunais created the Trio lyrique, with which he performed until the early 1960s and whose repertory largely consisted in pop songs of his writing. Along with Madame Bolduc, Daunais was one of the first songwriters to find his inspiration in the Quebec reality. Halfway between folklore and lighthearted songs, his art, with its irresistible humour, has helped change our repertoire. “I wanted to make Canadian Songs, not French songs,” he once said.
However, lovers of the lyrical arts mostly remember Daunais as the cofounder, with Charles Goulet in 1936, of Variétés lyriques, a company which during 19 consecutive seasons at the Monument National theatre, staged 102 operettas, 15 operas and one review for a total of 1,084 performances. Besides his functions as an administrator, Daunais sang in some 10 operas and more than 60 operettas while also directing many productions. The contribution of Variétés lyriques to the Montreal cultural life was considerable as, from the outset, the company used the best singers, actors, instrumentalists and conductors available in Quebec. It must also be noted that the company never applied for any private or public financial assistance, a remarkable feat at any period.
Daunais was interested in all areas of creativity. Besides writing words and music for some 100 melodies for voice and piano, he was equally at home writing children’s songs (about 30) or composing religious or secular choral works (18 works). He also wrote five melodies on poems by Éloi de Grandmont and harmonized approximately 40 folk songs. Many of his compositions found favour with the general public in Canada and abroad and some received prestigious awards, as did Chanson du maître cordonnier, for which Daunais received the grand prize of the 1948 MarlyPolydor Competition in Montreal. Daunais sang his compositions on radio as part of programs such as Chansons populaires (SRC, 1950), Chansonniers canadiens (CKVL, 19511956) and Les benjamins de la chanson (CKAC, 1954).
A visionary, Lionel Daunais did not hesitate to use the media to promote the vocal arts. He directed two operetta series on RadioCanada Television in 1956 and 1957. Thanks to a Canada Council grant in 1959, he was able to complete a children’s songbook and to study stage direction in Italy and Germany. With the Trio lyrique, he took part in a series of 250 radio programs (RadioCanada, 19611962) and, in 1963, directed La mascotte, an operetta that enjoyed 31 performances at the Théâtre de Verdure in Montreal’s Lafontaine Park. Daunais was later appointed Artistic Director for the shows produced at Place des Arts by the radio station CJMS (Montreal). From September to October 1971, Daunais performed 140 of his compositions as part of series of 13 recitals broadcast by the RadioCanada network. At the same time, RadioCanada devoted a series of programs to his vocal compositions.
In 1972, Lionel Daunais received the Canadian Music Council Medal from his peers and was invited to sit on the board of Opéra du Québec. In 1977, the Montreal Saint Jean Baptiste Society presented him with the Bene merenti de patria Silver Medal and he also received the Calixa Lavallée Award. He became an Officer of the Order of Canada the year after and posthumously received the Denise Pelletier Award in 1982. Lionel Daunais’ archives were deposited at the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec.