Gaston JeanJean, aka Rye-Jean, was born in Mauguio, a village close to Montpellier, on September 6th, 1900. He was the son of a local vine grower. While working on his parents' farm, Rye-Jean studied singing with other local amateurs. Following the recommendations of a fellow amateur, Rye-Jean enters the Montpellier's conservatory where he was the student of Madame Mellot-Joubert, spouse of the composer Maurice le Boucher who was a Fauré's student and received the Prix de Rome in 1907. Madame Mellot-Joubert taught him the love for the music of Duparc, Bach, Lulli, Debussy, Fauré. Rye-Jean studied with her from 1927 to 1934.
During Spring 1934, Reynaldo Hahn, while passing through Montpellier, visited the paysant-singers of Mauguio. Hahn was very surprised by the vocal and musical qualities of those young singers who had in their midst Gaston Rye-Jean. In his book 'L'oreille au guet' published in 1937, Reynaldo Hahn related his visit in the chapter titled 'Un biologiste'. On page 260, Hahn wrote the following on Rye-Jean:
All I know is that Mr. Claret has offered us the proof for the vocal technique, he recommends, in the person of Mr. Jeanjean whom he has taught. This heroic tenor, gifted with a beautiful voice and whose health has not encountered the problems that Mr. Claret had, sang with superb power and great sensibility arias from Guillaume Tell, Samson and L'Africaine. He will sing this winter those works in an important provincial theatre, whose audience will not guess upon listening to him that all those Bs flats and High Cs, so large and brilliant, are all sung with head resonance.
Under the name Gaston Airil, Rye-Jean made his debut in Lyon at the Grand Théâtre in October 1934 as Eléazar and appeared also as Arnold.
Rye-Jean received a contract for the Paris Opéra beginning July 1st 1935. He stayed there until September 1937. Rye-Jean was rather bored during his stay. Besides rehearsing with Madame Louis Fourestier all the tenor roles sung at the Opéra ( Lohengrin, Samson et Dalila, Fidelio, Aida, Rigoletto, Faust, La Damnation de Faust, Hérodiade, Le Trouvère) and perfecting his acting with Madame Chéreau, he was only used to sing minor parts on stage.
Rye-Jean made his debut at the Opéra on the 14th of October 1935 as the first philistine in Samson et Dalila. This was followed on October 25th as un chevalier in Parsifal (with de Trévi, Singher, Huberty, Narçon, Lubin and Ruhlmann). He participated at the revival of Marouf (as l'anier on July 2nd 1937), der Rosenkavalier (Der Sänger) and the premiere of La Samaritaine (Composer Max d'Olonne) on June 23rd 1937 as Le Schoer.
During September 21, 22 and 26 1937, Rye-Jean received the first price in the International Singing Competition, organized by the Institut Vocal of Paris under the patronage of Euphomia, a vocal Research Institute. The jury included among his members, Muratore and Heldy. He sang "Hilda! vierge au pâle sourire' and "Asile héréditaire'.
During 1937 and 1938, Rye-Jean sang in Montpellier (10 October 1937 Arnold in Guillaume Tell with Tindel (Guillaume), Enia (Walter), Spinadel (Mathilde) and Bascou conducting; 14 October Jean in Hérodiade with Spinadel (Salomé), Tindel (Hérode), Mistral (Hérodiade), Enia (Phanuel) and Boucoiran conducting), Gand (10 November 1937, Radames in Aida with Yarborough , Prondy, Leroy, Lahous, Elsy and de Préter), Dijon ( 10 February 1938, Eléazar in La Juive), Angers (3 March 1938, Eléazar in La Juive).
Rye-Jean made his debut on May 17th 1938 under the name Georges Rye at the French Radio as Kratos in Pométhée with Etcheverry (Héphaïtos), Maurice Prigent (Andros), Maria Branèze (Bia), Eliette Schenneberg (Gaïa), Turba-Rabier (Aenoë), Georges Cusin (Hermès), Germaine Rouer (Pandore), Jean Hervé (Prométhée) and Inghelbrecht conducting the Orchestre National. The concert was broadcast live from the Salle du Conservatoire. On June 13th, Rye-Jean took part in a concert given Salle Gaveau singing Vladimir in Prince Igor with Germaine Cernay, Etcheverry and Inghelbrecht conducting. He took part in many radio concerts: (June 25th at the Studio des PTT, and August 4th) singing music by d'Indy, Wekerlin, Gounod, Berlioz, Fauré, Duparc and Ravel at Radio-Paris; (July 18th at Paris-Mondial) singing Mélodies and provencal folklore); (August 2 at Salle Camé-Radio) singing the role of the centurion in Ponce-Pilate; (August 11th, at the Studio des PTT) singing Mélodies.
At the end of August 1938, Rye-Jean's mother died. He went back to Manguio and stayed there working the farm because of the war.
After the war in 1945, Rye-Jean auditioned for the Radio Diffusion Française and is hired by the conductor Jules Gressier. He stayed there until June 1949. There Rye-Jean sang La Favorite, Guillaume Tell, Le Trouvère, Esclarmonde, La Juive, La Muette de Portici, Samson et Dalila, Lucia di Lammermoor, Otello (Rossini), Le Prophète, L'Africaine, Les Huguenots, La Damnation de Faust, Hérodiade, La Bohème, Tosca, and Le Cid. He participated regularly to opera broadcast every Friday evening and matinees on Thursday from 12.30 to 2 pm. Radio concerts he participated in included:
October 23rd 1947, arias
May 20th 1948 at the Studio Paul Lelong, the best of Massenet
June 4th 1948 at the Studio Armand Moisant, La Favorite
July 14th 1948 at the Studio Armand Moisant, La Favorite
September 3rd 1948 at the Studio Arnand Moisant, arias
December 25th 1948, arias
January 1st 1949, arias
April 12, 1949, arias
April 28, 1949, Rossini program
June 30th 1949, Rossini program
August 12 1949, Guillaume Tell with Charles Cambon (Guillaume), André Philippe(Walther), Lucien Lovano (Mechtal), Adrien Legros (Gessler), Pierre Gianotti (Ruodi), Louis Rialland (Rodolphe), Maria-Giovana Vitale (Mathilde) and Jules Gressier.
The broadcast of Guillaume Tell was recorded. Unfortunately the masters have been lost. At the radio, Rye-Jean created Léonidas by Eugène Bozza with Tony Aubin conducting.
On October 10th 1947 in Bordeaux, Rye-Jean reappeared on stage for the first time since 1938 singing in Guillaume Tell with Nougaro (Guillaume), Marzo (Walter), Gaillan (Ruodi), Taverne (Gessler), Boni (Mathilde) and Lebot conducting. On February 27th 1949, he sang Arnold at the Théâtre Royal in Namur with Pierre Nougaro (Guillaume), Montellier (Ruodi), Bréville (Walter), van Drix (Gessler), Nelly Genens (Mathilde) and Gailhard conducting.
Rye-Jean had to stop singing in 1949 because of heart problem. He retired in Nogent-sur-Marne and taught singing until his death in 1961 (March 22) from a heart attack.