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Canadian Singers in Europe

Canadian singers benefited greatly when they moved to the rich cultural centres of Europe. They could attend opera productions of the highest calibre, study with the finest teachers, and perform regularly with talented musicians. Between 1900 and 1950, a considerable number of talented Canadians travelled to Europe to study and sing in some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world.

Soprano Emma Albani (1847-1930) was one of the first Canadian singers to pursue a career in Europe, achieving unprecedented international success and acclaim. During her 40-year career as a singer, she toured extensively, developed friendships with famous composers and performers, and was greatly favoured by Queen Victoria. Although she lived in Canada for only a few years as a youth, Albani regarded her birthplace with fondness. In her memoirs, she wrote, "I have married an Englishman, and have made my home in England, but I still remain at heart a French-Canadian" (Albani, 1911). Named Marie-Louise-Emma-Cécile Lajeunesse, Albani received her earliest training from her mother and father in Chambly, Quebec. She and her family eventually moved to Albany, New York, because she was unable to secure financial support for a musical career from the French Canadian community. Through funds raised by the citizens of Albany, Albani was able to move to Paris. Opera and recital engagements brought her all over the world, including Holland, Norway, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Australia, Tasmania, South Africa and India. Throughout her life, Albani generously supported other young Canadian singers who were beginning their careers in Europe, including sopranos Sarah Fischer and Éva Gauthier.

Photograph of Marie-Louise Edvina

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Marie-Louise Edvina

Soprano Louise Edvina (1878-1948) also studied and performed in Europe to pursue a singing career. Born Marie Louise Lucienne Martin in Montréal, she received her earliest musical training in Vancouver. Edvina then moved to Paris, studied with the famous singer Jean de Reszké, and debuted at Covent Garden on July 15, 1908 as Marguerite in Faust. She remained with Covent Garden for three seasons, and enjoyed enormous success in London. Between 1913 and 1915, Edvina made appearances with the Boston Opera Company, the Chicago Opera Company, and the Metropolitan Opera. She was also a principal singer for the Montreal Opera Company (1910-13), one of the most ambitious opera companies in Canadian history. After her final performance in 1924 at Covent Garden, she lived in Cannes until the Second World War, then spent her final years in London.

Like Albani and Edvina, Canadian singers Pauline Donalda, Rodolphe Plamondon, Sarah Fischer, Forrest Lamont and many others also left Canada, either temporarily or permanently, and made Europe their home.

History of Opera Performance in Canada