Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

The Virtual Gramophone
Canadian Historical Sound Recordings

History

Canadian Singers in the United States

The United States was another common destination for Canadian opera singers. Cultural life in cities in the United States was more developed than in Canada, opening up many opportunities in both training and performing for opera singers. New York was particularly attractive to many singers due to its proximity to Ontario and Quebec and its sophisticated cultural scene.

One Canadian singer who spent much of her life in the United States was mezzo-soprano Éva Gauthier (1885-1958). The Ottawa native travelled to Europe at the age of 17 to study music, and after years of tours and performances in London, Italy, Japan, China, Singapore and Malaya, she settled in New York City in 1915. In New York, she presented a number of unconventional performances that often featured Javanese music and premieres of works by contemporary composers Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie and George Gershwin. After retiring from the stage in 1937, she remained in New York, where she became a renowned voice teacher, published articles on music, wrote for radio, and supported the New York music scene through fund-raising efforts.

Photograph of Edward Johnson in military uniform, circa 1915

Source
Edward Johnson, circa 1915

Tenor Edward Johnson (1878-1959) was born in Guelph, Ontario, but moved to New York early in his career to study and perform. He eventually became an American citizen. After marrying the daughter of Portuguese Viscount Jose d'Arnerio, he settled with his wife in Italy and studied with Vincenzo Lombardi. Under his italianized name Edoardo di Giovanni, he debuted in the title role of Giordano's Andrea Chenier in Padua. Johnson sang with La Scala in Milan from 1913 to 1919. After his wife's death in 1919, Johnson returned to the United States and joined the Chicago Opera, and then in 1922 the Metropolitan Opera. He sang at the Met for 13 years with great success, and in 1935 was appointed its general manager. He held this position until his retirement in 1950.

Operetta/Broadway singer Christie MacDonald (1875-1962) also enjoyed a successful career in the United States. While many Canadian singers came from Quebec or Ontario, MacDonald was an exception. Born in Pictou, Nova Scotia, she began studying music in Nova Scotia, but soon moved with her family to Boston where there were more opportunities for her to study and perform. She appeared in a number of popular operettas including Princess Chic, Miss Hook of Holland, The Toreador, Prince of Bohemia, The Sho-Gun and Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. Her first big hit in New York took place in 1910 when she appeared as Princess of Bozena in the operetta The Spring Maid, which ran for 192 performances at the Liberty Theatre. MacDonald made her home in the United States, and although she never returned to her hometown in Nova Scotia, a group of artists from Pictou presented the musical Christie, a tribute to Christie MacDonald's life, 30 years after her death.

Other Canadians also enjoyed careers in the United States; among them are Jeanne Gordon (1884-1952) and Emma Albani. Jeanne Gordon was principal contralto at the Metropolitan Opera for nine consecutive seasons. Emma Albani spent most of her life in England, but lived in the United States from 1852 to 1856 and from 1864 to 1868, as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

History of Opera Performance in Canada