Metropolitan Opera | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Metropolitan Opera

Metropolitan Opera. This illustrious and venerable (founded 1883) New York company has influenced the development of opera in Canada through its tours, broadcasts, and talent-development programs.

Metropolitan Opera

Metropolitan Opera. This illustrious and venerable (founded 1883) New York company has influenced the development of opera in Canada through its tours, broadcasts, and talent-development programs.

After an appearance in Toronto (26 Jan 1892 at the Pavilion, in excerpts from Rossini's Semiramide) by Adelina Patti supported by Metropolitan Opera soloists and orchestra (about 20 instrumentalists) under Luigi Arditi, and after four concerts in Montreal (1896 at Windsor Hall) by the Metropolitan orchestra under Anton Seidl, the Metropolitan as a company gave its first season in Canada in 1899 performing La Traviata, Carmen, Faust, Romeo and Juliet, and The Barber of Seville at the Toronto Grand Opera House and Montreal's Her Majesty's Theatre. The cast included Marcella Sembrich, Giuseppe Campanari, Emma Calvé, Pol Plançon, and Édouard de Reszke. The Met returned to Toronto and Montreal in 1901 with Lohengrin, Romeo and Juliet, Faust, Manon, Carmen, and Tannhäuser. Singers included Sybil Sanderson, Emma Eames, and Marcel Journet.

Four operas were offered in Montreal in 1911: Aida with Louise Homer, Emmy Destinn, and Antonio Scotti under Arturo Toscanini; Madama Butterfly with Geraldine Farrar; Tannhäuser with Olive Fremstad, Alma Gluck, and Leo Slezak; and Faust with Jeanne Maubourg as Siebel.

In September 1941, the Montreal-based France-Film, leading French film distributor in Canada and owner of the St-Denis Theatre, joined forces with the Montreal Festivals to present at that theatre "Metropolitan Opera au Saint-Denis," seven performances using singers from the company and a number of Canadians for supporting roles, a chorus of 40, and 16 dancers all from the New York house, with Wilfrid Pelletier and Jean Morel as conductors, Désiré Defrère as stage director, and Fausto Cleva as chorus master. The Met technical staff and scenery were used but the orchestra was that of the Montreal Festivals. Leading Met singers included Bampton, Martinelli, Warren, and Jennie Tourel. These were Tourel's first performances in Montreal; she sang the title roles in Mignon and Carmen. Canadians who appeared with the troupe were Rose Comète-Morin, Paul-Émile Corbeil, Jeanne Desjardins, Dolorès Drolet, Marcelle Monette, and David Rochette.

A season in September 1942 offered 10 operas including Charpentier's Louise and Massenet's Thaïs, but was under France-Film's sole sponsorship, with Pelletier as artistic director. Met singers included Moore, Steber, Sayão, Jepson, Martini, Peerce, Tibbett, Thomas, and Pinza. Canadians were included again in 1943 in Boris Godunov: Desjardins (The Innkeeper), Anna Malenfant (Marina), and Gérard Gélinas (Lovitzky). In 1944 Pelléas et Mélisande was one of seven operas offered. In 1945 Desjardins appeared in Manon, Faust, and Lakmé. Jean-Marie Beaudet was a guest conductor in 1943 and 1944.

In 1945 performances of Lakmé, Manon, Carmen, Faust, La Traviata, and La Bohème were given in Toronto's Massey Hall and in Quebec City's Capitol Theatre as well as in Montreal under France-Film auspices. Although these performances used the Metropolitan's singers, chorus, and ballet, they were not officially Metropolitan Opera performances. In the same category was a production of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette that Pelletier conducted in Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Toronto, and Windsor in May 1943. Jeanette MacDonald (who never sang at the Met) and Armand Tokatyan sang the title roles, Pinza was Frère Laurent, and there were other Met singers in the cast along with three Canadians: Lionel Daunais (Mercutio), Jeanne Desjardins (Gertrude), and Gérard Gélinas (Gregorio). The orchestra, chorus, and ballet were borrowed from the New York house.

The Met as such did not perform again in Canada until 1952.

The Met's 1952 performances in Canada were given at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens (where a production of Carmen with Risë Stevens established an attendance record - 11,352 - for opera indoors) and at the Montreal Forum. Performances continued at the Gardens (annually until 1960) and at the Forum (1952, 1953, 1955, 1957, and 1958), and six operas were presented in Toronto at O'Keefe Centre in 1961. The Toronto visits (1952-61) were sponsored by the Rotary Club.

1960s - 80s
Prohibitive costs prevented appearances on tour by the full company in the years following. The Met nevertheless returned to Canada in 1984 for Toronto's International Festival with Peter Grimes (with Jon Vickers), Francesca da Rimini, Ernani, Die Walküre, The Abduction from the Seraglio, Rinaldo and Tosca. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Opera National Company, a youthful troupe under the artistic direction of Risë Stevens, performed in Montreal, in Toronto and in Vancouver in 1965-6 (Cinderella, Madama Butterfly, Carmen, and Carlisle Floyd's Susannah) and in 1966-7 (La Bohème, La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Rape of Lucretia). Canadians in the company included Clarice Carson, who made her debut with the main company in 1967; Huguette Tourangeau, who made her debut with the main company in 1973; and Peter van Ginkel. This initiative was abandoned, however, due to ever-increasing costs.


Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts originated in 1931, and were sponsored after 1940 by Texaco on a US network (in turn NBC, ABC, CBS, and a private syndication - the Texaco-Metropolitan Opera radio network). These broadcasts were heard in Canada for several years over the CRBC and thereafter on the CBC, giving Canadians (who otherwise would have heard little opera during those years) a regular experience of first-class opera performance. These performances have continued to be heard regularly on CBC Radio 2 well into the 2000s.

In addition to Met broadcasts heard on CBC Radio are those featured on Sirius Satellite Radio. Metropolitan Opera Radio operates 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. It debuted 25 Sep 2006 with Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Canadian listeners are able to hear this channel as well as weekly performances streamed via the Met's website.

Another highly successful means of disseminating opera outside the actual hall is the presentation of live performances ("simulcasts") in specially equipped movie theatres throughout the world, in the series titled Live in High Definition. The first such presentation was held in December 2006, with a performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute. By 2007 the Met was expanding its high-level simulcasts. In Canada, the Cineplex chain added 40 new screens for a total of 100. These presentations have proven enormously popular, with numerous theatres selling out regularly.

Met Auditions

To discover and encourage new talent, in 1935 the Met (under the initiative of Wilfrid Pelletier) began the radio program "Auditions of the Air" which continued annually (except for the seasons 1945-6 and 1946-7) under Pelletier's baton until 1958. By 1958 the Metropolitan Opera National Council Regional Auditions, begun in 1954, had taken over the function of the radio auditions. Pierrette Alarie won the "Auditions of the Air" in 1945, Denis Harbour in 1949, and Louis Quilico in 1955. The regional auditions, preceded by district competitions, were organized in 16 areas of the USA, and several accommodated Canadian participation.

Ernesto Vinci, Irene Jessner, and Frederick Newnham were among the judges for several years. Ramona Luengen has also adjudicated for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions on a number of occasions. Ida Halpern was an organizer of the western region auditions. Among Canadian finalists in the auditions have been Joan Maxwell (1957), Milla Andrew (1958), Norman Mittelmann (1959), Teresa Stratas (1959), Heather Thomson (1961), Lois McDonall (1964), Huguette Tourangeau (1964), Maria Pellegrini (1965), Judith Forst (1968), Gabrielle Lavigne (1970), Ingrid Suderman (1971), Peter Barcza (1972), Jill Pert (1973), Lynn Blaser (1973), Mary-Lou Fallis (1974), Michèle Boucher (1977), Ben Heppner (1988), Isabel Bayrakdarian (1997), David Dong Qyu Lee (1999), Mariateresa Magisano (2001), Philippe Castagner (2002), Joseph Kaiser and Michèle Losier (2005), Nikki Einfeld (2006), Joyce El-Khoury (2007), and Simone Osborne (2008).

Canadian Conductors and Others at the Met

Canada has contributed more than singers to the Metropolitan Opera. Wilfrid Pelletier began his association with the Met in 1917 as rehearsal pianist and coach. He conducted his first opera there (Deems Taylor's The King's Henchman) 14 Apr 1928 and was appointed conductor in 1929, a position he held until 1950. Edward Johnson was in turn a leading tenor (1922-35) and general manager (1935-50). Irene Pavloska was a member of the auditioning committee in the 1930s, and Ernesto Barbini was a member of the conducting staff 1946-52.

Vancouver native Derrick Inouye began a term as assistant conductor there in 1988, and Jacques Lacombe made his conducting debut in 2004 in Massenet's Werther. Toronto-born Michael Levine has designed sets and costumes on a number of occasions, including the sets for two operas from the Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD series: Eugene Onegin (2007) and Madama Butterfly (2009). Robert Lepage directed Berlioz's La damnation de Faust at the Met in 2008.

Special Events in the 1980s

On 4 Apr 1981 a major New York social event, "Ball at the Opera House," paid tribute to "Canadian contributions to classical music and opera." On 29 Jan 1984 Canada officially saluted the Metropolitan on its centenary with a gift consisting of a production of Handel's Rinaldo with an all-star cast conducted by Mario Bernardi and featuring Marilyn Horne, Benita Valente and Samuel Ramey.

Canadians at the Met

Canadians who have performed at the Met are listed below (with the years of their first performances there)
1891 Emma Albani

1901 Albert Quesnel

1915 Louise Edvina

1916 Kathleen Howard

1917 Florence Easton

1919 Jeanne Gordon

1922 Edmund Burke, Edward Johnson

1928 Wilfrid Pelletier

1929 Edward Ransome

1936 Nicholas Massue, Jeanne Pengelly, Joseph Royer

1940 Raoul Jobin, Jean Dickenson

1941 Mona Paulee

1942 Jacques Gérard

1945 Pierrette Alarie

1946 Mary Henderson

1949 Denis Harbour

1951 George London

1956 Emilia Cundari

1959 Teresa Stratas

1960 Jon Vickers

1961 Gladys Kriese-Caporale, Norman Mittelmann

1962 Morley Meredith

1963 Léopold Simoneau, Richard Verreau

1967 Colette Boky, Clarice Carson, Lilian Sukis

1969 Judith Forst

1972 Louis Quilico

1973 Phil Stark, Huguette Tourangeau

1975 Maureen Forrester

1976 Allan Monk, Cornelis Opthof

1978 Alan Crofoot, Ermanno Mauro

1979 Mariana Paunova

1983 Nicole Lorange

1984 Victor Braun, Joseph Rouleau

1987 Paul Frey, Gino Quilico

1991 Tracy Dahl, Ben Heppner

1993 Michael Schade

1995 Russell Braun

1998 Gerald Finley

1999 John Fanning

2000 John Relyea

2002 Isabel Bayrakdarian

2004 Adrianne Pieczonka

2007 Joseph Kaiser, Michèle Losier, Katherine Whyte

Foreign-born artists who have lived or taught in Canada and have appeared at the Met include Jeanne Maubourg (Met debut 1909), Edoardo Ferrari-Fontana (1914), Florence Easton (1917), Irene Jessner (1936), Gina Cigna (1937), Ruby Mercer (1937), Martial Singher (1943), Richard Manning (1944) and Margaret Kalil (1966).


Sandwell, Bernard K. The Musical Red Book of Montreal (Montreal 1907)

Metropolitan Opera Annals compiled by William H. Seltsam (New York 1947; supplement 1957; supplement 1968)

Pelletier, Wilfrid. Une Symphonie inachevée (Montreal 1972)

Mercer, Ruby. "Long live the Met," Opera Canada, vol 13, Summer 1972

Rubin, Stephen E. "Radio opera," Stereo Review, Jan 1973

Mercer, Ruby. "The Canadian Opera Company: a 150 year history," Opera Canada, vol 14, Fall 1973

"Metropolitan Opera in Toronto," Canadian Opera Company 1950-1977 (Toronto 1977)

Eaton, Quaintance. Opera Caravan: Adventures of the Metropolitan Opera on Tour 1883-1956 (New York 1978)

Feller, F. P. The Metropolitan Opera on Record (Westport, Conn. 1984)

Baillie, Joan Parkhill. Look at the Record: An Album of Toronto's Lyric Theatres 1825-1984 (Oakville 1985)

Poole, Jane L. ed. Mozart Metropolitan Opera (New York 1991)

Weinman, Jaime. "Opera: Coming to a theatre near you," Maclean's, 10 Sep 2007

La Rochelle, Réal. L'Opéra du samedi: Le Metropolitan à la radio du Québec (Quebec 2008)

"Music for the masses; opera companies," The Economist, 5 Jul 2008

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