St-Denis Theatre/Théâtre St-Denis | The Canadian Encyclopedia


St-Denis Theatre/Théâtre St-Denis

St-Denis Theatre/Théâtre St-Denis. Built in 1915 on St-Denis St north of Ste-Catherine St in Montreal and inaugurated 4 Mar 1916.

St-Denis Theatre/Théâtre St-Denis

St-Denis Theatre/Théâtre St-Denis. Built in 1915 on St-Denis St north of Ste-Catherine St in Montreal and inaugurated 4 Mar 1916.

This 2380-seat theatre was intended for use as a French-language cinema and a stage for popular plays and operettas. In 1920 it began to present such famous performers as the tenor Hipolito Lazaro and the violinist Jascha Heifetz, and in 1921 it offered appearances by the orchestra of Milan's La Scala under Toscanini, the Boston SO under Monteux with Vincent d'Indy as soloist, and the troupe of Antonio Scotti. In 1922 the San Carlo Opera Company presented five works including Wagner's Lohengrin, and for a month the Russian Grand Opera presented a repertoire that included Boris Godunov and Rubinstein's The Demon. Besides such celebrities as Emma Calvé, Alfred Cortot, Mischa Elman, Tita Ruffo, Jacques Thibaud, and Théodore Botrel, the bard from Brittany, the theatre welcomed in 1923 the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and was the locale for the premiere of Couture's Jean Le Précurseur. Casals appeared there in 1925, and a grand benefit concert for Emma Albani was staged the same year. Maurice Ravel performed his own works there in 1928.

After several changes of ownership, the St-Denis Theatre was purchased in 1925 by Joseph Cardinal, who leased it in 1933 to the France-Film Company directed by Alexandre De Sève. At that time the hall was devoted almost entirely to the French cinema. World War II interrupted film-making in France, and France-Film joined with the Montreal Festivals to present a brief opera season in 1941 with artists from the Metropolitan. The company continued this annual presentation alone until 1945. In 1943 France-Film worked with Canadian Concerts & Artists to organize the St-Denis Vendredis artistiques. To the operas and ballets were added recitals and symphony concerts with the Montreal Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Fitelberg, Horenstein, Kostelanetz, Kurtz, Maazel, Monteux, Pelletier, and Stravinsky, with the soloists Dorfman, Elman, Francescatti, Heifetz, Malcuzynski, and Stern) and guest orchestras including those of Detroit, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.

Music-hall entertainment was another feature of the fare at the St-Denis, and among those featured were Gilbert Bécaud, Maurice Chevalier, Fernandel, Luis Mariano, Yves Montand, and Tino Rossi. In 1960 the first artists from the Soviet Union to come to Canada performed there, as did other Soviet artists in the following years (Ashkenazy, Gilels, Kogan, the Oistrakhs father and son, Richter, and Vishnevskaya), and the state orchestras of Moscow and Leningrad. The Montreal Festivals used the theatre 1955-7 for the summer seasons, presenting The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni among other works.

The St-Denis once more became a theatre devoted to French films after the opening of the PDA in 1963. In 1972 a small adjoining hall was built. The two halls are now known as St-Denis 1 and 2. In 1977-8 the St-Denis 1 was modernized (reducing the seating capacity to 2300), and equipped to stage big variety shows and recitals. The Kébec-Spec agency has presented there, among others, CANO, Chick Corea, Claude Dubois, Diane Dufresne, Raoul Duguay, Jean Lapointe, Paul Piché, and Jean-Luc Ponty. In the 1980s the St-Denis Theatre was host to the major jazz concerts presented as part of the FIJM. Other renovations 1989-90 once more transformed the appearance of the theatre. The St-Denis l, equipped with, among other things, a new sound and lighting system, in 1991 had 2343 seats, whereas the St-Denis 2, with added balcony, had a seating capacity of 980.

In 2012 the St-Denis 1 had a seating capacity of 2218 (1328 on the ground floor and 890 in the balcony); the St Denis 2 totalled 933 seats (655 on the main floor and 268 in the balcony). Among artists presented in 2012 have been musicians Ginette Reno, and Véronique Sanson, and personalities Peter MacLeod and Anthony Kavanagh. Musicals presented on stage at the St-Denis Theatre directed by René Simard have included Night Fever, Motown generation and Chantons sous la pluie an adaptation of the film Singing in the Rain.

Further Reading

Challenge yourself - take the CC Quiz!

The Canadian Encyclopedia is a project of Historica Canada, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization devoted to teaching Canadians more about our shared country.  We also produce the Heritage Minutes and other programs. If you believe all Canadians should have access to free, impartial, fact-checked, regularly updated information about Canada’s history and culture in both official languages, please consider donating today. All donations above $3 will receive a tax receipt.

Book a Speaker