Pauline Donalda | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Pauline Donalda

Pauline Donalda (b Lightstone). Soprano, teacher, administrator, b Montreal 5 Mar 1882, d there 22 Oct 1970; honorary D MUS (McGill) 1954. Her parents were Jews from Russia and Poland who changed their name from Lichtenstein to Lightstone.

Donalda, Pauline

Pauline Donalda (b Lightstone). Soprano, teacher, administrator, b Montreal 5 Mar 1882, d there 22 Oct 1970; honorary D MUS (McGill) 1954. Her parents were Jews from Russia and Poland who changed their name from Lichtenstein to Lightstone. She attracted attention as a child because of the quality of her voice, and studied on scholarship with Clara Lichtenstein (no relation) at the Royal Victoria College. In 1902, before allowing her to go to Europe, her father insisted on having New York experts confirm her talent. Walter Damrosch refused to hear her, but the French tenor Thomas Salignac encouraged her warmly. That year she went to Paris on a grant from Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, and studied voice with Edmond Duvernoy, stage techniques with Paul Lhérie, speech with Pierre Berton, and Italian with Babette Rosen. In honour of her benefactor she adopted the stage-name Donalda. She auditioned for the title role in Massenet's Chérubin but lost it to Mary Garden. With Massenet's help, however, she made her debut 30 Dec 1904 in Nice, singing Manon. She was equally successful in the roles of Marguerite, Micaëla, and Mimi. Leoncavallo was in Nice for the French premiere of his Chatterton, in which Donalda sang Jenny, and subsequently, under his direction, she sang Nedda in I Pagliacci.

Performing Career 1905-1922

She made her London debut 24 May 1905 at Covent Garden, singing Micaëla with Emmy Destinn and Charles Dalmorès, under the direction of André Messager. On 28 Jun 1905 she sang Ah-Joe in the premiere of Franco Leoni's L'Oracolo, with Dalmorès, Scotti, and Vanni-Marcoux as partners. Considered a rival of Melba, she often replaced her and thus sang Mimi with Enrico Caruso. Her success continued in the roles of Juliette and Zerlina. She sang Marguerite in the 1905 production of Faust at Covent Garden, and the French baritone Paul Seveilhac, who was to become her husband in May of the following year, was one of the cast. In the autumn of 1905 she sang Marguerite and Mimi at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, but afterwards, on medical advice, she went to the south of France for six months' rest. She returned to Brussels in March to sing Manon; later she also sang Elsa (Lohengrin) and Eva (Die Meistersinger), demonstrating her competence in these Wagnerian roles.

After the 1906 season in London, she sang again in Brussels but broke her contract and paid a fine in order to accept an offer from Oscar Hammerstein's Manhattan Opera Company. Before going to New York she made her professional debut in Canada, 16 Nov 1906, singing with her husband at a recital in the Montreal Arena. She made her New York debut 7 Dec 1906 in Faust and sang in Carmen, Martha, Don Giovanni, La Traviata, Lohengrin, and I Pagliacci in the course of a historic season that brought together Melba, Calvé, Bonci, Ancona, Sammarco, Renaud, and Gilibert. Exhausted by the heavy season, and disappointed when offers she had expected from the Metropolitan and the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires did not materialize, she left Hammerstein. She sang at Covent Garden during the summer of 1907 and made her debut at the Opéra-Comique in Paris 19 October singing in Manon with Salignac, Périer, and Fugère, and in La Bohème and La Traviata. She then divided her time between London and Paris and made concert tours that took her through Central Europe, and to Russia in 1910. She became a renowned performer of oratorio and gave concerts with the great performers of the day, including Elman, Kreisler, Paderewski, Zimbalist, Kubelik, and Casals, and with many distinguished conductors, including Hans Richter and Sir Landon Ronald.

After a short visit to Canada in the spring of 1910, she opened the Covent Garden season, replacing Luisa Tetrazzini on short notice in La Traviata with McCormack and Sammarco. She returned for the 1912 season, singing the Page in Les Huguenots and Nedda in I Pagliacci, with her husband - now a tenor - as Canio. After being coached by Marie Roze, the famous Carmen, she recreated that role in November 1913 in an English-language version. She had a huge success with it and sang it in French in Nice in February 1914, also performing in La Bohème.

She was in Canada that July prior to an intended departure for a concert tour of Australia. When World War I broke out and the tour was cancelled she decided to stay in Canada, pursuing her career in concerts and even in the music-hall, often giving benefit appearances for the war effort or charity. In 1915 she organized the Donalda Sunday Afternoon Concerts in Montreal, and she also sang in New York and Boston. In 1916 she sang the role of Nedda in I Pagliacci at the Princess Theatre (Montreal). She returned to Paris in 1917. Her first marriage having ended in divorce, she married the Danish tenor Mischa Léon (b Haurowitz) in June 1918 in Paris. She sang with him that year in Balfe's Le Talisman in Nice. She sang again in Covent Garden when it reopened in 1919, but this was her last season in this theatre. On 24 July she sang Concepción in the English premiere of Ravel's L'Heure espagnole, a performance given 17 curtain calls.

Teacher and Administrator

She began to devote herself to teaching, opening a studio in Paris in 1922. A member of the Association professionnelle des maîtres du chant francais, she taught hundreds of pupils before returning to Montreal in 1937 and opening a studio there. She founded the Opera Guild in 1942 and directed it until 1969, presenting 29 operas, including several Canadian premieres, in 28 seasons. She continued to teach, and some of her pupils had international careers, notably Clarice Carson, Fernande Chiocchio, Mary Henderson, Eileen Law, Germain Lefebvre, and Robert Savoie. In 1967 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.


During her relatively short performing career, Donalda was recognized for the purity of her exceptional voice and for her musicality, fine diction, and incomparable stage presence. Her name should be remembered also, however, for the unfailing energy with which she promoted opera in Montreal and encouraged talented young Canadian singers. Some of her personal papers were deposited at the National Library of Canada, and her music library and some 200 letters were left to McGill University.


Her nine recordings include one (1914) of an unpublished aria from Manon and one (ca 1916) of the card scene from Carmen, both made for Emerson in the USA. Seven made in London in 1907 and 1908 for G & T were reissued in 1967 (Rococo 5255) with a short introduction by the singer. They are 'Vedrai carino' from Don Giovanni, 'Balatella' from I Pagliacci, 'Mi chiamano Mimi' from La Bohème, 'Air des bijoux' from Faust, Tosti's 'Love's Way,' Wynne's 'Who Can Tell Me?' and Hahn's 'Si mes vers avaient des ailes.' Other reissued recordings can be heard on Great Voices of Canada/Les Grandes voix du Canada, vol 1 (Analekta AN@ 7801, 7803, 1993) and Opera Souvenirs (XXI-21 Records, 2002).


'A Jewish singer's career,' Canadian Jewish Year Book, vol 2, 1940-1

Further Reading