Donalda, Pauline

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Donalda, Pauline

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  • Lightstone, Pauline

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Pauline Donalda, an operatic soprano, teacher and administrator, was born Pauline Lightstone in Montreal on March 5, 1882. Her parents, Jews from Russia and Poland, changed their name from Lichtenstein to Lightstone upon their arrival in Canada.

As a child Pauline studied singing on scholarship with Clara Lichtenstein (no relation) at the Royal Victoria College, McGill University. In 1902, after being encouraged by the French tenor Thomas Salignac, Pauline moved to Paris on a grant from Donald A. Smith, Lord Strathcona, where she studied voice with Edmond Duvernoy, stage techniques with Paul Lhérie, speech with Pierre Berton, and Italian with Babette Rosen. In honour of her benefactor, Donald A. Smith, Pauline adopted the stage name Donalda.

On December 30, 1904, Donalda made her debut on stage in Nice, France, singing the role of the title character in Massenet’s Manon. Donalda performed several roles while in Nice, including Jenny (in Chetterton) and Nedda (in I Pagliacci). In 1905 Donalda made her London debut on May 24 at Convent Garden, singing Micaëla in Carmen with Emmy Destinn and Charles Dalmorès, under the direction of André Messager. On June 28, 1905 she sang the part of Ah-Joe in the premiere of Franco Leoni's L'Oracolo. In the 1905 production of Faust at Convent Garden Donalda sang the role of Marguerite, with her future husband, whom she would marry the next year, the French baritone Paul Seveilhac. While in London, she also performed the roles of Juliette, Mimi and Zerlina. In the autumn of 1905 she sang Marguerite and Mimi at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, after which, on medical advice, she spent six months resting in the south of France. She returned to Brussels in the spring of 1906 and sang the roles of Manon, Elsa (Lohengrin) and Eva (Die Meistersinger).

After performing in the 1906 season in London, she sang again in Brussels but broke her contract 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 on November 16, 1906, singing with her husband at a recital in the Montreal Arena. She made her New York debut on December 7, 1906 in Faust. That season she sang in numerous shows, including Carmen, Don Giovanni, La Traviata, Lohengrin, and I Pagliacci, along with some of the most prominent singers of the time, such as Nellie Melba, Emma Calvé, Alessandro Bonci, Mario Ancona, Mario Sammarco, and Charles Gilbert. Donalda left Hammerstein after the season, and sang at Convent Garden in the summer of 1907. She made her debut at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on October 19, 1907 singing in Manon with Salignac, Jean Périer, and Lucien Fugère. She then divided her time between London and Paris, making concert tours throughout Central Europe, and to Russia in 1910. During this time Donalda became a renowned performer of oratorio and gave concerts with some of the great performers of the day, including Mischa Elman, I.J. Paderewski, Efrem Zimbalist, Jan Kubelík, and Pablo Casals, and with many distinguished conductors, including Hans Richter and Sir Landon Ronald.

In 1910 she opened the Convent Garden season, replacing Luisa Tetrazzini on short notice in La Traviata with John 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) playing Canio. After being coached by Marie Roze, the famous “Carmen,” Donalda recreated the role in an English version in November 1913. The show was a huge success, and Donalda sang it in French in Nice in February 1914, where she also performed in La Bohème.

When World War I broke out Donalda was in Canada prior to an intended departure for a concert tour of Australia. The tour subsequently cancelled, Donalda decided to stay in Canada, pursuing a career in concerts and the music-hall, and giving benefit appearances for charity and the war effort. In 1915 she created and organized the “Donalda Sunday Afternoon Concerts” in Montreal. That year she also sang in New York and Boston. In 1916 Donalda sang the role of Nedda in I Pagliacci at the Princess Theatre in Montreal. She returned to Paris in 1917. In June 1918 she married the Danish tenor Mischa Léon (born Haurowitz) in Paris, her first marriage having ended in divorce. That year she sang with Léon in Balfe’s Le Talisman in Nice. She sang in her final season at the Convent Garden when it reopened in 1919. On July24, 1919 she sang Concepción in the English premiere of Ravel's L'Heure espagnole, a performance with seventeen curtain calls.

In 1922 Donalda opened a studio in Paris and began to devote herself to teaching. A member of the L'Union Professionnelle des Maîtres du Chant Français, she taught hundreds of pupils before returning to Montreal in 1937, where she opened a studio and continued to teach. A number of Donalda’s pupils would go on to have international careers, notably Clarice Carson, Fernande Chiocchio, Mary Henderson, Eileen Law, Germain Lefebvre and Robert Savoie. She founded the Opera Guild of Montreal in 1941, serving as president and artistic director until 1969, presenting 29 operas over the course of 28 seasons. In 1954 she was granted an honorary Doctorate of Music from McGill University, and in 1967 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Pauline Donalda died on October 22, 1970.


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