Magazine article Opera Canada

Maureen Forrester: July 25, 1930-16, 2010

Magazine article Opera Canada

Maureen Forrester: July 25, 1930-16, 2010

Article excerpt

JULY 25, 1930-JUNE 16, 2010

I was buying a garden table in Honest Ed's. (For those who do not live in Toronto, Ed's is a colorful, downscale department store where upscale people do not shop--or at least do not admit to it.) As I stood in line for a cashier, farther down the row of check-out counters I saw the regal figure of the Chair of the Canada Council and one of the world's great singers, looking as beatific as always and utterly unconcerned by any impropriety of picking up a bargain at Ed's. Maureen Forrester was not one to worry about that kind of appearance. The same woman who was welcome on concert stages around the world could also be seen on a Saturday morning shopping at the farmers' stalls at Toronto's St. Lawrence Market.

Forrester on stage was something to see. She entered--sailed on might be a better description--looking as if she owned the place. But for all the aristocratic bearing, there was not a trace of condescension. The smile and the demeanor were embracing and welcoming, and she won over an audience before a gorgeous note was heard. As she wrote in the prologue to her autobiography, Out of Character, "The Voice is one thing and I'm another." In the concert hall we got both the Voice and Her, and perhaps she worked her magic, at least in part, by not confusing the two while giving us generously of both.

Maureen Forrester was born in Montreal July 25, 1930, in the depths of the Depression, the youngest of four children. Life was not easy in the Forrester family on the rue Fabre. Her father agreed to let her quit school at the age of 13 to work for an insurance company that, with a war on, was willing to overlook her age. It could have been a risky move and an impediment to her future development, but Forrester proved an observant student of the world around her. Her great talent was to be nurtured by experience and not by the conventional narratives of conservatory or university music schools.

When her brother Arnold returned from the war in 1945, he was struck by the warbling of his young sibling and suggested she take some lessons with a voice teacher he had somehow heard about, Sally Martin. Progress soon led to a series of church-soloist jobs, notably with Warner Norman, who opened to her the world of Bach, Handel and Mendelssohn, and then with George Little, who was not only in charge of music at a large and prosperous United church, but was also the esteemed director of the Montreal Bach Choir. She moved up another notch when she went to a new teacher, Frank Rowe, who was also the teacher of Andre Turp and Louis Quilico.

But the important change came when she decided to study with a new arrival in Montreal, Dutch baritone Bernard Diamant. He had had a modest success as a baritone, but he became one of the foremost voice teachers in Canada, first in Montreal and later in Toronto. He had the knack of hearing and knowing what a young singer needed, and the first of his important students was Maureen Forrester.

At her recital debut in Montreal in 1953, her pianist, a friend of Diamant, was John Newmark. The musical affinity between Forrester and Newmark was sealed from the beginning, and the two would give countless recitals together. Eventually, there were collaborations with virtually all the great conductors of the day. …

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