Magazine article Opera Canada

Irene Jessner 1901 - 1994

Magazine article Opera Canada

Irene Jessner 1901 - 1994

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH THE VIENNESE-BORN SOPRANO IRENE Jessner spent the major portion of her singing career at the Metropolitan Opera, she is best remembered today as one of Canada's most successful--and beloved--voice teachers. A fixture at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music for 34 years, from 1952 until her retirement in the spring of 1986 at the age of 84, she produced an astonishing array of Canadian singers--mostly sopranos--each of whom went on to notable careers. They included, among others, Stephanie Bogle, Mark DuBois, Frances Ginzer, Bruce Kelly, Linda Maguire, Roxolana Roslak, Teresa Stratas, Lilian Sukis, Riki Turofsky and Jeannette Zarou.

Born on August 28, 1901 in Vienna, Jessner made her professional operatic debut in 1930, in Teplice, as Elsa in Wagner's Lohengrin. A few years later, she came to the attention of Edward Johnson the Canadian tenor who had become the Met's general manager in 1935. He immediately invited her to sing at the Met, recognizing in her "a good utilite and an excellent cover for the jugendlich roles." On December 21, 1936, Jessner made her Met debut in the small but demanding role of Ortlinde in Wagner's Die Walkure.

Jessner was to sing the role of Ortlinde 74 times at the Met, but it was "the only small part I sang," she said years later. "Apart from that, I sang 20 leading roles." Although she sang Gluck, Mozart, Verdi and Puccini at the Met, the majority of her roles were taken from the operas of Richard Strauss and, most notably, Wagner. Jessner, however, regarded the Marschallin in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier as her greatest role. During the 1940s, Jessner was to be the Met's reigning Marschallin, singing the role 39 times.

Although Jessner sang opposite many of the great singers of her age, including tenors Lauritz Melchior, Beniamino Gigli and Giovanni Martinelli, Met historians have not been particularly generous to her. Perhaps the truth lies in one commentator's evaluation that Jessner "was a musicianly, hard-working artist who might have had a more prominent career had she been more magnetic on stage." But whatever her failings as a performer, the fact remains that she always kept very good company.

Fortunately there are a few of Jessner's live performances that have found their way onto vinyl, tape and/or compact disc, including Met radio broadcasts, a 1949 concert performance of Strauss's Elektra with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Mitropoulos and a 1955 CBC Symphony broadcast of Wagner arias conducted by Boyd Neel. But apart from a small number of early 78's, very few studio recordings were made. …

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