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In This Issue
December - January 2003
Vol. 8, No.4

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*Yo-Yo Ma - An Invitation to Explore
*Bach's Christmas Oratorio: an Operatic Expression of Faith
*Changing of the Guard at the Concertgebouw
*Edith Della Pergola - A Beautiful Life
*Section: Jazz
A Canadian in New York
*Audio - When It's Time to Buy that New Stereo System
*Suggestions cadeaux / Gift Ideas
*À Venir / Previews
*Petites annonces / Classified Ads
*Bottin de professeurs / Teachers' Guide



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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 8, No. 4

Edith Della Pergola - A Beautiful Life

by Wah Keung Chan / December 1, 2002

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The husband-wife team of Edith and Luciano Della Pergola were the founding directors of the McGill Opera Studio in Montreal from 1956 to 1989. Before coming to Canada, Edith had a successful career as a dramatic soprano in the Italian repertoire in the Vienna Staatsoper while Luciano sang at La Scala. On December 8, during l'Opéra de Montréal's 7th annual Le Gala, Edith Della Pergola will be inducted into the Canadian Pantheon of Opera for her achievements as an operatic educator. La Scena Musicale caught up with her.

LSM: Why are you so passionate about music and opera?

EDP: I think an artist is born. I had piano lessons when I was young. My mother and I lived in the same house as an opera conductor, and many singers came to him for coaching. After they left, I would imitate them. The conductor fell in love with my voice and insisted that I should go to Vienna after graduating from high school. I was 12 then, and I began to sing with an orchestra. After graduation, my parents moved to Bucharest and I got into the academy of music right away.

LSM: Tell us about your late husband.

EDP: My husband was a wonderful artist, singer and teacher. I did Andrea Chenier at age 17, and he criticized my interpretation. That night I cried, but I knew that he was right so I rehearsed before a mirror. We sang together sometimes, but not often, because it made both of us nervous for each other.

LSM: Tell me how the McGill Opera Studio started?

EDP: My husband and I were never together. We had one daughter. After the war, I worked in Vienna and he was singing at La Scala. When McGill invited us to start an opera department, we thought about it for two years and then accepted because we wanted the family to be together.

After hearing "Bravo Edith" from audiences, it was difficult to forget the stage. Following a CBC TV telecast of the last act of Il Trovatore with Vickers and Quilico, an impresario offered to take me to the Metropolitan Opera. My husband told me to go, but I wanted to be with my family.

We have never regretted the decision to come to McGill, but it was challenging at the beginning. First, there were not enough singers for opera because they were being prepared for lieder and recitals, and they did not have the vocal extension needed for opera. We staged the first opera, La Serva Padrona, with just two singers. Every year we present at least one complete opera and a program of scenes from opera. We then performed these in high schools (about 10 times a year). It was very rewarding.

LSM: What do you think of the current state of singing?

EDP: It is fantastic. Everywhere, we have very good singers. In Canada, there is incredible evolution in Windsor, Edmonton, Vancouver, and other cities. When we came, there was hardly anything. Maybe there are too many sopranos now. Tenors are always difficult to find.

The only complaint I have is the size of the opera houses. We were trained in the smaller theatres and then went to the bigger theatres. They are not building 1200-seat theatres, as we had in Europe, anymore. Rossini didn't write for 3000 seats. In Europe there are more opera houses and opportunities.

LSM: What are you most proud of?

EDP: We developed a love for opera at McGill, and the hall was always full. There are now opera programs at the University of Montreal and UQAM. People have to be exposed when they are younger.

As for career, I started with Bohème and I sang it in three languages. I sang the dramatic Italian repertoire, Verdi and Puccini. Suor Angelica, Tosca in two languages, and Aida in three languages. I had great success in big and small theatres and in concert, and I was admired. Every public is different. Italians scream and go home and forget it; Germans do not scream--they applaud and wait in line to get you to sign their program.

When you are an artist, you enter another world. You are so happy after the performance, you just cannot go to sleep until 3 or 4 a.m. Sometimes, I would talk with my husband and he would say, "Why did you take a breath there. It's not necessary." At the next performance, it would be better.

LSM: You just sang a nice tone. Do you still sing at home?

EDP: I sing everything. Sometimes my neighbours knock on the wall to say we love your voice, but not so late.

LSM: Who is your favourite composer?

EDP: Verdi. Verdi wrote for the voice so that you don't scream. If he wanted fortissimo, he brought you there slowly. He brings you to a high C easily so that you don't have to make an effort. Not so with Puccini, who was more theatrical. Verdi wrote for the singer who had the Italian technique.

LSM: Tell us about Italian technique.

EDP: If I gave you a lesson, I would tell you how to keep your tongue, to lie down to breathe, how to shape your mouth, the anatomy, take the high notes, adjust the vowels... You must breathe with the diaphragm to fill up your lungs and let it empty--so many explanations.

LSM: What is your advice for young singers?

EDP: They should prepare at least five operas and have at least three different recital programs--they are not easier than opera. They should not be ashamed or afraid or nervous to knock on doors and tell everybody that they have a beautiful voice and ask them to listen to them sing for 10 minutes. You cannot do it otherwise. Go back a year later to the same opera director and say, "Would you like to listen to me this year?" The will power to do it comes with the talent--you don't want to just sing in the shower.

You must learn languages, learn every day. It is a full-time job, and you have to dedicate yourself.

Once I asked Callas, who sang with my husband, why she was carrying the score of Vespri Siciliani around since she had sung it often. Her answer was, "You never know what other kind of trick I can find to complete it, another breathing, a legato I hadn't done until now." She studied and studied. It is a sacrificed life. You cannot go into a café because of the smoke, cannot stay up late, and speaking tires the voice more than singing. Also, you cannot eat this or that. But, it is a beautiful life.

Le Gala will also honour the late Ruby Mercer, founding editor of Opera Canada magazine. 27 singers are scheduled. Dec. 8, 2 p.m.-6 p.m (514) 985-2258

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