Known to her students simply as “Madame”: from the Met Opera to being first voice prof at Faculty #tbt

Known to her students simply as “Madame”, Irene Jessner was the first appointed voice faculty member at the University of Toronto.

Born in Vienna, Madame Jessner received her training with Professor Victor Fuchs at the New Conservatory of Music in that city. Invited by Edward Johnson to join the Metropolitan Opera in New York, she made her US debut in 1936 in Hansel and Gretel. After her debut as Elsa in Lohengrin, Madame Jessner’s reputation grew steadily and she enjoyed outstanding success as an opera singer in Europe, South America and the United States. [above photo: (l-r) Lauritz Melchior, Edward Johnson, Irene Jessner and Astrid Varney at a 1946 performance of Lohengrin at the Met, celebrating Melchior’s 20th Anniversary there.]

She remained with the company until 1952, singing such roles as Desdemona in Otello and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. Again, on an invitation from Johnson, she joined the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, in 1952. She also performed with such orchestras as the Detroit Symphony, New York Philharmonic, and Chicago Symphony.

Irene Jessner newspaper ad 1946 from Vintage Ad services

Irene Jessner newspaper ad 1946 from Vintage Ad services

Since she joined the Faculty of Music, her Canadian pupils included Teresa Stratas, Jeannette Zarou, Riki Turofsky, Mary Lou Fallis, Nancy Hermiston, Jean MacPhail, Lilian Sukis, and Heather Thomson. She taught at the Faculty until spring 1986. On November 3, 1986, a gala concert was held in her honour at Walter Hall. She passed away in January 1994 at the age of 92.

Today, much has changed in voice studies at the Faculty of Music. Wendy Nielsen is head of voice studies, and we have a large number of excellent and exciting concerts in our 2018-2019 season, including our Vocalis series concerts. Our Vocalis series concerts began in the 2015-2016 season of the Faculty of Music, and feature Master’s and Doctoral level Voice students.

Our first Vocalis concert of the year takes place tonight.  Extended Techniques: Using the Whole Animal is a concert curated by two of the voice area’s vocal coaches and collaborative pianists, Suzy Smith and Jo Greenaway. The concert will take place in the Music Room of Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle, at 7:30 pm and is free and open to the public. The Vocalis series is made possible in part by a generous gift from Dianne W. Henderson.

with writing and research by Alexandra Brennan