Irene Jessner, soprano, teacher (born 28 August 1901 in Vienna, Austria; died 10 January 1994 in Toronto, ON). Irene Jessner enjoyed a successful career with the Metropolitan Opera in New York before forging a reputation as an outstanding voice teacher at the University of Toronto. Her pupils included Teresa Stratas, Léonard Bilodeau, Mary Lou Fallis and Portia White.
Jessner studied piano at the Vienna Conservatory and made her debut as Elsa in Lohengrin in Teplice, Czechoslovakia in 1930. She toured Europe in operas and musicals, enjoying particular success in Czechoslovakia as Aida. Invited by Edward Johnson to join the Metropolitan Opera in New York, she made her US debut in 1936 in Wagner’s Die Walküre. She remained with that company until 1952, singing such roles as Desdemona in Otello and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier.
Again on an invitation from Johnson, Jessner joined the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto in 1952. Her Canadian pupils included Léonard Bilodeau, Maurice Brown, Mark DuBois, Mary Lou Fallis, Lois McDonall, Roxolana Roslak, Teresa Stratas, Lilian Sukis, Heather Thomson, Riki Turofsky, Portia White and Jeannette Zarou.
Jessner recorded a Rimsky-Korsakov song and a Tchaikovsky arioso for Victor (Vic 17569). She is also heard in a complete Die Meistersinger (Celebrity EJS 224), pirated from a Metropolitan Opera broadcast on 2 December 1939; on a private recording of Elektra (2-Robin Hood) recorded on 25 December 1949; and on a 78 recording of the third act of Die Walküre in which she sings both Sieglinde and Ortlinde (8-Columbia CM-581). A 1997 re-recording by Immortal Performances Recorded Music Society recreates her voice in the Met production of Der Rosenkavalier, broadcast on 16 February 1946.
Jessner's retirement from the University of Toronto in the spring of 1986 was followed by a gala concert on 3 November 1986 featuring many of her pupils. A scholarship fund, recognizing her influence on a whole generation of Canadian singers, was established in her name by the Faculty of Music. In her later years after the death of her husband, Arthur de Nordy, Jessner lived at the home of her former student Mark DuBois. Following Jessner’s death in 1994, musicologist and teacher Carl Morey described her as one of the few “truly outstanding voice teachers in Canada.”
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.