Sarah Fischer

After a leave-taking recital, Fischer left for London to complete her training at the RCM 1919-22 with Cecilia M. Hutchinson.


Fischer, Sarah

 Sarah (Eugénie, 'Nini') Fischer. Soprano, teacher, administrator, b Paris 23 Feb 1896, naturalized Canadian 1912, d Montreal 3 May 1975. She came to Montreal at the age of 12 with her parents, who were of Polish-Jewish origin. While working as a telephone operator, she studied solfège with J.-J. Goulet, voice with Céline Marier, and stage skills with Jeanne Maubourg. In 1917 she obtained a three-year Strathcona Scholarship to the Royal College of Music (RCM), but because of World War I she did not go to London until later. She made her stage debut 19 Nov 1918 in Montreal as Micaëla in Carmen at the Monument national, singing with Cédia Brault, Victor Desautels, and Ulysse Paquin under the direction of Albert Roberval. C.-O. Lamontagne described her as 'a stunning Micaëla, full of grace and the bloom of youth. Ideally suited to the role, she performs with sincerity, giving an accurate portrayal of the loyal and innocent character of the country girl' (Le Canada musical, 7 Dec 1918). Other roles followed in Montreal and Quebec City: Colette in Messager's La Basoche, Philine in Mignon, and the title role in Lakmé (1919).

London and Europe

After a leave-taking recital, Fischer left for London to complete her training at the RCM 1919-22 with Cecilia M. Hutchinson. Fischer was a member 1922-3 of the British National Opera Company and sang the roles of Eva (Meistersinger), Pamina (The Magic Flute), the Countess (The Marriage of Figaro), and Marguerite (Faust) at Covent Garden and on tour. After a period in Rome, ca 1923-4, when she studied with Vincenzo Lombardi, she sang for the Grand Opera Syndicate at Covent Garden, performing the role of Olga in Giordano's Fedora (1925). She returned to Covent Garden in 1936 to create the leading role in Pickwick, an opera by Albert Coates.

Soon after her arrival in London, Fischer became Emma Albani's protégée. In May 1925 she participated with Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Henry Wood, and other eminent artists in the benefit gala at Covent Garden arranged by Melba for Albani. As early as 1922, Fischer had proposed the organization of a benefit concert in Montreal for Albani, whose financial situation she knew to be precarious. The concert finally took place 28 May 1925 at the St-Denis Theatre. In Great Britain the name of Sarah Fischer is forever associated with two events in the history of opera. On 8 Jan 1923, in the first opera broadcast from Covent Garden - The Magic Flute - she was heard as Pamina; and on 6 Jul 1934, in the BBC's first opera telecast - 30 minutes of excerpts from Carmen - she sang the title role, with the tenor Heddle Nash as Don José.

Joining the Opéra-Comique in Paris, Fischer made her debut 20 Nov 1925 as Mélisande in Pelléas et Mélisande. (She later was much sought after for that role, which she learned in 10 days.) At the same theatre in 1927 she sang the title role in the 1,600th performance of Mignon. She sang in various theatres in Monte Carlo and Algiers, and at Liverpool and Bradford in England. In May 1928 she was engaged by Bruno Walter for a series of Mozart operas at the Odéon theatre in Paris. She enjoyed a marked success in the roles of Pamina, the Countess (The Marriage of Figaro), and Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte). She was acclaimed in recital and performed frequently at Wigmore Hall, London.

Montreal

In Montreal, Fischer sang 1927, 1930, and 1936 for the Ladies' Morning Musical Club at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. In December 1930 she repeated the role of Colette (La Basoche) at the Monument national for the Société canadienne d'opérette. Her father's illness and World War II took her again to Montreal in 1940, this time to settle permanently. She opened a studio there, and among her pupils were Roger Doucet, Yolande Dulude, and Jean-Pierre Hurteau.

On 1 Feb 1941 in Montreal, Fischer presented the first of the Sarah Fischer Concerts 'for the benefit of Canadian musicians.' She directed this venture until her death, assisted by many she had inspired. Held first at the Art Association of Montreal (later Musée des beaux-arts), then at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the annual series of four concerts presented established Canadian musicians and, above all, newcomers. In the course of 145 concerts (the last one in January 1975), debuts were made by many young artists, including Pierrette Alarie, Violet Archer, Réjane Cardinal, Clarice Carson, Fernande Chiocchio, Yolande Dulude, Marie-José Forgues, Maureen Forrester, Hélène Gagné, Claire Gagnier, Denis Harbour, Mary Henderson, Jacques Labrecque, Mariana Paunova, André Prévost, Jacqueline Richard, Claude Savard, Robert Silverman, and Micheline Tessier. In 1946 Fischer instituted the Sarah Fischer Concerts scholarships 'in memory of Dame Emma Albani.' Fischer herself sang excerpts from Pelléas et Mélisande at the ninth concert, 25 Feb 1942, with José Delaquerrière and Roger Filiatrault. It was her last public performance. Subsequently she devoted her life to her pupils and to social and musical organizations such as the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Recordings and Honours

In 1919 in New York, Fischer recorded eight titles for Pathé. In London, between 1922 and 1925, she recorded four Elizabethan love songs with string quartet for HMV. A list appears in Roll Back the Years. In 1939, again in London, she recorded six songs in English (Haydn, Bunten, Dunhill, Edwards, and Mana-Zucca). These, along with the titles from Pathé and HMV, were reissued on a private LP, Sarah Fischer, released in Canada in 1967. She is also heard on Great Voices of Canada (Analekta AN2 7801, 1993).

In 1928 Sarah Fischer was made an honorary member of the RCM. In 1968 she was awarded the prize of the Concert Society of the Jewish Peoples' Schools and the Peretz Schools; the award was given annually to a personality from the artistic world. She left her personal papers to the National Archives of Canada.


Further Reading

  • Charbonneau, Hélène. L'Albani: sa carrière artistique et triomphale (Montreal 1938)

    Beker, Marilyn. 'A life bound up with beauty,' Montreal Gazette, 4 Mar 1971

    Siskind, Jacob. 'Sarah Fischer was a ''grande dame'' of music,' ibid, 5 May 1975

    Potvin, Gilles. 'Une artiste exemplaire: Sarah Fischer,' Montreal Le Devoir, 6 May 1975

    Ouellette, Louise and Goddard, Diane [Anne].' Sarah Fischer, mezzo-soprano 1896-1975,' The Archivist, vol 6, Jan-Apr 1979

    Potvin, Gilles. 'Les Canadiens au secours d'Emma Albani,' Présentation à la Société royale du Canada, 40, 1985-6

    Gingras, Claude. Musiciennes de chez nous (Montreal 1955)

    McLean, Eric. "Grand tradition: great Canadian musical figures of the past," Opera Canada, Fall 1994