Della Pergola - A Beautiful Lifeby Wah
/ December 1, 2002
husband-wife team of Edith and Luciano Della
Pergola were the founding directors of the McGill Opera Studio in
1956 to 1989. Before coming to Canada, Edith had a successful career as a
dramatic soprano in the Italian repertoire in the Vienna Staatsoper
Luciano sang at La Scala. On December 8, during l'Opéra de Montréal's
Le Gala, Edith Della Pergola will be inducted into the Canadian Pantheon
Opera for her achievements as an operatic educator. La Scena Musicale
caught up with her.
LSM: Why are you so passionate
about music and
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
and many singers came to him for coaching. After they left, I would
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
with an orchestra. After graduation, my parents moved to Bucharest and I
into the academy of music right away.
LSM: Tell us about your late
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
before a mirror. We sang together sometimes, but not often, because it
of us nervous for each other.
LSM: Tell me how the McGill
My husband and I were never together. We had one
daughter. After the war, I worked in Vienna and he was singing at La
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
After hearing "Bravo Edith" from
audiences, it was
difficult to forget the stage. Following a CBC TV telecast of the last
Il Trovatore with Vickers and Quilico, an impresario offered to
to the Metropolitan Opera. My husband told me to go, but I wanted to be
We have never regretted the decision to
McGill, but it was challenging at the beginning. First, there were not
singers for opera because they were being prepared for lieder and
they did not have the vocal extension needed for opera. We staged the
opera, La Serva Padrona, with just two singers. Every year we
least one complete opera and a program of scenes from opera. We then
these in high schools (about 10 times a year). It was very rewarding.
LSM: What do you think of the
current state of
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.
there are too many sopranos now. Tenors are always difficult to find.
The only complaint I have is the size of
houses. We were trained in the smaller theatres and then went to the
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
houses and opportunities.
LSM: What are you most proud
We developed a love for opera at McGill, and the
hall was always full. There are now opera programs at the University of
and UQAM. People have to be exposed when they are younger.
As for career, I started with Bohème
sang it in three languages. I sang the dramatic Italian repertoire,
Puccini. Suor Angelica, Tosca in two languages, and Aida
three languages. I had great success in big and small theatres and in
and I was admired. Every public is different. Italians scream and go
forget it; Germans do not scream--they applaud and wait in line to get
sign their program.
When you are an artist, you enter another
are so happy after the performance, you just cannot go to sleep until 3
a.m. Sometimes, I would talk with my husband and he would say, "Why did
a breath there. It's not necessary." At the next performance, it would
LSM: You just sang a nice tone.
Do you still sing
I sing everything. Sometimes my neighbours knock
on the wall to say we love your voice, but not so late.
LSM: Who is
Verdi. Verdi wrote for the voice so that you
don't scream. If he wanted fortissimo, he brought you there slowly. He
you to a high C easily so that you don't have to make an effort. Not so
Puccini, who was more theatrical. Verdi wrote for the singer who had the
LSM: Tell us about Italian
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
take the high notes, adjust the vowels... You must breathe with the
fill up your lungs and let it empty--so many explanations.
LSM: What is your advice
They should prepare at least five operas and
have at least three different recital programs--they are not easier than
They should not be ashamed or afraid or nervous to knock on doors and
everybody that they have a beautiful voice and ask them to listen to
for 10 minutes. You cannot do it otherwise. Go back a year later to the
opera director and say, "Would you like to listen to me this year?" The
power to do it comes with the talent--you don't want to just sing in the
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
she was carrying the score of Vespri Siciliani around since she
it often. Her answer was, "You never know what other kind of trick I can
complete it, another breathing, a legato I hadn't done until now." She
and studied. It is a sacrificed life. You cannot go into a café because
smoke, cannot stay up late, and speaking tires the voice more than
Also, you cannot eat this or that. But, it is a beautiful life.
Le Gala will also honour the late Ruby
founding editor of Opera Canada magazine. 27 singers are scheduled. Dec.
p.m.-6 p.m (514) 985-2258