On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

PAULINE DONALDA – March, 5, 1882 – Oct. 22, 1970

Pauline Donalda
Pauline Donalda

Operatic Soprano, Teacher, Administrator

Aug. 31, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

Jewish musicians often changed their first and/or surnames, as did Pauline Lightstone, born in Montreal to Jewish parents who immigrated to Canada from Russia and Poland. Her family name was Lichtenstein. 

The soon-to-be Canadian prima donna began singing at an early age. After studying at McGill University’s Royal Victoria College with Clara Lichtenstein (no relation), she received a grant in 1902 from the college’s patron, Donald Smith (Lord Strathcona) to attend the Conservatoire de Paris, where she studied voice with Edmond Duvernoy. Collections Canada notes that she adopted her new stage name, Donalda, to honour her patron.

Pauline Donalda

According to Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Donalda’s artistic career burgeoned following a successful 1904 debut singing composer Jules Massenet’s opera Manon in Nice, France. In 1905 she sang the roles of Conception in Maurice Ravel’s L’heure espagnole and Ah-joe in Franco Leoni’s L’Oracolo for Queen Victoria at London’s Covent Garden, and at the Opera de la Monnaie in Brussels. In a Verdi opera, she sang with tenor Enrico Caruso in 1906.

That same year, she sang at the Montreal Arena with her husband, baritone Paul Seveilhac, and then joined the Oscar Hammerstein-founded Manhattan Opera House. But she yearned to return to Europe in 1907 to perform in Paris and London.

But she longed for Canada and chose to remain in Montreal as the First World War began, singing in a variety of music halls and concerts, including appearances in New York and Boston. She organized the Donalda Sunday Afternoon Concerts, with proceeds supporting various war charities.

She married her second husband, Mischa Leon, in 1918, after returning to Paris.

A Museum of Jewish Montreal review noted, “From 1922 on, she devoted herself to teaching voice. Twenty years later, in 1942, she founded the Opera Guild of Montreal, which staged the first Canadian performances of many operas. Among the first women to promote opera, Donalda made an exceptional contribution to the development of the arts in Canada. In so doing, she helped promote both the country and the Jewish community worldwide.”

As president and artistic director of the Opera Guild of Montreal until 1969, Pauline Donalda was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1967 “for her contribution to the arts, especially opera, as a singer and founder of the Guild.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner at tcgpr.com and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.