TORONTO — Celebrated Canadian opera star Maureen Forrester has died at the age of 79.
Her daughter, Gina Dineen, says the famous contralto died Wednesday night with family at her bedside in Toronto.
Forrester was born in Montreal on July 25, 1930, the youngest of four children of a Scottish cabinetmaker and his Irish wife.
In a career that began in church choirs and peaked on the world’s best stages, Forrester was usually described in superlatives for roles that spanned the classics, opera, musicals, burlesque and even pop songs.
At 20, Forrester was studying with singer Bernard Diamant, who taught her to sing as a contralto, her natural register.
At 21, Big Mo, the nickname she earned playing basketball with her neighbourhood team, made her professional debut with the Montreal Elgar Choir.
Forrester’s Montreal Symphony debut was in 1953, her Toronto Symphony in 1954 and her European debut in Paris in 1995.
After one New York performance, the Herald Tribune said: “Miss Forrester has a contralto that one can only describe by comparing it to a stained-glass window with the midday sun pouring through it.”
In 1984, then prime minister Pierre Trudeau asked her to head the Canada Council.
She accepted and over the next four years was instrumental in preventing the council from succumbing to political control.
In 200 Forrester was awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, and Opera Canada’s first ‘Ruby’ award in the creative artist category.
Also in 2000, CBC Radio Two featured Forrester on In Performance, and CBC TV aired the television documentary Maureen Forrester: The Diva in Winter on its Life and Times series.
In 2003, she was made an Officer of the National Order of Quebec and in 2004, Forrester became a MasterWorks honouree by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada.
The Stratford Festival also administers a Maureen Forrester Award, and features promising Canadian musicians in its Maureen Forrester Young Artists series.
She is survived by her four daughters, Paula Burton, Gina Dineen, Linda Kash and Susan Whaley, and her son Daniel Kash, and their children.