The Canadian Nightingale Sings Again! Celebrating the life of a forgotten Canadian opera star

October 6, 2017—Local singers to recapture a lost Canadian voice in concert.

Announcing a concert to launch a new Canadian historical biography, The Canadian Nightingale: Bertha Crawford and the Dream of the Prima Donna, to be held January 21, 2018, 2:00 pm at the Church of St John the Evangelist, 154 Somerset Street West, Ottawa. Under the direction of Ottawa musicians, Cara Gilbertson-Boese and Joanne Moorcroft, the concert will bring together contemporary Canadian musicians to recapture the lost voice of Bertha Crawford (1886-1937). Ottawa soprano Ania Hejnar will draw on her personal connection with Crawford’s story.

In June 1924, a 19-year-old Polish engineering student, Kazimierz Kozłowski, bought a standing-room-only ticket to see his first opera at the Great Theatre in Warsaw. Captivated by the performance of the Canadian soprano Bertha Crawford with Adam Didur, the Polish star of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Kazimierz fell in love with opera. In 1961, Kazimierz’s daughter, Ewelina Kwasniewska, began a 23-year career as the lead soprano with the opera company of the Great Theatre in Lodz, Poland. In 1984, Ewelina moved to Kingston, Ontario and began teaching Canadian voice students. Building on what she learned as one of Ewelina’s students, Ottawa soprano Ania Hejnar will be one of the performers in this concert who will reimagine how Bertha Crawford sounded on the Polish stage.

Other performers in the concert will include sopranos Leandra Dahm and Taryn Redmond, and the Harmonia Choir, directed by Kurt Ala-Kantti.

The book.

Ambition. Fame. Betrayal. The Canadian Nightingale: Bertha Crawford and the Dream of the Prima Donna, reveals the untold story of a gifted young woman from small-town Ontario, who rose to unprecedented success on the opera stages of Russia and Poland, only to be forgotten for eighty years. Tracking a roller coaster ride to celebrity that was ultimately derailed by broken trust, this new Canadian biography revives a singular voice, and reminds us how important it is to recognize Canadian talent and artistic contribution.

Inspired by a passing reference in a 1924 family letter, six years of research and writing have resulted in a full cradle-to-grave biography which reconstructs the overlooked life of possibly the most successful Canadian opera star in Europe in the first quarter of the 20th century.

From a youthful start as the soprano soloist at Toronto’s Metropolitan Methodist Church, Bertha Crawford built a name for herself across Canada in the first decade of the last century. But she had to leave Canada to get the European training and experience she needed to be considered a really serious performer at home.

Ironically, Crawford became such an established star in Poland that she lost touch with her Canadian audience, and was forgotten in the land of her birth. And yet, while she was a well-loved performer across Poland, the ‘Canadian Nightingale’ was never considered Polish in her adopted home, and so has been forgotten there too.

Jane Cooper is a researcher and writer from the Ottawa area. Undertaking policy research by day, by night she escapes into the history of the early 20th century. Working on and off in the former Soviet Union over the past fifteen years, she has developed a particular interest in the experiences of Western women in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.

To see the Kickstarter campaign which was successful in building a coalition to fund publication of The Canadian Nightingale, click here: