The Beautiful Paris Opera
Solfege killed my career. I was about 16 when I went to audition for the great international opera diva, Mme. Pauline Donalda. Mme. Donalda said I had the voice to become an opera singer. She would never have accepted me as one of her select students if she didn't think so.
I was thrilled as I heard my voice developing with each lesson, But Mme. Donalda finally insisted that I must learn to sight read. When you are one of a quartet in a Verdi opera, you must read. She referred me to a solfege teacher.
The thin middle-aged man lived in a dark creepy house that smelled like a dark creepy house. Entering the old building in downtown Montreal, it took time for my eyes to become accustomed to the dark. I have no doubt, the floors creaked.
The teacher - was his name something like Dupuis - a nice enough man dressed in a clean shirt and slacks - led me to a room toward the back of the house where a window would have allowed light in on a sunny day. But at the end of an autumn afternoon, I don't remember there being much light.
I was to sit on a straight chair with my back to the window, with the sheet music propped up on something in front of me. There the teacher turned on a small lamp directly over the sheet music - and he hovered over me as I stared at the ominous tailed dots on the paper. He tapped out the half notes - and the quarter notes - and the eighth notes. I was so nervous I couldn't focus.
After two or three attempts, I told Mme. Donalda the problem. She was surprised - and quite annoyed with me, She then referred me to one of her students, a young married woman who lived somewhere in the north east end of the city. I lived in the west end.
This teacher was a pleasant woman and I was beginning to learn to read music - but it took three trolley car transfers for me to get to her home.
I remember standing out in front of Delorimier Downs baseball stadium on that final Saturday morning, waiting for one of the street car transfers. There was no one around. The street was deserted in all directions, and I was nervous. I was a young girl who did not wander.
When I finally arrived at the teacher's home after a couple of hours' travel, I was really tired.
And there was no answer at her door.
She had forgotten I was coming.
I gave up. I gave up solfege.
And that was the end of my opera career.
But all was not lost. One day, I would sing love songs -
MR. NOSTALGIA, CLIFF CARTER
REMEMBERING MME. PAULINE DONALDA
on this blog.