Massey Hall's 100th: A Gift From the Massey's
by John E. Rutherford
For almost 50 years I have been going to Massey
Hall to hear and see the "greats" of the musical
world, a privilege that has been available to anyone who lived within an earshot of Toronto.
Massey Hall, circa 1900
There are many performers that come to mind.
One was John Charles Thomas, a baritone whose voice
seemed to get better with the years. When I heard him
he was close to 60 and he sang superbly.
Thomas was built like a linebacker and he bounced
onto Massey Hall stage at a fast trot. He sang Malotte's
"Lord's Prayer" (which Malotte had dedicated to him),
"Credo" from Verdi's Otello, "Passing by" and at least a
Igor Gorin, another baritone, was a perennial visitor
to Massey Hall. His rich voice was suitable to all types
of classical and semi-classical music especially opera,
but his operatic career was one
of the shortest in history.
He performed once at the Metropolitan Opera, disliked
the experience, and spent the rest
of his life in concert
halls and recording studios.
Tito Gobbi sang at Massey Hall on an "off-night"
— most singers have an "off-night"
occasionally — and most of his singing was flat, especially his "Largo al
However, such was his popularity, that the
audience cheered him again and again. The next day
one newspaper reported: "...friends are apt to overlook
faults. Last night Mr Gobbi had a lot of friends in the
Beniamino Gigli gave a farewell concert at Massey
Hall at the age of 65. His first number was "O Paradiso",
and I can still hear the first words that he sang: "Mi
batte il cor". The audience, silent for a change, sat
hardly daring to breathe and Gigli's tones hung like
stars in the velvet blackness of that vast hall.
He sang all the operatic arias in their original
keys. (How did I know? I had with me a ladyfriend
who had perfect pitch, and, as a final check, I took
along my trusty pitchpipe.) After a full evening of
songs, enough to wear out most tenors half his age,
Gigli gave us half a dozen encores. Finally he appeared
for his last bow in hat and overcoat and we knew that
the concert of a lifetime was over.
I also heard the young Robert Merrill, and Jan
Peerce in his prime (he gave no encores), and the
Canadian Raoul Jobin, and Beverly Sills who wore a
plain black dress and a shock of flaming red hair.
And there were others — Gracie Fields, Arthur
Rubinstein, and Pavarotti, whom I have never considered as being "great" except in bulk.
Have I any regrets? Yes, two. Richard Tauber came
to Massey Hall on January 8, 1947.
I was short of cash
at the time and said to myself: "He'll be back next
year". Tauber died on January 8, 1948. He was only 55.
The following year, Giuseppe de Luca, who was a
contemporary of Caruso, gave a concert at the age of
71. "No one can sing well at 71", I said to myself.
I was young then and I missed one of the great singers
of the Golden Age of Opera.
I have heard many singers in other places
— Lauri — Volpi, Martini, Robeson, Tibbett, Pinza, Tebaldi,
Bjserling, Domingo — but Massey Hall has an excitement all its own. Not only are the acoustics perfect but
the hall seems to have a power
of its own, bestowing
upon a performer a nimbus
There is no reason why Massey Hall should not
be standing a hundred years from now still welcoming
and presenting new performers to Toronto. No other
hall could do better.