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Massey Hall's 100th: A Gift From the Massey's

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 dozen more.

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 factotum". 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 audience".

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 of respectability.

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.