Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians: Maureen Forrester. Operatic Contralto

“Being Jewish was very important to her and her children.”

Maureen Forrester Head and Shoulders

Maureen Forrester


Music Online

Welcome to our weekly Sunday music section called

“Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians.”

By David Eisenstadt

TORONTO, March 27/22 – Did you know that Canadian operatic superstar Maureen Forrester is Jewish?

Born in Montréal, Québec, on July 25, 1930, her parents were of Scottish/ Irish descent. She converted to Judaism after marrying violinist/musicologist Eugene Kash in London, England in 1957. They had five children, including actors Linda and Daniel Kash. They divorced on good terms in 1974.  Kash died in 2004.

The youngest of four children, Maureen quit high school at 13 to help support the family.  She sang in church, and while working for low wages, paid for her lessons, studying with Sally Martin, then two years with English tenor Frank Rowe and in 1951 with Dutch baritone Bernard Diamant.

Beginning as a soprano, her voice changed enabling her to perform in a lower register. She switched and as a contralto, Eugene Kaellis of The Jewish Independent noted, “The middle range of an alto goes from G above middle C, an octave above, and a half an octave below.” 

Her 1953 concert debut happened with the Montréal Symphony Orchestra under Otto Klemperer. She performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Tours across Canada and Europe followed under the auspices of Les Jeunesses musicales du Canada.

In 1956, while singing in New York she caught the ear of Bruno Walter, a Gustav Mahler protégé. 

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Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Urlicht

>>> Click HERE to hear this video <<<

Forrester was chosen for the contralto role in the composer’s Resurrection Symphony in 1957 at Carnegie Hall.  The Guardian’s Barry Millington reported, “Regarded by Walter and others as the successor to Kathleen Ferrier, she (Forrester) excelled in Mahler, but was also known for her roles in opera and oratorio, and in Broadway musicals.” In 1957 she sang with the New York Philharmonic at Walter’s farewell performances.

The New York Times’ Howard Taubman wrote, “Voices of this order make one feel that the fabled golden era is not gone forever.”

Kaellis reported, “She was a woman of what might be called substantial build, the ‘big blond’ sometimes caricatured in popular entertainment as the ‘typical’ contralto but two of her illustrious predecessors – Ferrier was slight; Marian Anderson had a medium build.” Her long-time accompanist David Warrack described Forrester’s imposing personality/physique as “the great ship Forrester.” Millington said, “she had a well-upholstered voice. Gorgeously plummy in the lower range, it rose to an upper register that could either thrill with its potency or touch the heart with its delicacy.”

Successful appearances followed including Toronto in 1961 as Orpheus in Gluck’s opera and in 1966 as Cornelia in Handel’s Giulio Cesare at the opening of the New York City Opera’s first season at Lincoln Centre.

One American critic called her ‘Canada’s greatest natural resource since gold was discovered in the Klondike’.

Macleans’ Clyde Gilmour wrote that “21 years after she dismayed her parents by leaving school because she felt she wasn’t learning anything; she speaks four languages and sings fluently in nine. One American critic called her ‘Canada’s greatest natural resource since gold was discovered in the Klondike.’”

The German conductor Hermann Scherschen said,” she is the only vocalist whose work reminds me of the long-ago splendors of the incomparable Caruso.”

Forrester triumphed across North America and received onstage tribute ovations in many countries around the globe. 

“Pablo Casals chose her among the world’s contraltos to sing, not once but often, the leading role in his new oratorio, El Pesebre (The Manager),” Gilmour reported.  Famous conductors who have kissed her hand included Barbirolli, Beecham, Bernstein, Karajan, Ormandy, Szell, and Walter.

Maureen Forrester You Tube Full

Canadian Icons: Ben Heppner on Maureen Forrester

>>> Click HERE to watch this video <<<

From 1967-2004, she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, received an honorary doctorate from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia), and their Loyola Medal.  She scored over 30 honorary degrees, including one from Yale.  From 1986 to 1990, she was Wilfrid Laurier University’s Chancellor. Their recital hall is named in her honor.  Forrester was inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame in 1990, received a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 1995, and a star on Canada’s Wall of Fame in 2000. She became an officer of the National Order of Québec in 2003 and a MasterWorks honoree by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada.

A champion of arts support she served as honorary chair of the Canada Council from 1983-88.

Forrester was a stalwart supporter of Israel.  It was reported that many Israelis while seeking autographs at her performances were often heard to offer unsolicited suggestions for improvement, yet she was always gracious and a good listener

Maureen Katherine Stuart Forrester’s career lasted 30 years.  Suffering from Alzheimer’s she died on June 16, 2010, a few weeks before her 80th birthday. Son, Daniel speaking on CBC emphasized the family’s Jewishness.  Being Jewish was very important to her and her children.

Credits: Toronto Symphony Orchestra/YouTube; Maureen Forrester-Topic/YouTube

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A complete list of David Eisenstadt’s articles can be viewed under Music Online in the Category section. Do you have comments or questions about this article? Contact David Eisenstadt at

David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is the author of Under the Radar, 30 Notable Canadian Jewish Musicians. He is Founding Partner of the Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communication and a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Reader’s Comments

-Hearing Maureen sing Mahler was something I’ll never forget, nor the time I heard her from afar in a canoe on Murray Schaffer’s property. I was lucky to have witnessed her greatness, and any reader who has yet to discover her is lucky they found your column! Thanks again, David. – BK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

-I have just finished reading, then listened to the Maureen Forrester clips. Very enjoyable. – SA, Longboat Key, Florida, USA

-David enjoyed reading your piece on Maureen Forrester, and I learned a lot I didn’t know before. Loved your column. – El L Toronto, Ontario, Canada

-Awesome article. Who knew? Thanks, David for doing what you do! – RC, Safed, Israel

-I was a friend of Forrester’s younger daughter during my time at the University of Toronto. She looked very much like her mother. – EL, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

-I enjoyed the read, as I do all your articles. – DH, Sunderland, Ontario, Canada

-Maureen Forrester was really “Jewish Under The Radar.” She did have an outstanding career. I look forward to your articles. – JO, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

-A very nice article and a very nice tribute, David! – JK, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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