Ferrari-Fontana was an Italian tenor from Rome who moved around quite a bit during his career, but finally, in 1926, he settled in Toronto where he would live out the rest of his life with his wife and children, one of them Torontonian by birth. Italian music, specifically opera, was a foreign concept to the predominantly British population of Toronto during the early 20th century and it was his work as both a performer and educator that led to the birth of a musical art form in a region far from its original roots.
Why is he so important and how did he achieve this newly found love and excitement for Italian music? As mentioned, the Italian music scene, especially opera, in Toronto was borderline nonexistent during this time. Ferrari-Fontana noticed this yet also saw much promise in the city’s musicians, stating in a 1930 interview “There are marvelous voices in Ontario…they would be greatly helped by an experimental theatre, and an atmosphere which would release their powers of emotional expression.” With this promise in talent, Ferrari-Fontana formed the Music and Arts League of Toronto whose focus was “an inaugurating campaign with the primary objective of founding a Canadian Opera Company.” His work and dedication finally led to the formation of Canada’s first opera company in 1950 and has since grown into the largest opera company in Canada and one of the most active in North America.
In addition to this, Ferrari-Fontana piqued the interests of the general public toward the opera world through public events he would host and arrange in downtown Toronto. He even held musical evenings of opera selections right here at the University of Toronto. These concerts planted the seed of opera’s importance in the minds of young students at U of T and the general population of the city itself. Even though Ferrari-Fontana had little to work with in terms of concert space and even physical copies of the scores, he was still able to make his contributions felt as, eventually, the Canadian Opera Company was formed and has consistently remained successful.
Although Edoardo Ferrari-Fontana did not spend a long amount of time in Canada, his contributions are extremely valuable. Through his public, downtown concerts, musical evenings of opera selections at the University of Toronto and the formation of the Music and Arts League of Toronto the birth of a musical art form in a region far from its original roots was about to be enjoyed for generations to come.
University of Toronto, 2019