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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

IN MEMORIAM | Irene Salemka McGillivray (1931-2017)

By Jennifer Liu on August 28, 2017

Irene Salemka McGillivray, pictured on August 23, 1980 in Regina. (Photo Roy Antal)
Irene Salemka McGillivray, pictured on August 23, 1980 in Regina. (Photo Roy Antal)

An important figure in Canadian opera is no longer with us.

Irene Salemka McGillivray passed away early Sunday morning in her Collingwood, Ontario home. The former operatic soprano was 86.

Baritone Peter McGillivray shared in a statement with Musical Toronto that his aunt had been battling illness and dementia in the years leading up to her passing.

Born in small-town Manitoba, Salemka also spent her formative years in Weyburn, Saskatchewan and Regina, where each successive city further nurtured her interest in pursuing an operatic career.

In her prime, she was one of the premiere Canadian singers in Europe’s major opera houses. From early performances in lead roles at the Canadian Opera Company and Vancouver Opera, her later career spanned such cities as Stuttgart, Vienna, London, Naples, Milan, Paris, and Basel. From 1956-1964, Salemka was the lead soprano at the Frankfurt State Opera. She appeared in prima donna roles such as Mimi, Cio-Cio San, The Merry Widow, and Donna Elvira.

Irene Salemka McGillivray (Regina Leader-Post archive photo)
Irene Salemka McGillivray (Regina Leader-Post archive photo)

“Sadly her career has largely been neglected because she retired to private life almost 40 years ago,” Peter McGillivray noted. “I particularly cherish a Deutsche Gramophon recording of Don Giovanni in German with her as Elvira opposite none other than [Dietrich] Fischer-Dieskau.”

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