Canada’s classical music community is mourning the loss of soprano Erin Wall who died from cancer on Oct. 8. She was 44.
As recently as November 2019, Wall was in tremendous voice, singing the title role of Jules Massenet’s Thaïs with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a performance that was recorded and released last spring.
Baritone Brett Polegato, who confirmed the news of Wall’s death during a conversation with CBC Music, recalled sharing the stage with her:
“I remember singing my first Balstrode to her Ellen in a concert performance of Peter Grimes with the Vancouver Symphony in June 2018. I knew her quite well by then, having sung with her often, but I believe this was my first performance with her since her diagnosis.
“Her performance, particularly of the Embroidery Aria, was a touching mixture of joy and pain which left me speechless. Of course, I knew she was fighting just to live, but she committed herself so fully to her performance that the audience was on its feet at the end. If those performances cost her something in the end, there was no hint of it; all we witnessed was the sheer humanity of her artistry. I will miss her generosity and zest for life.”
During her tragically truncated career, Wall sang leading operatic roles at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, the Vienna Staatsoper, Opéra National de Paris, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Canadian Opera Company, Seattle Opera and Santa Fe Opera, to name a few.
In 2014, she talked about the demands of the role of Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which she was singing at Seattle Opera:
She was also highly praised as a concert artist, singing on the Grammy Award-winning recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 by the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson-Thomas. She recorded the same work with Staatskapelle Berlin under Pierre Boulez and the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Wall was the soprano soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 when Orchestre symphonique de Montréal and Kent Nagano inaugurated its concert hall, La Maison symphonique, in 2011, a performance that was broadcast live on CBC.
Wall was born in Calgary to American parents and her family moved to Vancouver when she was an infant. Her parents were both members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. She did her musical training at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., then Rice University in Houston, Tex. She was a member of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago from 2001 to 2004.
As a young artist, she had received support from the Richard Tucker Foundation, the George London Foundation and the Marilyn Horne Foundation.
“It’s amazing how being diagnosed as terminal changes what you care about,” tweeted Wall, a mother of two, in July. “A lot less about what people think, for one. It’s freeing, after a career based primarily on that very thing.”