Judith Doris Forst is a Canadian dramatic mezzo-soprano, and one of our most important and influential artists, ranked among Lois Marshall, Maureen Forrester, Teresa Stratas, Jon Vickers, Richard Margison and Ben Heppner in her achievement. She is known around the world for the musical integrity and dramatic intensity of her performances.
Born in New Westminster, British Columbia, in 1943, she received a Bachelor of Music from the University of British Columbia in 1964. In 1991, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2001, she was awarded the Order of British Columbia.
Ms. Forst studied piano as a child and voice later with French Tickner of the University of British Columbia, and was coached by Harold Brown. A participant 1966-8 in the Vancouver Opera Association training program, she won the 1967 western finals of the San Francisco Opera auditions and the 1968 CBC Talent Festival. A 1968 audition for the Metropolitan Opera led to a contract and her debut there that same year.
Ms. Forst lived from 1968-75 in New York where she continued her studies with Hans Joachim Heinz while performing as a regular member of the Metropolitan Opera, singing mainly minor roles. In 1975 she returned to Vancouver.
She sang Hansel in the CBC’s 1970 TV production of Hansel and Gretel and made her COC debut in 1972 as Olga in Eugene Onegin. She also sang the Secretary in The Consul (1973) and Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera (1976) at the Guelph Spring Festival, and made her San Francisco Opera debut in 1974 as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly. Other assignments with the COC included Maddalena in Rigoletto (1973), Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier (1978), the title roles in Carmen and Rossini’s Cinderella (1979), Charlotte in Werther (1980), Preziosilla in La forza del destino (1987), the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos (1988), and Marie in Wozzeck (1990).
She sang Jane Seymour in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena with Joan Sutherland in the title role for the COC in 1984 and then for the San Francisco Opera and in concerts in Boston, Washington, DC, and in 1986 at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, the last broadcast as part of the ‘Live from Lincoln Center’ PBS series.
Although a mezzo-soprano, Ms. Forst also performed such traditional soprano roles as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, which she performed in Calgary, Edmonton, Miami, and Ottawa. In 1985 she made her European debut in Paris in a concert performance of Les Contes d’Hoffmann and in 1988 made her debut in Munich in La forza del destino. Ms. Forst has appeared with the Edmonton, Dallas, Fort Worth, Manitoba, Miami, New York City, New Orleans, Santa Fe, Seattle, Southern Alberta (Calgary), and Vancouver operas and in the operatic productions of Festival Ottawa and Opera Lyra Ottawa.
She gave duet recitals with the soprano Riki Turofsky in 1974 in Toronto and at the 1976 CBC Vancouver Festival and sang in oratorio with the Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver symphony orchestras. In 1988 she sang in the premiere of Rudolf Komorous’ opera No No Miya for the Vancouver New Music Society and in 1989 she premiered Malcolm Forsyth’s Sun Songs with the Calgary Philharmonic.
For the COC in 1995, and also for the Vancouver, Montreal and Portland Opera companies, Ms. Forst performed the role of Kostelnicka in Janacek’s Jenufa. Among her many other COC roles, she created the part of Pamphilea for the 1999 world premiere of The Golden Ass (by Randolph Peters and Robertson Davies), and was Jocasta in Oedipus Rex in 1997.
With the Metropolitan Opera in 2001, she took on the role of the Witch in Hansel and Gretel, singing the part again with the Arizona Opera the following year. Also with the Met, as well as for Vancouver Opera and Netherlands Opera, she was Madame de Croissy in Dialogues of the Carmelites.
Ms. Forst appeared often for San Francisco Opera, including in the world premieres of Conrad Susa’s Dangerous Liaisons (1994) and André Previn’s Streetcar Named Desire (1998), creating the roles of Madame de Volanges and Eunice respectively. In 2003 Forst appeared as Klytemnestra in the Vancouver premiere of Elektra, a role which she had sung in concert with the MSO in 2001. She was also a frequent guest instructor at the University of British Columbia. She recently made her debuts with Chicago Lyric Opera, and with La Scala in Milan.
Judith Forst has been called ‘one of the few truly world class coloratura mezzo-sopranos on the operatic stage,’ with a voice that is ‘bright, sensuous, seamless through its range, full of secure, shining high notes’ (COC Magazine Apr 1988).
She is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Order of British Columbia; in 1978 she was named Canadian Woman of the Year. The City of Port Moody, BC, granted her the freedom of the city in 1992. She and her family continue to make their home in Port Moody.
Biography courtesy of CBC Music.