Irena Welhasch Baerg stands prominently amongst a relatively few Canadian sopranos that have had prolific operatic and concert careers nationally and abroad. Born in Winnipeg of Ukrainian parents, Irena studied voice at the University of Toronto, Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, as well as at the Banff School of Arts. Her solo career began as a mezzo-soprano at the age of 21 under the tutelage of W. Herbert Belyea with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Manitoba Opera Assoc. Encouraged by her mentor, Lotfi Mansouri to take on the soprano repertoire, she was awarded a place immediately on the Canadian Opera Company stage. It was on this very stage that Irena Welhasch met and sang with baritone, Theodore Baerg.
The following years thrust her into the dream soprano roles of the repertory. Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus, The Merry Widow, Liu in Turandot, Musetta and Mimi in La Boheme, Poppea, Micaela, Pamina, the list goes on. It was her dramatic interpretations of Blanche in Les Dialogues des Carmelites as well as Melisande in Pelleas et Mélisande, however, that heralded her as one of Canada’s foremost interpreters of the lyric French repertoire and brought her to international attention. Irena Welhasch Baerg sang the role of Blanche under the baton of Pierre Fournet who was the conductor of the premiere performance of Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmelites at the Paris Opera. Their close collaboration continued for the last two productions that Maestro Fournet conducted in Canada.
The role of Melisande brought Irena Welhasch Baerg to the stage of L’Opera de Nice. It was in Paris that she had the great privilege of coaching the role with the great Irena Aitoff. Her love and devotion for Debussy’’s work was deeply instilled in Irena Welhasch Baerg. Irena Aitoff herself, had announced at the final dress rehearsal of that Pelleas and Melisande, that “Claude Debussy would have said that he had at last found his true Melisande.”
Irena’s versatility continued when she accepted the offer to take the part of the Diva, Carlotta Guidicelli, in “the Phantom of the Opera” with at the Pantages Theatre in Toronto. She performed the role over 700 times before returning to the operatic stage with Calgary Opera in the title role of Lehar’s “Merry Widow”.
Claude Debussy’s Les Cinque Poemes de Baudelaire epitomize for Irena Welhasch Baerg the mystery and depth of her love for music that she gets to share with her best friend and life’s partner. What better way to express it than with this joint recording of “Le Mystique D’Amour. Irena’s new CD, “Songs My Mother Taught Me” continues her musical journey with Czech, French, Ukrainian, and German art song favourites.
Irena Welhasch Baerg currently lives in London, Ontario with her husband Theodore Baerg, close to their two married sons and grand children, She continues to perform and teach some of Canada’s finest young singers in her private studio.