Louis Danto - Biography
Louis Harry Danto (born 2 May 1929, Suwałki, Poland – July 23, 2010) was a lyric tenor and cantor who has won acclaim across the world for his concert appearances and recordings of Italian, Russian, and French opera repertoire, as well as in the Yiddish (Jewish) and cantorial music of which he is one of the world's leading exponents. He performed extensively throughout North America, Europe and Israel, and has recorded 24 solo albums for RCA, DaCamera, Musical Heritage Society, and Cadenza. Numerous contemporary composers have written for, and dedicated their works to Louis Danto.
He became recognized for the "rare beauty and purity of his voice, its mastery, power and control, and for his breathtaking emotional expressivity." After a performance at Carnegie Hall, Alan Rich of the New York Times wrote, "a voice of great beauty, clear and true — breathtaking, radiant, as though from another world." George Jellinek, broadcaster and music critic for Stereo Review magazine (USA), wrote of Louis Danto: "No other tenor under contract to a major U.S. opera company today can duplicate such technique and overall control."
He became cantor at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda synagogue (Toronto, Canada) in 1973 until his retirement in 1998. An avid collector and scholar, in 2005, he donated one of the world's largest and most important historical collections of Jewish music – rare sheet music, recordings, and books – to Beth Emeth synagogue.
As a child, Louis Danto sang at his synagogue in Suwałki, eastern Poland; he sang as an alto soloist in the choirs of such greats as Jacob Berman and David Moshe Steinberg. During the 1939 partition of Poland by Nazi Germany and the USSR, his family moved eastward into Belarus in the Soviet zone. Soon afterwards, Louis won first prize with a Hebrew song in a children's singing competition in Baranovich, Belarus. During the competition, the Nazis invaded his city and murdered his entire family. Louis was fortunate enough to escape to Minsk. There he studied voice and cello at the local conservatory from 1939-1941. When Germany invaded Russia, Danto was moved once more this time with a group of other talented children deep into Russia where he continued his musical studies.
After the war
Danto moved to Rome to study voice with L. Samoshi. It was here that he caught the attention of world renowned singers Beniamino Gigli and Tito Schipa, who heralded him as a major discovery in the tradition of the great bel canto tenors. Danto went on to New York to study with Dr. Puegell. By the time Louis Danto arrived in the United States in 1950 his voice had already thrilled audiences in Russia and Italy. In the following years his repertoire expanded to include Italian, French and Russian Opera, and Yiddish art and folk songs.
International concert and recording artist
Louis Danto has performed throughout the world to critical and popular acclaim. In December 1965, he chanted a special prayer at Tito Schipa's funeral in New York at the request of the family with leading singers from the Metropolitan Opera in attendance. Cantor Danto, in September 1984, sang before Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens to an inter-faith audience of 16,000 and millions of television viewers.
He has recorded 24 solo albums for RCA, DaCamera, Musical Heritage Society, and Cadenza. The most recent recordings include Arias and Songs of Love, made during his 1995 concert tour of Europe, recorded with the State Opera of Prague and I Heard a Voice From Heaven recorded with violist Rivka Golani, both released in the spring of 1996. In December 1997 he released a new CD, Music From The Soul of a People. Most of these recordings can be heard on a free online audio archive at Florida Atlantic University, and are also available from a family produced record label Cadenza Records distributed by Cantorial Art.
Cantor and champion of Jewish music
Danto combined the best of his artistic background with his Jewish soul and made Hazzanut (leading the sung parts of the Jewish liturgy in synagogues) his chosen career. He studied Hazzanut with conductor Leo Low and composer Herman Zalis. He also expanded his knowledge of Jewish sources at the Yeshiva of Mirr where he studied from 1950 to 1954. He served at the Jewish Center of Atlantic Beach, New York, and at the Park Synagogue in Cleveland, Ohio, retiring in 1998 after over 30 years as cantor at Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda synagogue in Toronto. Cantor Danto has been honoured by the synagogue with the title Cantor Emeritas, and remains an important part of the synagogue.
In addition, he is a researcher and a champion of rare and unusual repertoire: during his 1989 East-European tour (of concerts in Moscow, Leningrad, Odessa, Kiev and Budapest) he discovered the manuscripts of many songs from the long-lost original classics of Jewish music, several of which he recorded for the first time on his Gems of the Jewish Operetta and Masters of the Jewish Art Song/The St. Petersburg School.
In February 1998, Cantor Louis Danto received an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.
The Cantor Louis Danto Musical Library
Upon retirement, Danto announced his desire to dedicate his entire collection to Beth Emeth. His wish was approved at a general meeting in September 2004. The proposal included renovation of the Beth Emeth library as well as the construction of a stage and theatre seating 200, to permit performances of the great variety of Jewish music in his collection.
Authentic music from more than 100 years ago can be found in the collection. Some of the many examples of rare Jewish music include: Yiddish Culture from Kiev, published in 1921; Songs from Leipzig, published in 1920; an original edition of Avram Goldfaden's operetta King Ahasverus, published in 1899, and 500 Years of Yiddish Poetry, published in New York in 1917.
The categories include cantorial music, classified down to specific prayers, so if one wants many versions of, for example, L’Cha Dodi, one can easily find each version in one particular file. Similar files can be found for Yiddish folk songs, Yiddish pop songs, Yiddish operettas, Sephardic songs, serious compositions for cantor and choir, Chassidic music, and, among other categories, Jewish music written by such non-Jewish composers as Handel, Schubert, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Right now, some of the rare books can be seen in glass cases in the Beth Emeth Library. Most of them are still in organized files in a Beth Emeth storage room. But all of the collection can still be viewed by the general public upon supervised request. The music exists not only as sheet music but also as 78 and 33 rpm records, big reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, and CDs.
The collection has been praised by a number of experts, including Professor Edwin Seroussi, the Emmanuel Alexandre Professor of Musicology and Director of Jewish Music Research Centre of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Dr Eliott Kahn, who has been the Music Archivist at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary for over 12 years.
- Zing un Tanz (Yiddish) – RCA 1653/54 – LP
- Israeli Composers (Hebrew) – MHS 1653/54 – LP
- Psalms of Israel, Hallel Oratorios (Hebrew) – MHS 1709 – LP
- Song of My People (Yiddish) – Sound Path Records SP009 – LP
- Russian Romantic Songs (Russian) – MHS 1185 – LP
- Louis Danto Salutes Israel (Hebrew) – MHS 1781/Cadenza 113 – Cass/CD
- Russian Romantic Songs (Russian) Da Camera TSM 9001/Cadenza 100 – LP/Cass/CD
- Prayers of My People (Cantorial) – Cadenza 101 – LP/Cass/CD
- Come Back to Sorrento (Italian) – Cadenza 102 – LP/Cass
- Songs of Holocaust and Heroism (Yiddish) – Cadenza 103 – LP/Cass/CD
- Favourite Jewish Songs (Yiddish) Cadenza 104 – 1997 - Cass/CD
- None But The Lonely Heart (Fr, Ger, Russ) – MHS 3276/Cadenza 105 – Cass/CD
- The Art of Cantor Louis Danto (Cantorial) – Cadenza 106 – Cass
- Russian Art and Folk Songs (Russian) – Cadenza 107 – Cass/CD
- Gems of The Jewish Operetta (Yiddish) – Cadenza 108 – Cass/CD
- Masters of the Jewish Art Song/The St Petersburg School (Yiddish) – Cadenza 109 – Cass/CD
- I Heard a Voice From Heaven (Liturgical: Hebrew, Ladino), with Rivka Golani, viola – Cadenza 110 – Cass/CD
- Arias and Songs of Love (Fr, It, Rus, Eng, Sp, Ger) (with Prague State Orchestra, cond. Michel Philippe) – Cadenza 111, 1996 – Cass/CD
- Music from the Soul of a People (Liturgical) – Cadenza 112 – Cass/CD
- The Best of Louis Danto – Cadenza 114 – CD
- Louis Danto in Recital, Vienna and New York (1961–65) (It, Gre, Rus, Heb, Pol) – Cadenza 115 - 2001 - CD (2CDs)
- Musical Moments with Cantor Louis Danto: 50 years of musical treasures - LRCD120 (4CDs)
- Florida Atlantic University Libraries, Judaica Sound Archives (free audio archive of Danto's historical recordings)
- Biography at Beth Emeth synagogue, Toronto
- Biography at Cantorial Art (source for recordings)
- Rick Kardonne, Cantor gives prized music collection to synagogue, Jewish Tribune, September 29, 2005. Accessed 3 October 2008.
- Cantor Danto Music Library, Beth Emeth synagogue, Toronto
- Image of Louis Danto, the cantor (Florida Atlantic University Libraries)
- Image of Louis Danto, the concert artist (Cantorial Art)