Nightingale of the North-Georgina Stirling
Twillingate Museum and Crafts
Twillingate, Newfoundland and Labrador
How did a young girl from an outport community on the northeast coast of Newfoundland gain international recognition on the stages of the world?
The Twillingate Museum Community Memories project tells the story of Twillingate-born opera singer, Georgina Stirling.
Georgina Ann Stirling descended from an illustrious family that provided a comfortable home, a good education and musical training. Many musical evenings were hosted by the Stirling family, and their active involvement in church, community and charity work enabled Georgina to perform in public at an early age. Her family recognized her musical ability, and in 1888, at the age of 21, Georgina journeyed to Paris to begin voice training under the direction of Mathilde Marchese. This was the beginning of her brilliant career.
“Maria Toulinguet,” Georgina’s stage name, was declared to be “The Greatest Dramatic Soprano in the World.” From 1890 through 1897, her prestigious performances included LaScala in Milan, with the Italian Royal family in attendance; her Paris debut; and the Scalchi Operatic Tour in America.
The crescendo of Georgina’s brilliant but short career took place at Chioggia, Italy in 1898. This was her night of triumph when patrons released live canaries in recognition of her work.
In the early 1900s, Maria Toulinguet was confronted with a serious throat ailment. She was thrown into years of despair and moved to England to be near her sisters, where she entered a rehabilitation center. Her voice never regained its former grandeur.
In 1929, Georgina returned to live with her ageing sister, Rose, in the Twillingate house where she was born. She had studied horticulture while in England and developed a unique flower garden, growing fruit trees and enough vegetables to sustain them. She was a respected citizen of the community and once again became very active in charity work. The remaining six years of Georgina’s life were happy ones, spent quietly in the town that had influenced her early years. On Easter Sunday morning, April 23, 1935, in the old Stirling house–the voice of the Nightingale was forever stilled.
It is more than 100 years since Georgina set out on her brilliant career, and she is still inspiring opera enthusiasts worldwide. In 1983, Amy Louise Peyton, whose husband was a relative of Georgina, wrote a biography entitled “Nightingale of the North.” This book has brought awareness to new generations of Newfoundland’s first opera singer. In 1997, Eleanor Cameron Stockley of Twillingate wrote and directed the musical “Georgie,” which involved a local cast of approximately 22 adults and 13 children and increased new interest and pride in our native opera star. People came from all over the province and beyond to see this performance. Sandra Campbell, a writer and educator in Ontario, listened to CBC Radio’s Clyde Gilmor tell the story of Georgie. She was spellbound by the tale and later came to Twillingate to learn more. As a consequence of her journey, Sandra was inspired to write a novel entitled “Dreaming Georgie.”
Many magazines and newspaper articles about Georgie have been written over the years. In 2002, Vision Television filmed a segment of “Steeplechasing” at the Twillingate Museum. This included the Georgina Stirling Exhibit. This exhibit was made possible by Ernest and Amy Peyton of Gander, who preserved a number of Georgina’s stage garments and personal items. Over 12 000 people visit the Georgina Exhibit every summer and stroll down the short path behind the Museum to St. Peter’s Cemetery. A monument, erected by an admiring public in 1964, marks her grave.
No Newfoundlander has achieved such fame as a singer, before or since the time of Georgina Stirling.