Famous Singers of To-day and Yesterday - Part 7

Part 7

Fraulein Lehmann's position in the operatic world was not won suddenly.

She made her first appearance in Prague as the First Boy in "Zauberflote," after which she filled engagements in Dantzig (1868) and Leipzig (1870). In the latter year she appeared at Berlin as Vielka, and was so successful that she received a further engagement. In 1876 she was appointed Imperial Chamber singer.

She now began to sing in Wagner's operas, taking the parts of Woglinde and Helmwige, and she sang the "Bird" music in Wagner's trilogy at Bayreuth. In 1880 she made a successful appearance in England as Violetta, and again as Philine in "Mignon." She also sang at Her Majesty's Theatre for two seasons, and in 1884 she went to Covent Garden and made a substantial success as Isolde. The following year she visited the United States, and for several years was frequently heard in German opera, acquiring a great reputation, but in 1892 she was taken ill and returned to Germany. At that time the condition of her health was such that it was feared she would never sing again; but in 1896 she reappeared and was engaged to sing at Bayreuth, where she electrified the world by her magnificent performance. One of the critics wrote regarding the event: "Lehmann is the greatest dramatic singer alive, despite the fact that her voice is no longer fresh; but her art is consummate, her tact so delicate, and her appreciation of the dramatic situation so accurate, that to see her simply in repose is keen pleasure."

Like all the greatest Wagnerian singers, her reputation was made in work of a very different nature. It was, indeed, because of her ability to sing music of the Italian school that she was so highly successful in the Wagner roles, and it may be stated that her long career, and Materna's, are sufficient refutation of the oft-repeated a.s.sertion, that Wagner opera wears out a singer's voice rapidly.

In 1888 Lilli Lehmann married Paul Kalisch, of Berlin, a tenor singer of good repute. The marriage took place after an engagement of several years, and was carried out, in a most informal manner, in New York.

Herr Kalisch telegraphed one afternoon to a clergyman to the effect that he was coming at five o'clock to be married. The clergyman held himself in readiness, the couple arrived promptly, and the knot was tied. During the few years of retirement, Frau Lehmann-Kalisch resided in Berlin, where she devoted her time to teaching the vocal art, but since her Bayreuth appearance of 1896, she has revisited America, and renewed her former triumphs.

Minnie Hauk will be remembered as the creator (in London) of "Carmen,"

in Bizet's opera of that name. The opera had not been very successful in Paris, but when it was produced at Her Majesty's, in London, Miss Hauk demonstrated that she was not only a singer of more than ordinary ability, but possessed also considerable dramatic power.

Miss Hauk was born in New York, in 1852. Her father was a German, and a scholar of high reputation, who, having taken part in the revolutionary movement of 1848, went to New York, where he married an American lady.

On account of her health he was obliged to take her, and the child, Minnie, to the West, and they settled at Leavenworth, Kan., where Mr.

Hauk acquired some property. At this time Kansas was still peopled by Indians, and life was rough and unsettled. Amidst wars, inundations, hurricanes, and attacks from Indians, Minnie Hauk spent her early childhood.

Her mother's health did not improve even under these stimulating conditions, and the family moved to New Orleans, taking pa.s.sage in a steamer owned by Mr. Hauk. This vessel was lost during the voyage, but the family arrived safely in New Orleans, in time to witness the siege of that city during the War of the Rebellion,--the burning of the cotton presses and ships, the battle, and the occupation by Northern troops, all form most interesting and striking recollections. Yet amidst the scene of strife, the young girl was singing from morning till night, roaming about the plantations surrounding the city, climbing trees, imitating the songs of birds. The negroes on the plantations taught her their songs, she learned to play the banjo, and she organized theatrical performances amongst her playmates. All her inclinations pointed to a stage career, and when a concert was arranged for the benefit of the widows and orphans of the war, she was invited to sing, though not more than twelve years old.

This was her first appearance in public, and the pieces which she sang were "Casta Diva," and a selection from Auber's "Crown Diamonds." Her success in this concert was so great, that when the family returned to New York, she was placed under Signor Errani to begin her operatic education. She made rapid progress, and after several essays at the private theatre of Mr. Leonard Jones, she made a successful debut at the Academy of Music, singing the part of Amina in "La Sonnambula," and becoming at once a popular singer. This was in 1868, and later in the same year she made her debut in London.

Under the management of Maurice Strakosch she made a tour through Holland and Russia, and was also well received in Vienna, in 1870, at the Imperial Opera House. In 1874, she was invited to join the Royal Opera House at Berlin, as leading prima donna, by the express desire of Emperor William and the Empress Augusta. Here she remained four years.

In 1877 she appeared at the Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels, and in 1878 she returned to America. During the spring seasons of 1878 to 1880, she sang on alternate nights with Nilsson, at Her Majesty's in London. She made a brilliant record both in Europe and America, as a leading star of Her Majesty's Opera Company during the seasons of 1881-2-3-4-5-6, but of late years has not been heard in opera.

Mapleson gives Miss Hauk credit for being one of the most capricious of prima donnas, and declares that he generally received three or four notes a day from her containing complaints or requests. She married in 1876 Chevalier Hesse von Wartegg, who has written some interesting books on Tunis and Algiers.



The decade beginning with the year 1860 was remarkably prolific in singers, producing not only the prima donnas whose careers we have reviewed in the previous chapters, but also some of the finest contralto, tenor, and baritone singers of the latter part of the century. With each decade we find the American singer more in evidence.

We have had Clara Louise Kellogg and Minnie Hauk, the sopranos, Adelaide Phillips, contralto, and Annie Louise Cary, and the number increases as we proceed, until we find American singers standing on an artistic equality with the best that the world can produce.

The decade of 1870 opens with a prima donna from the American continent,--a singer who has held her place in public estimation for nearly thirty years, Madame Albani. While she was not such a marvellous colorature singer as Patti or Gerster, she combined so many excellent qualities that she is justly ent.i.tled to a position among the great singers of the century. As one critic expressed his opinion, she was "beautiful, tuneful, birdlike, innocent, and ladylike," to which might be added, "always reliable."

Madame Albani's family name was Marie Louise Cecilia Emma Lajeunesse, and she was born, in 1850, of French-Canadian parents at Chambly, near Montreal. Her father was a professor of the harp, so she began life in a musical atmosphere. When she was five years of age the family moved to Montreal, and she was placed in the convent of the Sacre Coeur, where she received her education, and such musical instruction as the convent could provide. In 1864 the family again moved, this time to Albany, N.

Y., and when Mlle. Lajeunesse entered upon her professional career, she adopted the name of this city, because it was here that she decided upon becoming a professional singer.

While singing in the choir of the Catholic Cathedral she attracted the attention of the bishop by her beautiful voice, and he strongly urged her father to take her to Europe, and place her under proper masters for the development of her remarkable talent. To provide the necessary funds, a concert was given in Albany, after which Mlle. Lajeunesse and her father proceeded to Paris, where she commenced her studies with Duprez. After some months she went on to Milan, where she became a pupil of Lamperti, who thought so highly of her that he dedicated to her a treatise on "the shake." In 1870 she made her debut at Messina, in the Sonnambula, after which she sang for a time at Florence.

In 1872 she obtained an engagement in London, and on April 2d appeared at the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden. The beautiful qualities of her voice and the charm of her appearance were at once appreciated, and before the end of the season she was firmly established in the favor of the public. Later in the season she appeared in Paris, and then returned to Milan for further study, but so favorable an impression had she made, that she was engaged for the season of 1873 in London. She then went to St. Petersburg, after which she revisited America, and sang again in the Cathedral at Albany.

In 1878 Albani married Mr. Ernest Gye, the lessee of Covent Garden Theatre, and for many years was one of the permanent attractions at that house. She has visited America several times, and has also sung in most of the large cities of Europe, where her reputation has been steadily maintained.

Madame Albani's honors have not all been won in opera, though she has an immense repertoire, including Italian, French, and German operas. She is also one of the foremost concert and oratorio singers, and has had the honor of creating numerous soprano parts at the great festivals. At the request of Sir Arthur Sullivan, she travelled from Brussels to Berlin expressly to sing the part of "Elsie" in the "Golden Legend," at its second performance in that city. She had created the part when it was produced in 1886.

In England, where Madame Albani has made her home for so many years, she is as popular and as highly respected on account of her domestic life, as on account of her artistic career, and her friends are not only numerous but include many of the most intellectual people of the day.

Notwithstanding the success which Madame Albani made in England, France, Russia, and other countries, she had her trials and disappointments. At one time, when she was singing at La Scala, in Milan, she was suffering from a slight hoa.r.s.eness. Most audiences would have been indulgent, but not so the Milanese, who are particularly cruel to singers who have made their reputation in other places. The Milanese hissed and groaned.

Huskiness in a singer was, to them, a crime. The tenor, seeing how matters stood, was taken with a sudden indisposition, and left Albani to carry on the performance alone. The opera was "Lucia," and it proceeded no farther than the mad scene, for Madame Albani, indignant at the treatment accorded her, turned her back on the audience, and in a most dignified manner, marched off the stage, leaving the curtain to fall on a scene of confusion. No entreaties or arguments on the part of the impresario would induce her to finish the opera, or even to continue her engagement at La Scala.

Colonel Mapleson tells this story concerning Albani's first London engagement. He heard of her singing at a small theatre at Malta, and, thinking that she would be successful, he made her an offer, through an agent, of a contract to sing at Her Majesty's Theatre. She agreed to it, and went to London, but, on arriving there, she told the cabman to drive her to the "Italian Opera House." He, instead of going to Her Majesty's, took her to Covent Garden, which was also devoted to Italian opera. She was shown up to the manager's office, and stated that she had come to sign the contract which Mr. Mapleson had offered her. Mr. Gye, thinking to play a joke on his rival, Mapleson, made out a contract, and Albani signed it. Mr. Gye then told her that he was not Colonel Mapleson, but that he could do much better for her. He offered to tear up the contract if she liked, but told her that Nilsson was singing at Her Majesty's and would brook no rival. Albani decided to let the contract stand, and thus became one of the stars of Covent Garden, eventually marrying the son of Mr. Gye.

Concerning Albani's singing in Berlin, the _Berliner Tageblatt_ said: "The lady possesses an exceedingly peculiar organ, trained in a remarkable manner, and no one else has a voice which can be compared to it. It is not extensive in its range; the lower chest notes of the one-line octave might be fuller and more powerful, but the upper register is distinguished for enchanting sweetness, unfailing correctness, and, what is especially worthy of notice, a softness enabling the lady to breathe forth the gentlest pianissimo in pa.s.sages which others can reach only with the greatest effort. Runs, staccatos, and shakes are not merely certain and pleasing, but, as regards form, so graceful that we listen to them with delight."

An interesting anecdote concerning Madame Albani, and one which may tend to confirm the faith of those who doubt theorists, is to the effect that, when she was young and unknown, she paid a visit to a throat specialist, who had a theory that, by examination, it is possible for an expert to tell whether the possessor has an organ susceptible of producing a fine singer, even if he does not know music, and never sang a note.

After examining Albani, without knowing her particular reason for consulting him, he exclaimed: "My dear young lady, Nature has given you a wonderful organ. You can, if you will, become one of the greatest of singers. If you possess dramatic ability equal to the endowment of your throat, you can become a famous lyric artist, and I advise you to devote your energies to the cultivation of your powers."

The young singer thanked him, and disappeared. Some years after, he went West, and one day in Chicago, a handsomely dressed lady entered his office. "Don't you know me?" she said. But he was unable to recall her last visit, until she revealed her name, and related the whole incident, when he seemed very much surprised at the proof of his own wisdom.

In 1898 Madame Albani paid a visit to South Africa, where she had a grand reception. After a career of nearly thirty years, she is still as popular as ever.

The history of Emma Abbott is one which will be read with interest by all struggling and ambitious young people, for it is a story of brave battling against innumerable difficulties. Miss Abbott was the daughter of a poor music teacher, of Peoria, Illinois. Her early years gave her an acquaintance with hardship which, perhaps, enabled her to keep up her courage in the face of all obstacles. Imbued with the desire to help the family finances, she got the idea of giving a concert on her own account, for even as a small child she had a beautiful voice. At the age of thirteen, when she went to Mount Pulaski, on a visit to some friends, she put her idea into execution. She was trusted by the printer for her programmes and handbills. She posted her notices with her own hand, and secured a good audience. Her proceeds amounted to ten dollars, of which three dollars went to settle her bills, and with the remaining seven dollars she returned in triumph to her mother. After this, she gave guitar lessons to pay her schooling. At the age of sixteen, she heard of a vacancy for a school-teacher, and walked nine miles to see the school committee, with the result that, in recognition of her pluck, the place was given to her. Four months later she gave her first large concert in Peoria, and made one hundred dollars. She now travelled to various places giving concerts and fell in with an opera company from Chicago, the manager of which induced her to join the company. In due course the company broke up, and Miss Abbott found herself without money, but a kind-hearted railroad man advised her to go to New York, and present herself to Parepa-Rosa. He gave her a pa.s.s to Detroit, and then she was to go through Canada, and so to New York. Her journey was managed in the face of tremendous obstacles. She gave concerts, but found little response to her efforts. She frequently had to walk from one town to another. Once she had her feet frozen and many times she suffered from hunger. At last she reached New York, but, in spite of all her efforts, failed to reach Parepa-Rosa, and with her last fifteen dollars, she set out for the West again. While in Toledo she heard that Miss Kellogg was in town, and she called at her hotel and asked to see her. She sang for Miss Kellogg, who received her kindly, and who was so pleased with her that she gave her a letter to Errani, New York, and enough money to enable her to study for two years.

Thus ended her bitterest struggles. After studying some time she secured the position of soprano in the choir of the Fifth Avenue Church, with a salary of $1,500, and on May 20, 1872, she set off for Europe with a large sum of money subscribed by the wealthy people of the church, whose admiration she had gained by her voice and her character.

She soon made her debut in Paris, and made a sensation. In Paris she married Eugene Wetherell, a young druggist of New York.

If Miss Abbott is not enrolled among the great opera singers, it is because her ambition led her away from the beaten track, for, having made a reputation, she established an opera company of her own, which existed in America for several years, and enabled her to make a fortune estimated at half a million dollars. Her husband died in 1889, and his loss was a blow from which she never fully recovered. She was herself taken away in her prime in 1891.

In 1873 a young singer made her debut at Dresden, who was destined to achieve a high reputation as an interpreter of Wagner, and to rival the greatest stars of her school. Therese Malten, who was born at Insterburg, Eastern Prussia, appeared in Dresden as Pamina, and as Agatha. For nearly ten years she sang only in Dresden, taking many of the soprano roles in Italian opera. In 1882 she sang at Bayreuth, as Kundry, at the desire of Wagner, who had a very high opinion of her ability, which was amply justified by the results.

In London she appeared in May, 1882, when she made a great impression, and the critics declared that, though her art in singing was not so perfect as Materna's, her voice was fresh, magnificent, powerful, and that she had great personal beauty. Besides possessing a voice of extraordinary compa.s.s, with deep and powerful notes in the lower register, she was considered an admirable actress. In 1883 she was chosen by Wagner to sing the part of Isolde at Bayreuth, when she was described, amidst all the praise that was bestowed upon her, as a young singer who was never known out of Dresden until she sang in London the previous year.

Madame Katharina Lohse-Klafsky, who was born in the same year as Malten, and was for several years prima donna at the Hamburg Opera, visited America in 1895, and died unexpectedly at Hamburg the following year as the result of an operation. She was a native of Hungary, and began her career in Italian opera, though she was best known as a Wagnerian singer. She had a large repertoire, and created the part, in German, in "La Navarraise." She met with great success in London in 1892 and 1894.

She had a full, rich-toned voice and a handsome stage presence.

A career of exceptional brilliance, but all too brief, was that of Etelka Gerster, who was born at Koschau, in Hungary, in 1856. Her father was a merchant, and brought up his family to refined tastes. All his children were fond of music, but none seemed to think of special musical study until a visiting friend from Vienna spoke of the promise which he thought lay in Etelka's voice.

This gentleman asked permission to bring his friend h.e.l.lmesberger to hear her, and some time later the visit took place. Doctor h.e.l.lmesberger endorsed the opinion already given, but said that there was only one judge of such matters in Vienna,--Madame Marchesi A visit was therefore made to Vienna, with the result that Mlle. Gerster became a pupil of Marchesi, and after a year of hard study won first prize at the Conservatoire.

About this time "Aida" was brought out at Vienna, and the composer Verdi came to superintend its production. He visited the Conservatoire, and a little soiree musicale was given in his honor. On this occasion Gerster sang several pieces, and Verdi was so pleased that he advised her to go on the stage.

Soon after this Gerster got an engagement to sing at Venice under the management of Signor Gardini. She spent two seasons singing in Italian and Spanish towns, but in 1877 she appeared in Berlin at Kroll's Theatre. This engagement was the turning-point of her career, for by the magic of her voice she turned the second-cla.s.s theatre into a resort to which the n.o.bility flocked every night, and the venerable emperor and his court always held the front row of seats.

For three weeks the company, composed of singers unknown to fame, sang to empty houses. Then, whispers of the fact that Kroll's Theatre had a singer of extraordinary ability resulted in increasing audiences. The emperor came and was delighted, and an invitation to sing at court was the result. After this triumphant engagement, Gerster married her manager, Signor Gardini, while they were in Pesth.

Compared with many prima donnas, Madame Gerster's life has been uneventful. Her position as a singer was as a representative of the old art of beautiful singing. She charmed with gracefulness, smoothness, and exquisite finish of execution, and the most perfect musical taste, which every phrase, even in the most florid pa.s.sages, revealed. She could not awe, like Pasta, but she could fascinate and charm. She was not a great actress, but she was graceful and pleasing on the stage.

Madame Gerster visited the United States several times, but at the end of the season of 1881 she declared that she would never sing again under the management of Colonel Mapleson. He had hurt her feelings by neglect.

He had called on other members of the company, and showed various little attentions to them, but he never called on her nor inquired about her health when she was not feeling well, and finally went off to Europe without saying "Good-by." This hurt the feelings of Signor Gardini, as well as those of his talented spouse, but she nevertheless returned as a member of his company in 1883-84, when there was great rivalry between Gerster and Patti. On approaching Cheyenne, Patti insisted on having her car detached from the train and making a separate entry, as she could not bear to share the admiration of the mult.i.tude with Gerster. During this tour there was one occasion on which, Patti and Gerster appearing together, Patti received so many flowers that the audience were weary with the delay caused by handing them over the footlights. When this ceremony was over, one small basket of flowers was handed for Gerster, but the audience arose and gave her a tremendous ovation. Henceforth Patti refused to sing with Gerster, and open war was declared, Patti declaring that Gerster had "the evil eye," and Gerster saying pointed things about Patti, as, for instance, when the aged governor of Missouri, in a burst of enthusiasm, kissed Patti, and Gerster, on being asked her opinion about this frivolity, said that she saw no harm in a man kissing a woman old enough to be his mother.

In 1885 Gerster came again to America on a concert tour, but her beautiful voice had gone. She sang twice in New York, and made a most dismal failure, so she gave up the tour and went home, much to the regret of Americans who remembered the days when her singing gave the most exquisite delight.