Mezzo - Soprano  Sonia  Sharnova

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Sonia Sharnova, 92, Chicago Opera Diva

December 5, 1988  Chicago Tribune (Obituary)  [Text only - photo from another source]

sharnovaSonia Sharnova, 92, a contralto of the former Chicago Civic Opera, was considered one of the best opera singers in Chicago and until recently gave vocal lessons to boys.

Services for Miss Sharnova, a Near North Side resident, will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the chapel at 5206 N. Broadway. She died Saturday in Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center.

Miss Sharnova made her first appearance in Wagnerian opera in 1929 with the German Grand Opera company. The next year she appeared with the Chicago Civic opera. In 1932 she was a member of the Chicago Stadium Grand opera. She was known for her work as a leading contralto of the German National Opera Company, the Chicago Opera Companies, German repertory and her voice teaching. Notable among her numerous roles was Fricka in Die Walküre and Herodias in Salome.

Her last major public appearance was in 1954 in a performance of` Faust during the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony.

Her 90th birthday, May 2, 1986, was designated Sonia Sharnova Day in Chicago by Mayor Harold Washington.

She was almost 6 feet tall and stood just as erect as a soldier. She had tremendous energy and an incredibly fine mind and always strove for excellence, said Arthur Segil, her nephew.

Miss Sharnova coached voice in Chicago for numerous years. She was honored by the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago Historical Society and the Cliff Dwellers cultural group. She was a past president of the Womens Club of Musicians and the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

Miss Sharnova, the widow of I.T. Feingold, is survived by a daughter, Thelma Feldman; a son, Gene Feingold; a sister; two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

About a month after her 85th birthday, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting mezzo-soprano Sonia Sharnova at her home on the north side of Chicago.  She knew who I was from having heard me on WNIB, Classical 97, and was pleased to be able to speak again about her life and career.

Being a Wagner singer, I asked her about those works in particular, though we also spoke of a few other things.  Much of the time was spent with her reminiscences, so I did not interrupt even when subjects or times and dates changed.  Later I checked out the dates and details in the reference books, and her recollections, as they say, were spot on.

Very much like my massive presentation Massenet, Mary Garden and the Chicago Opera 1910-1932, I have added a number of photographs of programs and newspapers which feature her.  Many of these and are taken from a group of scrapbooks kept by an unknown Chicagoan.  During the interview, she would mention names both famous and forgotten, and to that end there are also some additional biographical items at the bottom of this webpage.  When a name is mentioned in the text, an asterisk [*] indicates that there is information and/or photo(s) of the person (or place) below.  Also, the use of links refers to my interviews (and the Massenet project) elsewhere on my website.  Quite a number of the other singers shown in the programs have biographical sketches on the Massenet pages.

sharnovaHere is much of what Sharnova said during our encounter . . . . . . . . .

Sonia Sharnova:    I was born and raised on the northwest side of Chicago.  My first schooling was at the Newberry School, and in 5th grade I had my first German lessons.  I never dreamed then that at one time I would be a very busy Wagnerian singer!  Then I went to Waller High School (which is now called Lincoln Park High School), and I had a very fine German teacher there.  But the neighborhood was heavily German and I heard so much that it was easy for me to sing it.  It was like a second language for me.

Bruce Duffie:    When did you first go to the opera?

SS:    I would say I was 17 or 18 years old.  I saw Galli-Curci* and Mary Garden.  I remember seeing Mary Garden in Pelléas et Mélisande and being so impressed by it even though I knew nothing about it.  I pride myself now that I had that kind of taste.  I remember Garden as Carmen, also.  [As can be seen in the program at right, she would later sing with Garden.]

BD:    Did you see any Wagner at this time?

SS:    I don’t remember any.  In High School, I started singing when I was 16, and the following year they were going to do the Pirates of Penzance.  I sang soprano, but I had a three octave range.  It was all head tone and wasn’t really great singing, but I sang the lead.  We put on the production at the Clark Theater near Waller High School.  Arthur Kraft* was the only professional to sing with us, and they paid to see us!  When I later met him at voice-teachers conventions, I called him my first leading tenor.  He told me I was terrible and that I had more breaks in my voice than anything, and so then I started to study seriously.  My first teacher didn’t do very much technically, but then I studied with Gustav Holmquist* at the Bush Conservatory*.  I never took the full course and never got a degree of any kind.  I just studied and sang.  I sang in temples and churches right away, and in little concerts at clubs.  One of my brothers became violist and was with the San Francisco Symphony until his death a few years ago.  He and I did study together and performed a great deal.  I had taken a domestic science course at Lewis Institute, but I failed chemistry and physics, and the next thing I knew I was taking cooking and sewing and singing in the glee club.  We gave performances and I was the soloist on occasion.  I did a great deal of singing, and Mr. Holmquist decided I should go East to his teacher, Oscar Siegel.  He was having summer classes in the Adirandaks, and I did a lot of singing there.  But back to my schooling...  Everyone thought I had to have a job to be able to earn a living, and I had taken a social service course and became a recreation teacher.  I worked at Hull House, but in doing that kind of work with so many children
there were thirty or forty at a timewas tiring on my voice.  My classes in storytelling were very successful because everything I told I acted out!  But I decided I wanted to sing, so I gave up all that teaching.  I had a lot of work in New Yorksinging with a mixed quartet doing prologues before the movies and such things.  I remember one New Year’s Eve we came from Newark where we had sung excerpts from Carmen, and on the train we had to take off our makeup and put on our robes because we had to sing the Midnight Service at the First Church on Fifth Avenue.  The next year, Mr. Siegel decided to take his class to Europe to study with his teacher, Jean De Reszke*.  There were about thirty of us.  De Reszke was a delightful man and lived in a gorgeous villa.  He gave us much encouragement.

BD:    Were his classes in French?

SS:    No, he spoke English very well.  We studied French, though, in getting ready for our French roles.

BD:    What were some of his techniques?

SS:    He would say, “Spread the vocal cords” and “spread the tonsils.”  What he wanted was room across the throat so we would not strangulate the sounds.  I was very happy there and sang all the time.

BD:    He must have been happy with what he heard.

sharnovaSS:    Yes, I think so.  He made a stage out of his living room and had it set for the last act of Aïda.  When he felt in good voice, he sang with us.  I’ll never forget that and it was really wonderful.  He was very sure I was going to be a great success.  He was giving a performance of Don Giovanni and wanted me for a chorister, and I regret to this day that I did not do it.  I had already sung professionally and didn’t want to be in a chorus, but that was small-minded of me.  He was going to stage the work and all his pupils were going to be it in.  He worked very hard on the production, and only a few weeks after that, he died.  That was early April of 1925.

One of my greatest blessings was the ability to sing at sight.  This made is possible for me to learn things quickly and to memorize them so well.  The next winter I was in New York and studied acting with Madame Blanche Weinschenk*.  She was a tall, wild-looking woman with a red crop of hair.  She had been brought there by Rosa Ponselle*, and she taught me about 50 exercises that incorporated any type of thing you would have to do, any of the required movements
— even for Octavian or other boys roles, which I never did.  Then when you did roles, you could adapt her exercises to the requirements of the part.  I knew how to act, and how to react.  Later I stayed a year with her in Paris after having spent a second summer with De Reszke in Nice.  Madame Weinschenk was Alsatian, and was married to an editor of a Paris newspaper.  She was a tall, wild looking woman with a red crop of hair that fell over her shoulders.  I also had an Italian coach who helped me with my first rolesMaddalena in Rigoletto, and Azucena in Il Trovatore.  My debut was at the Nice opera as Maddalena, and I jumped in with only a bit or rehearsal.  At this time, I married one of the singers, John Lester Lichauer.  He went with me everywhere I sang, and we were together for five and a half years.

The Italians told me to go to Milan to sing for the manager, Sig. Meluzzi, so in the first week of May, 1925, I sang and acted the big scene from Il Trovatore.  I had worked on this very hard with Madame Weinschenk, and every job for which I used this scene for audition I got.  I was engaged, and in July I debuted at the Parpano Theater in Milan.  Next, Meluzzi had a season at Leghorn
where the naval base wasand in the winter of 1926 I sang Leonora in Favorita.  It was a big, difficult role, and Meluzzi’s wife was the first mezzo and did the early performances.  But I watched and studied the part and it came off quite well.  I think I got 50 Lira, about $5.00 per performance.  The American consul heard us, and came up with the idea to give a gala evening for the fleet which was coming in.  Meluzzi was thrilled.  I greeted vice-admiral Wells as he stepped off the boat, and invited him and his crew to be our guests.  We sang scenes from operas and I sang some American songs, and it was great publicity for the company.  I then went on singing in Italy doing whatever I could for three years.  By this time five years had gone by and it was the spring of 1928, and we knew it was time to come home.  But before I did, a Viennese coach whom I’d worked with in Milan thought it would be worth my while to go to Berlin before returning to America.  I had been supposed to sing Ulrica, but due to intrigue — a new singer paid the manager to sing in my place — I had a couple months free.  So I went to Berlin and the coach there, Michael Raucheisen*, thought I could be a Wagnerian singer.  I had been coaching lieder and two Wagner rolesFricka in Walküre, and Waltraute in Götterdämmerung.  This coach wanted me to stay and told me I could get engagements, but we had no money and were supposed to come home, so we did.

I had sung for Gatti-Cazzaza [General Manager of La Scala 1898-1908, and the Met 1908-1935] and he liked my voice, but he already had three altos and the Chicago Opera had three and the San Carlo Company was already booked for the season.  We were living then in New York with friends who had lived with us in Italy.  There was no opera for me, so I went to a coach to learn more songs and to get concerts together.  The coach, Ellmer Zoller*, asked about my two Wagner roles, and said there was a German Grand Opera Company that had been in America two years before and that the impresario was about to go abroad to engage a whole new company.  This was October of 1928. 

The soprano who was to do alternate Brünnhildes and Isoldes, Juliette Lippe [seen in photo below], was working at that time with Zoller and getting ready for a recital.  She was a tall, radiant and blonde, and I was tall and black-haired.  We worked together on the Waltraute scene and she got very excited.  Ottilie Metzger-Lattermann* was the first mezzo with the company and they needed a second, so I sang for Ernest Knoch*.  He asked for the two scenes I knew, which I sang, then he asked if I knew Brangäne.  I lied and said I knew a part of it, so he told me to come with the first act the next day.  So I immediately got the score and coached it with Zoller, and the next day I sang it for Knoch, and he said it was written for me!  Knoch told me to meet Mr. Huork [also in photo above], who was the manager for all the American singers.  He wasn’t the big man then that he later became, and was in a small hotel, but he signed me up under his management.  So I was to be the alternate for the company.  I had to learn the whole repertoire right away
both Frickas and both Erdas, and a Valkyrie and Waltraute in the Ring, as well as Brangäne.  The performances were to begin in January of 1929, so I had three months to learn all of this material.


With all of this new material to learn, I had the good judgment to call the stage director of the Metropolitan Opera.  They were starting rehearsals for their own season, and I told him who I was and what I was engaged to do, and asked for some private lessons.  This was Mr. Van Wymetal, Sr*.  He was very nice to me, but said he was very busy.  But his son, Von Wymetal, Jr., was a director, and if I would tell the father what I needed, he would teach his son who in turn would teach me.  The son was later director here in Chicago during the time of Longone*, so he gave me all the insights and we worked out the various scenes.

At this same time, Metzger-Latterman cabled to say she was ill, and so having barely gotten the role memorized and with very little on-stage rehearsal, I made my New York debut as Brangäne at the Manhattan Opera House.  I think I was numb!  The Isolde was Johanna Gadski [shown in the box below], who was re-entering after ten years of being away.  She had been the top Wagnerian singer, but she was paralyzed with fear.  But she did all right.  One reviewer said that I had a very pleasant voice, but lamented that I looked at the conductor all evening!  By the end of the week I had sung all the other roles I would do on the tour, and Isaacson said in his review that Sharnova would go ahead.  This was great praise, and I got good reviews as we went on.  The next city was Philadelphia and I did the matinee on Saturday.  I was still nervous, but the reviews got better, and Mr. Hurok (who was taking over the whole managership then) re-engaged me for the following year.  We had a wonderful press-agent who went ahead and arranged lectures in each of the cities before our arrival.  In each place we gave a week of opera.  Ernst Knoch conducted; Richard Gross and Carl Braun* were Wotan, Johanna Gadski [shown immediately below] and Juliette Lippe [shown in photo above] were Brunnhilde and Isolde, Willy Zilken* was Siegmund and Tristan, Anna Schoeffler-Schorr (Friedrich Schorr’s wife) was Sieglinde, Hans Tentzler* was Siegfried.  Oh, these were exciting performances, really exciting, and we were re-engaged for 1930.

gadskiJohanna Gadski was born in Anklam, Prussia in 1872, and studied singing with Mme. Schröder-Chaloupha in Stettin. In 1889, at the age of 17, she made her debut at the Kroll Theatre in Berlin as Agathe in Der Freischütz. She gained valuable experience singing in provincial German opera houses, returning to the Kroll in 1892. In 1895 she began to expand her career internationally, touring Holland and the United States. She sang with the Damrosch Opera Company in 1895-96, creating the role of Hester Prynne in Walter Damrosch's opera, The Scarlet Letter. Further appearances with Damrosch took place in 1898-99. She made her debut at Covent Garden in 1899 as Elizabeth in Tannhäuser, and later that year sang Eva in Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth.

The 27 year-old Johanna Gadski made her Metropolitan Opera debut in a Philadelphia performance of Tannhäuser, on 28 December 1899, substituting for Milka Ternina as Elizabeth. Within two weeks, Gadski made her official Met debut in New York on 6 January 1900 as Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer, soon adding the roles of Sieglinde and Eva. During the next two years at the Met, Gadski added roles from the Italian repertory singing Aïda, Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana), Valentine (Les Huguenots) and Amelia (Ballo in Maschera) demonstrating versatility equaling that of Nordica and Eames.

In 1904 Gadski left the Met for two seasons, giving extensive concert tours in the United States during 1905 and 1906. It was during this period that she studied the role of Isolde with Lilli Lehmann. She performed at the Salzburg Festival as Donna Elvira in 1906 (and later in 1910) with Lilli Lehmann as Donna Anna. She also sang Pamina in 1910, Lehmann performing as the First Lady. Upon her return to the Metropolitan Opera, she sang her first Isolde on 15 February 1907. In addition to the standard repertoire, Gadski sang in premieres of Dame Ethel Smyth's Der Wald in 1903 (the first opera by a woman to be performed at the Met), Ludwig's Thuille's Lobetanz in 1911 and Leo Blech's Versiegelt in 1912. Gadski's career at the Met lasted until 1917.

From 13 April 1917, the date of Gadski's last performance at the Met (as Isolde) to 28 November 1921, no performances there were sung in German. The few Wagnerian operas performed, beginning in 1920, were sung in English.

Johanna Gadski returned to the United States in 1926, under the auspices of Sol Hurok, for a series of Wagnerian concerts. Her success led Hurok to organize a German Opera Company to support Gadski in performances of Wagner's Ring cycle. They toured ten cities, including Philadelphia and Chicago. In 1928, Hurok once again formed a company starring Gadski, and expanded the repertory. The tours took place from 1928 to 1930.

Gadski formed her own company and appeared in 1930-31. She planned to return to the United States for yet another tour in 1932, but died early that year in an automobile accident.

--  Harold Bruder (From liner notes to a CD re-issue on the Marston label) 

BD:    What kind of auditoriums were you in on these tours?

SS:    We toured in every kind of hall.  Some were concert halls, some were prize-fight rings, some places I wasn’t sure we’d get the scenery into.

BD:    How big an orchestra did you carry with you?

SS:    I don’t remember how many, but it was a pretty big orchestra.  I remember writing to someone at that time about what an expense it was to carry such a big company as ours.

BD:    During the tour, how were the performances received, especially in out-of-the-way places?

SS:    Wonderfully.  That second year was a fabulous tour.  The people were prepared and the houses were filled.  We were feted like royalty everywhere.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk about the staging.  How did you do the various scenes back then?

SS:    One of my reviews said, “It is so rare that a Brangäne knows what to do,” and he mentioned only a few
such as Louise Homer* and Sophie Braslau*.  He said I really knew what to do in that scene of changing the potion in Act I.  We had a simple but effective staging.  We were on the ship and I’d go to the back and hold up the poison and shake my head no, no.  You have to do it in time of certain measures.  Then I brought up the love potion and poured that into the cup.  When she called for me I was ready with it, and then I had to look back and be horrified about what I had done.  I wrote to that critic asking for advice and he referred me to a man at the New York Public Library.  I found a book which was a psychiatric study of Wagnerian heroines.  It analyzed the roles and did me a lot of good.

BD:    How did they manage the Erda scene in Siegfried?

SS:    There was a big rock and it was all dark.  Nobody would ever dream there was anyone there, and suddenly there was a light on my face.  It was all very well coordinated.

BD:    Did the Valkyries move about during their “ride?”

SS:    Oh yes, up and down and everything.  They had spears and looked like they were riding horses.  They also had helmets and shields.

BD:    Was it cumbersome with all that armor?

SS:    Yes, but in Götterdämmerung I was Waltraute, and I came in and sat down to beg Brünnhilde to give up the Ring.  I was seated so I don’t remember being encumbered.

sharnovaBD:    Tell me about some of the other highlights of your fascinating career. 

SS:    I’ve told you about the touring company.  Other exciting times included some performances with Kirsten Flagstad*.  I did Brangäne to her Isolde here in Chicago and in St. Louis.  I sang the Warning from backstage, and an assistant conductor would be up on a ladder looking through a hole in the scenery.  He would watch the conductor and give me my cues.  When Longone had the company here in Chicago in the 30s and 40s, I did lots of roles in German and French and Italian.  Maria Olczewska* was here as was Cerena Van Gordon*, and I got to sing the second or third performances.  I did a Meistersinger with Lotte Lehmann* as Eva and Alexander Kipnis* as Pogner [January 26, 1932].

I did Ortrud in Lohengrin with Jeritza* as Elsa.  I had done Ortrud in Cincinnati the year after Insull had closed the opera here in Chicago.  Carl Schiffler, who was originally from Cincinnati but made a career in Europe, was the Telramund and Melchior* was the Lohengrin.  [One review of a later performance said,
“Mr. Schiffeler (sic) showed that he was just about the ideal Telramund.]  We took it to New York and also to Chicago.  One performance here [January 15, 1934] was with Jeritza, but she was ill and did not attend the rehearsals.  I met her on-stage during the performance!  In the second act, Ortrud falls on her knees humbled before Elsa, and she is supposed to raise Ortrud to show her feelings for her.  But this night, Jeritza put her hands on my shoulders and held me down on the floor.  I knew I had to be up and so I broke her hold and flung my arms out wildly.  She was stunned by it.  She must have thought, “Who was this upstart to assert her character?  But then our duet went very well, and one reviewer mentioned that Jeritza’s singing didn’t come to life until that duet with me.  I also sang Herodias to her Salome, with Jagel* as Herod [November 28, 1934 (followed by an act of Pagliacci) shown in program at right (full review appears farther down on this webpage), and again on December 3 (followed by two ballets).  One of the other reviews of that production proclaimed in its main headline, “Orchestra Wins its Way Over the Voices of Singers,” and the sub-headline read, “Few of the Cast Could be Heard.”  However, the article did say, “Sonia Sharnova as Herodias submitted brilliant fragments of song, those most audible voicing approval of her daughters conduct.”  Salome returned on December 10, 1940 with Sharnova and Jagel, and Marjorie Lawrence* in the title role.]

I had developed naturally and had studied a lot, but never sang in Italy because I did so much Wagner.  It was the German vowels and the characters.  The characters made my voice become what it was.  It was the continuity and the care that helped it so very much.  When we were on tour, we did everything carefully
eating, sleeping, everything.  Hurok saw to it that we took care of ourselves.  When my husband died in 1944, I joined NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) to attend workshops to find out what I was doing right.  After I stopped singing so regularly, my voice went down and I never sang like that again. 

BD:    How often did you sing during your prime?

SS:    On tour it was at least three times a week.  Some weeks I was in the smaller roles, but others I was the leading mezzo.  We alternated.  When Flagstad was here, sometimes the Sieglinde was Maria Hussa* and other times it was Lotte Lehmann.  I’ll tell you about a scene with Flagstad that shows what a wonderful woman she was.  She was quite interested in me, and I still correspond with Edwin McArthur.  At the end of the 30s, she sang Walküre here with myself as Fricka [December 2, 1939].  Flagstad came out for the second act and was ready for the battle cry, and I was there ready for my entrance which followed hers.  At that time, there had been no opera in Chicago for a while, and our costumes were dirty from being in the trunks.  The wardrobe mistress was attending to the Valkyries and had no time for me right then.  So Flagstad took one look at me and said, “Sharnova, you can’t go out as Fricka in that dirty mantle.”  I told her that it was all there was, and she found the wardrobe mistress who told us where there might be another one for a different opera.  So I went up and found the trunk and got the other mantle, and when I came back to my dressing room, Flagstad was waiting for me, not concerned with her own entrance, but concerned that I should look regal.  She helped me into it and got it pinned correctly.  Then she did her scene and I went on for mine and read the riot act to Wotan, and told Brünnhilde to ask her father what she was to do.  And with that I flung the mantle around and turned on my heel for my exit, and as I walked off, I got applause!  Fricka, the nagging wife got open applause!  That was a great evening.

BD:    How do the singers of that era compare with the singers of today?

SS:    What shall I say?  I don’t see how the singers today can have the quality in their voices and retain the quality and retain the beautiful character that the singers used to have because today, if they’re successful, they’re dashing from country to country.  They barely get over jet lag and they’re rehearsing and performing again.  How can they be practicing?  How can they be singing right?  It’s amazing to me that any of them go on at all.  Singers in former years stayed in one place longer, and if they went anywhere else, they went on a boat!  That way we had a chance to relax and think about the roles and about ourselves.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me about modern opera.


[Regarding so-called modern operas, aside from Lorenzaccio by Moret (premiered in Paris on May 19, 1920 with Vanni-Marcoux*) in which she made her debut with the Chicago Civic Opera on Opening Night, October 27, 1930 (shown above), Sharnova also sang in La Fiamma by Regpighi (premiered on January 23, 1934 in Rome).  (Reviews of both of these operas appear farther down on this webpage.)  Moret was a student of Massenet, and Musical America said there were “Frequent reminiscences of Wagner, Debussy, and Puccini.  The composers purpose was primarily to underscore the drama.  The music never interferes with the play.”  Two further performances were given on November 4 and November 22.  La Fiamma was given in Chicago on December 2, 1935, with a cast lead by Rosa Raisa*, and was repeated five days later to close the season.  The opera was such a hit that it opened the following season [October 31, 1936] and was repeated a week later.  The Tribune said, The music is hysterical, maddening, torturing, as Respighi marshals all the resources of voice and orchestra and all the accumulated technical devices of three centuries of operatic history to project the horror and savagery of this grisly tale of witch burning and despair and falseness.  ...  Rosa Raisa had some of the most effective singing and acting of her career.  Musical America said it was, “A novelty and a performance which carried Chicagoans back to the best of the good old days for adequate comparison.”  Time said it had been, “Better than good.]

:     I, myself, have never sung in any of them [meaning ultra-modern scores].
  There must be some value to them.  It’s only fair to give new ideas a chance, an opportunity to express themselves.  Maybe through it all something may come of it.  It takes an extremely good musician to deal with the complexities of this new stuff, and you must know your voice.  I’ve talked with singers who enjoy the new music and they have said all those leaps don’t bother them, but I prefer something else.  I enjoyed Peter Grimes here [with Jon Vickers] and on TV, and Lulu was marvelously done.  But there’s so much drama and so much acting.  It’s more than just the music.

BD:    Which is more important
, the words or the music?

SS:    In studying and talking with my pupils, I tell them to get those words first and then do the music.  The composer chose the words, so that’s vital.  In 1945, Lotte Lehmann was here for some concerts, and I worked with her for five weeks on Lieder.  I sang a lot of programs, but by then I was teaching and I thought I’d better learn more about it.  I had always sung so intuitively and gotten good reviews, but to teach it I needed to understand the mechanics as well as the interpretations.  Lehmann liked my work.  She and I wept at the same things, and I responded to her moods.  She wrote me many letters and said I should do more tours and sing more Lieder.

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of opera in this country?

SS:    Oh yes.  There’s more opera now.  Every city must have opera, but they have problems raising money.  A lot more people are working very seriously in the arts.  Universities have their classes and develop the talent.  Carol Fox [one of the Founders of Lyric Opera in 1954] was courageous.  Look at what she has accomplished.  But she did send a lot of American singers away.  She favors the Italians very much.  Ardis Krainik [General Director of Lyric 1981-96] is strong and has had lots of experience.  I
’m sure it is she who has done plenty of the dirty work... 

BD:    Does a big star like Pavarotti throw everybody’s perception out of alignment, or do you think it’s a good thing?

SS:    I think he’s over-seen and over-heard, although there are times when he sings and I tell my pupils to watch him.  He’s doing what I want them to do, and the close-ups on the TV can show it so well to my students.  But it does throw things out of line.  The man is a performer and I am too!  It’s something that’s inherent and you love doing it.  I still love it and I’m glad to be able to pass it along to my students.

Reviews and programs of some of the performances in which Sonia Sharnova appeared, beginning with her debut.










What follows is the collection of biographies and photos of artists mentioned in the article above.

Amelita Galli-Curci (18 November 1882 – 26 November 1963) was an Italian coloratura soprano. She was one of the best-known operatic singers of the early 20th century with her gramophone records selling in large numbers.

galli-curciShe was born as Amelita Galli into an upper-middle-class family in Milan, where she studied piano at the Milan Conservatory, winning a gold medal and at the age of 16 was offered a position as a "professor" or teacher there. She was inspired to sing by her grandmother. Operatic composer Pietro Mascagni also encouraged Galli-Curci's singing ambitions. By her own choice, Galli-Curci's voice was largely self-trained. She honed her technique by listening to other sopranos, reading old singing-method books, and doing piano exercises with her voice instead of using a keyboard.

Galli-Curci made her operatic debut in 1906 at Trani, as Gilda in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto, and she rapidly became acclaimed throughout Italy for the sweetness and agility of her voice and her captivating musical interpretations. She was seen by many critics as an antidote to the host of squally, verismo-oriented sopranos then populating Italian opera houses.

The soprano had toured widely in Europe (including appearances in Russia in 1914) and South America. In 1915, she sang two performances of Lucia di Lammermoor with Enrico Caruso in Buenos Aires. These were to be her only appearances in opera with the great tenor, though they later appeared in concert and made a few recordings together. Galli-Curci and Caruso also acted as godparents for the son of the Sicilian tenor Giulio Crimi.

Galli-Curci arrived in the United States in 1916 as a virtual unknown. Her stay was intended to be brief, but the acclaim she received for her performance as Gilda in Rigoletto in Chicago on November 18, 1916 (her 34th birthday) was so wildly enthusiastic that she accepted an offer to remain with the Chicago Opera Company. She was a member of the company until the end of the 1924 season. Also in 1916, Galli-Curci signed a recording contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company and recorded exclusively for the company until 1930.

While still under contract with the Chicago Opera, Galli-Curci joined the Metropolitan Opera in 1921. She remained with the Met until her retirement from the operatic stage nine years later. She also sang in Great Britain, appearing in 20 cities during a 1924 tour, and visited Australia a year later for a series of recitals.

Galli-Curci built and maintained an estate called Sul Monte in Highmount, New York, where she summered for many years until she sold the estate in 1937. In the nearby village of Margaretville a theater was erected and named in her honor. She returned the favor by performing there on its opening night. Sul Monte was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

Weary of opera house politics and convinced that opera was a dying art form, Galli-Curci retired from the operatic stage in January 1930 to concentrate instead on concert performances. Throat problems and the uncertain pitching of top notes had plagued her for several years and she underwent surgery in 1935 for the removal of a thyroid goiter. Great care was taken during her surgery, which was performed under local anesthesia; however, her voice suffered following the surgery. A nerve to her larynx, the external branch of the superior laryngeal nerve, is thought to have been damaged, resulting in the loss of her ability to sing high pitches. This nerve has since become known as the "nerve of Galli-Curci."

Researchers Crookes and Recaberen "examined contemporary press reviews after surgery, conducted interviews with colleagues and relatives of the surgeon, and compared the career of Galli-Curci with that of other singers" and found, in 2001, that her vocal decline was most likely not caused by a surgical injury.

In 1908 Galli-Curci wed a nobleman, the Marchese Luigi Curci, attaching his surname to hers. They divorced in 1920. The following year, she married Homer Samuels, her accompanist. The Marchese Curci petitioned the papal council in Rome for an annulment of the marriage in 1922.

Galli-Curci was a student of the Indian meditation and yoga teacher Paramahansa Yogananda. She wrote the foreword to Yogananda's 1929 book Whispers from Eternity.






two artists

ponselleAnytime is a good time to remember Rosa Ponselle, even if you never heard her in person or listened to one of her extraordinary recordings. For it was she who unwittingly championed the American born and trained singer. Of course, there had been Americans on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera from its first season in 1883, but before Ponselle there had been no leading singer who had not first made his or her mark abroad. In contrast, the Met was the first operatic stage on which she appeared, and her performances outside the United States were few.

Caruso found her—she was then Rosa Ponzillo—and his friend Giulio Gatti-Casazza, former general manager of the Met, gambled on her. “If she succeeds,” Gatti told Caruso, “American singers will have the doors opened to them. If she fails, I will be on the first boat back to Italy, and New York will never see my face again.” Gatti was not being melodramatic. The step was a big one, as it involved an operatically inexperienced, twenty-one-year-old soprano. But her talent was so big.

When Gatti made the decision to engage her—at $150 per week—it was to his credit that he presented Ponselle not in a small role or buried her debut deep in the season. She first appeared at the Met in the opening week of the 1918–19 season as Leonora in La forza del destino opposite Caruso and Giuseppe De Luca. This was the Met premiere of the opera. “The newcomer is American,” began James Gibbons Huneker’s review in The New York Times the following morning. “She is young, she is comely, and she is tall and solidly built. Added to her personal attractiveness, she possesses a voice of natural beauty that may prove a gold mine. It is vocal gold, anyhow, with its luscious lower and middle tones, dark rich, ductile, brilliant and flexible in the upper register.”

Rosa began at the top and twenty years later she left at the top. In the decades between, the lot of the American singer improved dramatically as Gatti had hoped it would.

--  John Ardoin  (From liner notes to a CD re-issue on the Marston label) 



Ottilie Metzger-Lattermann also formerly Ottilie Metzger-Froitzheim (15 July 1878 – February 1943) was a German contralto who was a famous performer of works by Wagner during the 1910s, and who after her retirement was murdered in Auschwitz.

Matzger was born in Frankfurt. Her first husband was the author Clemens Froitzheim. In Hamburg she met the bass-baritone Theodor Lattermann who became her second husband. From 1901 until 1912, she sang at Bayreuth Festival, where her Erda in Der Ring des Nibelungen was esteemed.


She was a student of Selma Nicklass-Kempner, Georg Vogel and Emanuel Reicher (acting). Her debut was 1898 in Halle, followed by engagements in Cologne, then from 1903 to 1915 first contralto with the Hamburg State Opera and played opposite Enrico Caruso. Then followed Dresden, Bayreuth Festival, Vienna State Opera, Saint Petersburg, Prague, Zurich Opera, Amsterdam, Munich, Budapest, Royal Opera House Covent Garden and tours with conductor Leo Blech in the USA. This ended in 1925 with the illness of Theodor who died on 4 March 1926 aged 46. From 1927 she taught singing at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, where she herself had studied.


Metzger-Lattermann continued to perform as a Lieder recitalist, often accompanied by Richard Strauss and Hans Pfitzner. She gave her last concerts in 1933 under Bruno Walter in Berlin and Otto Klemperer in Dresden, with the seizure of power by Hitler.

After 1933, under the Nazi regime, Metzger-Lattermann continued to perform for Jewish audiences, on at least one occasion in a Lieder evening with the baritone Erhard Wechselmann, who was also to perish in Auschwitz.

metzgerIn 1933, the American theatre impresario George Blumental (a former associate of Oscar Hammerstein I, who in 1917 had tried to set up theatres for American troops in Paris), tried to arrange with Georg Hartmann and Arthur Hirsch to bring over conductor Blech and a troupe of 12 Jewish opera singers to present Wagner's Ring in New York. Hirsch's assistant, Otto Metzger, was Ottilie's brother and Ottilie was on the list. Blumental's plans came to nothing, partly due to the unavailability of Blech, Klemperer, and Walter.

Metzger-Lattermann and her daughter fled to Brussels in 1939, but there were later rounded up by the Nazis and sent to the camps. She died in Auschwitz. The exact circumstances of the deaths of herself and her daughter are unknown.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Perhaps the single greatest contralto of the 20th Century was a Jewish-German singer by the name of Ottilie Metzger-Lattermann.  (1878-1943)  Basically unknown today except by the most knowledgeable record collectors, her singing will still will bring a standing ovation by the cognoscenti.  I witnessed one when giving a lecture to the Vocal Record Society several years ago and playing the Brahm's lied "Sapphische Ode".  Metzger-Lattermann played Carmen to Caruso's Don Jose in Hamburg, was the 1st Alto in the World Premier of Mahler's 8th Symphony in Munich and even created a part for Siegfried Wagner in his opera Bruder Lustig.  She sang internationally to great acclain, from Berlin to Vienna, St. Petersburg to Brussels, Covent Garden to the United States, even Bayreuth from 1901-1912.  She was forced to run for her life in 1939, landed in Brussels where the Nazi's took her and put her on a train bound for Auschwitz.  The records of her existence end in February, 1943.  Kaiser Wilhelm II who was living in Holland at the time tried to intercede on her behalf, but to no avail.  After the death of Winnifred Wagner, the Wagner family with some outside cajoling erected a monument to two of their greatest Jewish singers who perished in the Holocaust, one was soprano Henriette Gottlieb, the other Ottilie Metzger-Lattermann.

--  From the Music Antiquarian Blog, 3/27/12 


wymetal          braun






flagstad and melchior

Born: August 12, 1892 - Ludwigsschwaige, Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany
Died: May 17, 1969 - Klagenfurt, Germany

The German contralto, Maria Olszewska, studied with Karl Erler in Munich and began her career as a concert singer. Subsequently, she was heard by conductor Artur Nikisch who felt that her voice was of operatic calibre and should be presented on stage.

Through his recommendation, Maria Olszewska made her debut in Krefeld in a 1917 production of Tannhäuser singing the role of a page. By 1920, she had advanced to Leipzig where her roles encompassed the larger Wagnerian mezzo parts, such as Brangäne, Fricka, and Waltraute. In Hamburg, she participated in the premiere of Erich Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, presented jointly with Cologne. The Vienna Opera engaged her in 1925 and she began to ingratiate herself with the demanding public there.

Making her Covent Garden debut in 1924, Maria Olszewska offered a Herodias described as "outstanding" as were her Waltraute, Brangäne, and Fricka. In May 1925, her collaboration with Lotte Lehmann in Lohengrin caused Ernest Newman to write that the pair "showed us what a masterpiece the second act of the opera really is."  She remained at Covent Garden through 1933.

Maria Olszewska sang with the Chicago Opera from 1928 to 1932. There, she opened the company's last season at the venerable Auditorium with her Carmen and sang Fricka with a cast that included Frida Leider's Brünnhilde, Eva Turner's Sieglinde, and Alexander Kipnis' bass-voiced Wotan. Other roles she essayed in Chicago included Octavian, Brangäne, Ortrud, Magdalene, Katinka (in Smetana's Bartered Bride), the Third Lady, and the title role in Massenet's Hérodiade.


van gordon

Charlotte "Lotte" Lehmann (February 27, 1888 – August 26, 1976) was a German soprano who was especially associated with German repertory. She gave memorable performances in the operas of Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, Ludwig van Beethoven, Puccini, Mozart, and Massenet. The Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, Sieglinde in Die Walküre and the title-role in Fidelio are considered her greatest roles. During her long career, Lehmann also made more than five hundred recordings. Her performances in the world of Lieder are considered among the best ever recorded.

lehmannAfter studying in Berlin with Mathilde Mallinger, she made her debut at the Hamburg Opera in 1910 as a page in Wagner's Lohengrin. In 1914, she gave her debut as Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Vienna Court Opera – the later Vienna State Opera –, which she joined in 1916. She quickly established herself as one of the company's brightest, most beloved stars in roles such as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser and Elsa in Lohengrin. She created roles in the world premieres of a number of operas by Richard Strauss, including the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos in 1916 (later she sang the title-role in this opera), the Dyer's Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten in 1919 and Christine in Intermezzo in 1924. Her other Strauss roles were the title-roles in Arabella and in Der Rosenkavalier (earlier in her career, she had also sung the role of Sophie; when she finally added the Marschallin to her repertoire, she became the first soprano in history to have sung all three female lead roles in Der Rosenkavalier). Her Puccini roles at the Vienna State Opera included the title-roles in Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, Suor Angelica, Turandot, Mimi in La Bohème and Giorgetta in Il Tabarro. In her 21 years with the company, Lehmann sang more than fifty different roles at the Vienna State Opera, including Marie/Marietta in Die tote Stadt, the title-roles in La Juive by Fromental Halévy, Mignon by Ambroise Thomas, and Manon by Jules Massenet, Charlotte in Werther, Marguerite in Faust, Tatiana in Eugene Onegin and Lisa in The Queen of Spades. In the meantime she had made her debut in London in 1914, and from 1924 to 1935 she performed regularly at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden where aside from her famous Wagner roles and the Marschallin she also sang Desdemona in Otello and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. She appeared regularly at the Salzburg Festival from 1926 to 1937, performing with Arturo Toscanini, among other conductors. She also gave recitals there accompanied at the piano by the conductor Bruno Walter. In August 1936, while in Salzburg, she discovered the Trapp Family Singers, later made famous in the musical The Sound of Music. Lehmann had heard of a villa available for let and as she approached the villa she overheard the family singing in their garden. Insisting the children had a precious gift, she exclaimed that the family had "gold in their throats" and that they should enter the Salzburg festival contest for group singing the following night. Having regard to the family's aristocratic background the Baron insisted performing in public was out of the question, however Lehmann's fame and genuine enthusiasm persuaded the Baron to relent, leading to their first public performance.

In 1930, Lehmann made her American debut in Chicago as Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walküre. She returned to the United States every season and also performed several times in South America. Before Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Lehmann emigrated to the United States (because her stepchildren had a Jewish mother). There, she continued to sing at the San Francisco Opera and the Metropolitan Opera until 1945.

In addition to her operatic work, Lehmann was a renowned singer of lieder, giving frequent recitals throughout her career. She also made a foray into film acting, playing the mother of Danny Thomas in Big City (1948), which also starred Robert Preston, George Murphy, Margaret O'Brien and Betty Garrett.

After her retirement from the recital stage in 1951, Lehmann taught master classes at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California, which she helped found in 1947. She also gave master classes in New York City (at the Manhattan School of Music), Chicago, London, Vienna, and other cities. For her contribution to the recording industry, Lehmann has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1735 Vine St. However, her first name is misspelled there as “Lottie”.


Alexander Kipnis first came to the USA in early 1923 as part of a large German/Wagnerian Opera Company that played for almost five months in the eastern and mid-western United States. This company showcased many veteran artists and some of the most important newer stars of the German operatic scene. Elsa Alsen and Meta Seinemeyer were among the sopranos. New York city hosted the company for a month at the Manhattan Opera House. Seinemeyer, about whom there is considerable interest, sang Senta, Sieglinde and Elizabeth; Alsen Isolde and Brunhilde; Jacques Urlus sang Tristan and Siegfried. Friedrich Schorr sang his first Hans Sachs and Wotans in New York during this season; Alexander Kipnis sang an average of four times a week in all the Wagner operas having a big bass role. Irving Kolodin in his History of the Metropolitan Opera noted that Schorr and Kipnis made the biggest impressions; Schorr was signed for the Met and Kipnis for Chicago.

kipnisKipnis made his Chicago Opera debut November 18, 1923 as the Wanderer in
Siegfried. As he was hired as a leading bass for the season, and as Chicago
at this time did not have a large German repertoire component, he sang both
leading and supporting roles; this pattern continued for five seasons,
after which the German operas were staged more frequently and he was
usually cast only in leading roles, with few exceptions. I have quickly put
together a partial list of his leading and supporting roles.  [Some would
argue that some of these roles are really leading ones . . . . .]

Walkuere: Wotan                          Andrea Chenier: Matheiu
La Juive: Cardinal                          Aida: King
Pelleas: Arkel                                Otello: Lodvico
Tannhaeuser: Landgrave                Konigskinder: Wood Cutter
La Gioconda: Alvise                      Cleopatre: Enneus
Carmen: Escamillo                         Thais: Palemon
Rosenkavelier: Baron Ochs            Jongleur Notre Dame: Prior
Faust: Mephisto                             Propohete: Zacharias
Lohengrin: King Henry                   Werther: Albert
Tristan und Isolde: King Marke      Don Giovanni: Commandant 
Tiefland: Tomaso                           Aida: Ramphis
Meistersinger: Pogner                    Mefistofele: Mefistofele
Fidelio: Rocco                               Bartered Bride: Kezal
Parsifal: Gurnemanz                       Magic Flute: Sarastro

Kipnis married Mildred Eleanor Levy of Chicago and took out his American citizenship papers there. [Their son was the harpsichordist  Igor Kipnis.]  In the German repertoire his name stands very large and always lends glamour to the casts, which after 1928 in Chicago featured Frida Leider, Lotte Lehmann, Maria Olczewska, Rudolf Bockelmann, and German singersof the highest calibre. In the Italian repertoire he was in casts that featured Claudia Muzio and Rosa Raisa, and in the French, Mary Garden.

In 1924 the Chicago Opera completed a long tour to the West Coast. Among the featured soloists were Garden in Thais, Raisa in La Juive, Chaliapin in Boris
Godunoff. On five occasions Kipnis sang Vaarlam to Chaliapin's Boris: Houston, Feb.28; San Francisco March 8, Portland March 11, Seattle March 15, and Kansas City March 22.

Charles Mintzer

--  Kipnis material from a Listserv Opera-L Archives, Dec 28, 1999  (with additions and corrections) 




Frederick Jagel (June 10, 1897, Brooklyn, New York – July 5, 1982, San Francisco, California) was an American tenor, primarily active at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1930s and 1940s.

Frederick Jagel studied voice in New York City and Milan, and made his debut as Rodolfo in La bohème, in Livorno, in 1924. He sang throughout Italy under the name of Federico Jaghelli. After his return to America, he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on November 8, 1927, as Radames in Aida. In 23 seasons with the Met, he sang 217 performances of 34 roles, primarily in the Italian and French repertories. He can be heard in many former Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, notably as Pollione in Norma, opposite Zinka Milanov, and Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, opposite Lily Pons.

Jagel also appeared in San Francisco, Chicago and Buenos Aires before retiring in 1950. He taught singing in New York after his retirement. Among his pupils were tenors Augusto Paglialunga, Robert Moulson and John Stewart and Bass-Baritone Justino Diaz. He also served as Chairman of the Voice Department at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

lawrenceMarjorie Florence Lawrence CBE (17 February 1907 – 13 January 1979) was an Australian soprano, particularly noted as an interpreter of Richard Wagner's operas. She was the first soprano to perform the immolation scene in Götterdämmerung by riding her horse into the flames as Wagner had intended.

Lawrence's physicality and beauty made her popular with audiences – she performed the "Dance of the Seven Veils" in Richard Strauss's Salome more convincingly than most other sopranos.

She was afflicted by polio from 1941. Lawrence later served on the faculty of the School of Music at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

During a performance in 1941 in Mexico, she was afflicted by polio. She returned to the stage 18 months later, performing in a chair, reclining or on a special platform. Although hampered by her lack of mobility, she continued to perform until 1952.

In 1944, during World War II, she performed in charity concerts to entertain troops in Australia, seated in a chair. A performance as Amneris in Giuseppe Verdi's Aida in Paris in 1946 was well received as were concert appearances of Richard Strauss's Elektra in December 1947 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Artur Rodzinski, but Lawrence left the stage, and instead began to work as a teacher. She served on the faculty of the School of Music at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and then retired to her ranch, Harmony Hills, in Hot Springs, Arkansas where she taught international students. She later accepted students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from the late 1970s until her death in 1979.

Her life story was told in the 1955 film Interrupted Melody, in which she was portrayed by Eleanor Parker, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Lawrence.


Vanni-Marcoux was born Giovanni (Jean-Emile Diogène) Marcoux in 1877 in Turin. Vanni, an Italian abbrevation for Giovanni, reminds us that he was the son of a French father and an Italian mother. He studied with Collini at his hometown and with Frédéric Boyer at the Paris Conservatoire. After successfully completing law studies, Marcoux decided to devote himself full to singing. His debut took place at Turin in 1894 as Sparafucile. It was not until 1899 that he made his first stage appearance in France, at Bayonne as Frère Laurent. Thereafter he toured a number of provincial theatres and was a guest at the La Monnaie in Brussels. In 1905 he debuted at Covent Garden as Basilio and returned there every season until 1912, singing comprimario parts as well as Colline and Sparafucile.  Eventually he was given such parts like Arkel, Marcel in Les Huguenots and the Father in Charpentier’s Louise. In 1909 he made his debut at the Opéra Paris, creating Guido Colonna in Henri Février’s Monna Vanna, a role which brought him fame. Three years later he appeared in the title role of Massenet’s Don Quichotte (probably his greatest achievement). Massenet wrote his opera Panurge especially for him. Its creation took place in 1913. Before World War I Vanni-Marcoux was predominantly a bass, singing even Hunding and Fafner. For nearly 40 years he was a familiar and much admired figure in Parisian musical life, mainly at the Opéra, but also at the Opéra-Comique, creating a number of roles in contemporary operas such as Gunsbourg’s Lysistrata, d’Olonne’s L’Arlequin, Février’s Monna Vanna and La Femme nue, and Honegger-Ibert’s L’Aiglon.

vanni-marcoux                    vanni-marcoux

Subsequently he was engaged by Henry Russell to the Boston Opera where he established as a star. His first performance was in Pelléas et Mélisande, now as Golaud. His dramatic conception of Méphistophélès in Faust was also much admired by the public. The four roles in Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Coppélius, Dr. Miracle, Crespel, Dapertutto) belonged to his greatest histrionic achievements. Without doubt, Vanni-Marcoux owed much of his success in the United States to Mary Garden. Her popularisations of the works of the modern French composers soon provided him with all sort of dramatic opportunities. There was the rumour that he had divorced his second wife in order to marry Mary Garden. She declined, but she shared the stage with him in many performances of Thaïs, Tosca, Don Quichotte, Pelléas et Mélisande and Carmen. He followed her to Chicago in 1913 and was a regular guest there between 1926 and 1931. When Mary Garden finished her career, French opera could not survive without her, and thereafter there was no place for him. La Scala saw him as Boris (in French) under Arturo Toscanini and Sigismund Zaleski in 1922. He was generally regarded as the finest exponent of the role after Chaliapin. Paris invited him to sing the title role in the first French performance of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. From 1948 to 1951 Vanni-Marcoux was director of the Grand Théâtre at Bordeaux.  He died in 1962.




Rosa Raisa (30 May 1893 – 28 September 1963) was a Polish-born and Italian-trained Russian-Jewish dramatic operatic soprano who became a naturalized American. She possessed a voice of remarkable power and was the creator of Puccini’s last opera, Turandot, at La Scala, Milan.

She was born Rosa Burchstein in Bialystock. When she was 14 she fled to escape a pogrom and settled in Napels. She studied with Barbara Marchisio and made her debut at Parma in the Verdi Centenary Oberto, being immediately invited by Cleofonte Campanini at Chicago Opera. She achieved instant success in Chicago, Philadelphia and on  national tours. She remained in Chicago and was its leading dramatic soprano. Mary Garden reigned in the lyric parts. Raisa sang 275 performances in Chicago and 235 on tours. She inaugurated the new built Chicago Opera House in 1929 as Aida.

Giacomo Puccini wanted her to sing Magda in La Rondine (!), but she refused. Whether he was more entranced with her youth and beauty or her vocal powers is unknown, but his plan for this assumption of Magda was advanced enough that in January 1917 she was announced in the world press for the premiere of this light opera in Monte Carlo. Raisa did not go to Monte Carlo as she was in the United States and was fearful of the submarine warfare at that stage of the Great War. Interestingly at about the same time Puccini first encountered Raisa, Arturo Toscanini heard her and told his friends in the opera world that he considered Raisa a “female Tamagno,” more appropriate for the heroic Turandot she would create nine years later.

She was married to the baritone Giacomo Rimini. They appeared in many concerts singing duets from Luisa Miller to Don Pasquale (!). Her repertoire included roles in operas such as Norma, La Juive, La Fanciulla del West, Suor Angelica, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Battaglia di Legnano, Francesca da Rimini, Falstaff, Don Giovanni, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Les Huguenots, Lo Schiavo, Isabeau, La Nave, Die Fledermaus and Respighi’s La Fiamma.

raisa          raisa

© 1981 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded at her home in Chicago on May 25, 1981.  This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.