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Emma Calve



Born into a modest farming family in Toulouse, France, Emma Calvet lacked the finances to undertake a conventional education in music. Her first training took place in a convent school and no doubt was that of a choral singer. As a teenager she approached the vocal coach Puget who taught her for two years gratis. In 1881 she debuted in a minor role in "Faust" in Brussels, and during the following year Mathilde Marchesi became her teacher and her connection to the producers of the Italian Opera at Paris who engaged in in 1883 in an orientalist fantasy "Aben Hamet." When that company collapsed in 1884, Calve managed to secure a place in the Opera Comique. In spring of 1885 she got some notice in "Le Chavelier Jean." She played a number of Mozart operas during her year of employment at the Opera Comique before her contract was canceled by the directors.

Calve suffered a cruel disappointment in her debut at "La Scala" in Milan in Samara's "Flor Mirabilus," considered abandoning the stage, but had contracted to tour the various opera houses of Italy in a variety of roles. Fulfilling this obligation, she returned to "La Scala" and had a solid success in 1890 with "Hamlet." In 1891 she created the role of "L'Amico Fritz,' returned to the Opera Comique in that role and in 1892 performed "Carmen" in Paris. Training with Rosine Laborde while in Paris gave a refinement to Calve's vocal technique during this Paris stint.

From 1893 dates her international repute, with regular engagements at Covent Garden, celebrity at the Opera Comique, and international newspaper coverage of her appearances in new works by Massenet and Mascagni. Yet it was as Carmen and Ophelia that she enjoyed preeminent fame. These roles she took to America during her tours at the turn of the 20th century.

NOTES: David S. Shields/ALS