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Emma Eames


Emma Eames (1865-1952)

Statuesque, patrician, and contemptuous of popular art, American diva Emma Eames provoked admiration and controversy for twenty-five years, from 1889 to 1914 on the stages of opera houses in America and Europe. Emma was born in China to a New Englander lawyer serving as there to provide legal services to American trading companies. Upon the family's return to the United States, Emma began singing in churches. Her mother, realizing the quality of her daughter's voice, transported her to Paris where Emma Eames studied with Marchesi. In 1889 Marchesi suggested to Charles Gounoud that Eames would be ideal as the feminine lead for his new opera "Romeo and Juliet." The composer heard her, realized the possibilities, and personally coached her interpretation for two months prior to the March 13, 1889 premiere. Eames, despite having never appeared on stage anywhere in any capacity, triumphed in the role and established herself as the first American singer to be regarded as an artist by the Parisian cognoscenti. In subsequent years she established herself as an international star and one of the greatest exponents of Verdi's "Aida" and "Tosca" and Marguerite in "Faust". A tumultuous marriage (1891-1907) with painter Julian Story made Eames a vocal champion of the reform of American divorce laws. After her divorce in 1907, she her performances began to be inconsistent--greatly passionate on some evenings, pitchy on others. She fell ill, recovered, retired several times, had an affair with baritone Emilio de Gorganza, destroying his marriage, then married Gorganza, Her last stage roles were undertaken in 1912. She continued to give recitals until 1916, but her lustrous soprano voice had frayed to such an extent by 1914 that her admirers considered her finished. The Victor Talking Machine Company managed to record her singing in New York on several occasions during the first decade of the twentieth century.