Geraldine Farrar

Biography

Born: February 28, 1882; Melrose, MA   Died: March 11, 1967; Ridgefield, CT  
Farrar was one of the early stars of the Metropolitan Opera, with a glamorous voice richly matched by her physical presence, and her insistence that she was not a singer but a singing actress. Her recordings were widely popular, and she also made several silent films, including the famous 1915 Carmen with Cecil B. DeMille. Her singing ranged from the technically brilliant to the severely flawed, but the essential charm of her voice and her Read more magnetic personality (together with a near-genius for publicity), were enough to ensure her fame. And of course, the debate still lingers over the Butterfly duet. Caruso allegedly came to a recording session after several drinks, and according to many, she substituted "He had a highball" for one of Butterfly's lines. She denied it afterwards, and many listeners swear that the consonants are just distorted, others swear that her substitution is there as clear as day.

She made her public singing debut at age 12, portraying legendary soprano Jenny Lind at a springtime carnival, and began serious voice lessons after that. After studying in Boston, she went to New York, where she studied with Emma Thursby, and was introduced to Lillian Nordica and Nellie Melba. She was also given a successful audition for the Met, but her mother encouraged her to turn their offer down until she was more fully prepared. Her operatic debut was as Marguerite at the Court Opera in Berlin, and even though she sang the role in Italian, while the rest of the cast performed in German, her youthful charm and fresh voice made her a sensation. (And she first entered the gossip columns when rumor had it that she and the Crown Prince were having an affair.) One of her dreams was realized when Lilli Lehmann extended an invitation to study with her. In 1905, she sang at the Munich Opera with Richard Strauss conducting; he suggested that she sing Salome, and he would be glad to make any changes to the vocal line she required, since he was convinced her "Dance of the Seven Veils" would be such a triumph. Her Metropolitan Opera debut was in 1906 as Juliette in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, opening that year's opera season. She soon became the Met's reigning soprano, provoking (probably quite deliberately) near scandals by such realistic touches as singing the scene in Juliette's bedroom while lying down, wearing a nightgown. She was immensely popular with younger opera lovers, who became known as her "Gerry flappers." In 1910, she created the role of the Goose Girl in Humperdinck's Königskinder (where she made a sensation by appearing with real geese, which she had trained herself, on stage). Her first Carmen was in 1914, and that following summer, she made the DeMille film, followed by several others, Maria Rosa, Temptation, Joan the Woman (about Joan of Arc), The Woman God Forgot, and The World and Its Woman. Many film critics still single her work out for praise (a comparatively rare tribute for opera singers who have made movies, let alone silent ones!) In 1918 she created the title role in Puccini's Suor Angelica. Her Met farewell was in 1922 in Leoncavallo's Zaza, and was one of the most emotional nights at the Met; her fans even pulled her limousine back to her hotel. Her last concert was in 1931. Read less