Sembrich, Marcella (real name, Prakseda Marcelina Kochanska)

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Sembrich, Marcella (real name, Prakseda Marcelina Kochanska)

Sembrich, Marcella (real name, Prakseda Marcelina Kochanska), famous Polish-American soprano; b. Wisniewczyk, Galicia, Feb. 15, 1858; d. N.Y, Jan. 11, 1935. Sembrich was her mother’s maiden name. Her father, Kasimir Kochanski, was a village musician. She began studying piano with him when she was 4 and soon thereafter violin as well; at 10 she played both instruments in public, and at 11 she entered the Lemberg Cons., where her principal teacher was Wilhelm Stengel (b. Lemberg, Aug. 7, 1846; d. N.Y, May 15, 1917), whom she later married (May 5, 1877). In 1874 she played and sang for Liszt, who urged her to train her voice. She then studied singing with Viktor Roki-tansky in Vienna, and with G.B. Lamperti, the younger, in Milan. She made her operatic debut in Athens on June 3, 1877, as Elvira in Bellini’s I Puritani under the stage name of Sembrich. Following training in the German repertory from Richard Lewy in Vienna, she sang Lucia di Lammermoor at the Dresden Court Opera in 1878, remaining on its roster until 1880. On June 12, 1880, she chose that role for her first appearance at London’s Covent Garden, where she sang for 5 seasons. It was also as Lucia di Lammermoor that she made her U.S. debut at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. on Oct. 24, 1883. Thereafter she sang at the principal opera houses of Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Scandinavia, and Russia until 1898, then was a regular member of the Metropolitan Opera from 1898 to 1900, and again from 1901 to 1909. Her farewell appearance in opera was at the Metropolitan on Feb. 6, 1909. In subsequent years she devoted herself to lieder recitals, remaining active until her retirement in 1917. She was also active as a teacher, serving as head of the vocal depts. at both the Curtis Inst. of Music in Philadelphia and at the Inst. of Musical Art in N.Y. Her operatic repertoire included some 40 roles, the most outstanding being Susanna, Zerlina, the Queen of the Night, Rosina, Gilda, Violetta, Eva in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Elsa in Lohengrin, and Mimi, as well as her incomparable Lucia.


G. Armin, M. S. und Herr Prof. Julius Hey (Leipzig, 1898); H. Owen, A Recollection of M. S. (N.Y., 1950).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire