Farrar, Geraldine (1882–1967)

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Farrar, Geraldine (1882–1967)

American soprano. Born on February 28, 1882, in Melrose, Massachusetts; died March 11, 1967, in Ridgefield, Connecticut; only daughter of Sidney Farrar (a businessman and outstanding baseball player) and Henrietta (Barnes) Farrar; studied voice with Mrs. John H. Long, Emma Thursby, Trabadello, Francesco Graziani, and Lilli Lehmann ; married Lou Tellegen (an actor), around 1915 (divorced).

Debuted at the Berlin Royal Opera as Marguerite in Faust (1901); debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Juliette in Roméo et Juliette; created the roles of the Goose Girl in Humperdinck's Königskinder (1910) and Louise in Charpentier's Julien; sang 29 roles at the Met, frequently with Enrico Caruso (1906–22); retired from the stage in 1922.

Born in the small New England town of Melrose, Massachusetts, Geraldine Farrar was the only daughter of musically gifted parents, and from an early age she was drawn into the fantasy of a singing career. Able to pick out tunes on the piano as a toddler, Farrar sang her first solo in Sunday school at the age of three and soon after began voice lessons. At ten, she sang at a church social; at twelve, she captivated the audience at the Town Hall with her impersonation of Jenny Lind . As a teenager, Farrar saw her first opera, Carmen, starring Emma Calvé , after which she dedicated herself to becoming an opera singer.

Following her first recital in Boston, Farrar successfully auditioned to study with the famous voice teacher Luisa Cappiani and was accepted, but she turned down the offer in order to go to New York, where she took both acting and voice lessons. Farrar was invited to sing minor roles with the Metropolitan Opera which she also turned down, wanting nothing less than a lead, and opted instead to study in Paris. On October 15, 1901, at age 20, Farrar made her operatic debut as Marguerite in a production of Faust at the Berlin Royal Opera. For the next three years, she remained the Royal Opera's leading soprano, singing roles that included Gounod's Juliette in Roméo et Juliette, Violetta in La Traviata, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Gilda in Rigoletto, and Leonora in Il Trovatore. A string of successful performances followed in Munich, Warsaw, Monte Carlo, and Paris. She made her New York debut at the Metropolitan on November 26, 1906, as Gounod's Juliette, and for the next 16 years reigned as the opera house's leading diva.

Farrar had an extensive vocal range; her upper register was brilliant and her middle and lower ranges were rich. Her tonal coloration was almost limitless. Her vocal technique was considered exceptional, although some critics felt that she forced the upper register of her voice at times. In addition to her magnificent voice, she was also known as a charismatic dramatic actress and was meticulous in the preparation for her roles. For her most famous role as Cio-Cio-San in Puccini's Madame Butterfly, she spent time with the Japanese actress Fu-ji Ko , learning how to portray the perfect Japanese lady. (Puccini apparently had different ideas about how the role should be played, and the composer and singer often clashed.) When approaching the role of Tosca, she consulted with Sarah Bernhardt for whom Victorien Sardou had written the play on which the opera was based. Farrar's acting was considered realistic and convincing, in large part due to her careful preparation. She also introduced new staging and costuming in her portrayals and many of her innovations became standard practice.

Although Farrar's petite stature and refined features were ideally suited to the romantic heroines of her early career, she later undertook more flamboyant roles, winning acclaim for her Carmen and Zazá. The tenor Enrico Caruso was her frequent partner and a sold-out house was guaranteed if both singers performed. Caruso and Farrar were never surpassed as the Metropolitan Opera's most dynamic vocal duo.

Cappiani, Luisa (b. 1835)

Austrian musician. Name variations: Louisa Kapp-Young. Born Luisa Young in Austria in 1835; daughter of a tenor and a musically gifted mother; educated in Vienna; married a Mr. Kapp (an Austrian counselor), in 1847 (died 1850); children: two.

By age six, it was evident that Luisa Young was a musical prodigy, and she was given thorough musical training. She married an Austrian counselor by the name of Kapp at age 17, but her husband died three years later, leaving her with two children. To provide for her family, Luisa began a music career under the name of Kapp-Young. Later, to satisfy the 19th-century preference for Italian musicians, she fused her name into Cappiani. She became a renowned voice teacher.

Farrar also enjoyed a second minor career in films, beginning with Carmen in 1915, and including Joan the Woman (1917), among others. In April 1922, at age 40, she made her 493rd and last appearance at the Met, but she continued to appear in solo concerts until 1931. After her retirement, she served on the Board of the Metropolitan Opera and was a radio commentator for one season. She wrote two autobiographies, Geraldine Farrar: The Story of an American Singer by Herself (1916) and Such Sweet Compulsion (1938). Geraldine Farrar died on March 11, 1967, at her home in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

suggested reading:

Farrar, Geraldine. Such Sweet Compulsion. NY: Greystone Press, 1938.

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Farrar, Geraldine (1882–1967)

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