Nevada, Emma (1859–1940)

views updated

Nevada, Emma (1859–1940)

American opera singer . Name variations: Mrs. Raymond Palmer. Born Emma Wixom on February 7, 1859 (some sources cite 1852 and 1861), in Alpha, California; died on June 20, 1940, in Liverpool, England; daughter of William Wallace Wixom (a physician) and Maria (O'Boy) Wixom; graduated from Mills Seminary (later Mills College) in Oakland, California, 1876; studied in Vienna with Mathilde Marchesi; married Raymond Spooner Palmer (a physician), in 1885; children: Mignon Nevada (b. March 18, 1885).

Debuted at Her Majesty's Theater in London as Amina in La Sonnambula (1880); debuted in Milan (1881); debuted at Opéra Comique in Paris as Zora in La Perle du Brésil (1883); made American debut at the New York Academy of Music (1884); taught voice in England for several years (after 1910).

Born near the gold-mining town of Nevada City, California, on February 7, 1859, Emma Nevada began singing at an early age. She performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a benefit when she was only three years old, and dreamed of the opera as she sang to cigar boxes decorated with pictures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She sang often at her church in Austin, Nevada, and was showered in gold pieces when she sang for miners in Virginia City. After the death of her mother Maria in 1872, she and her father William Wixom returned to California, where she entered Mills Seminary and studied voice. She embarked on a study tour to Europe following her graduation and eventually became a pupil of the eminent vocal teacher Mathilde Marchesi , with whom she trained for three years.

Under the stage name Emma Nevada, she made her formal debut at Her Majesty's Theater in London on May 17, 1880. Her flute-like voice was small but she used it expertly—Sir Thomas Beecham immediately christened her "a natural coloratura equal to any of her contemporaries." Over the next two years, Nevada sang in cities across Italy, including an appearance at La Scala in Milan which was reportedly arranged for her by composer Giuseppe Verdi. In 1883, she opened at the Opéra Comique in Paris, where she and fellow American Marie Van Zandt both won accolades, and in 1884 she appeared in The Rose of Sharon at London's Covent Garden, singing a role written especially for her. Later that year, she was well received upon her American debut in La Sonnambula at the New York Academy of Music, and as the American tour continued into the next year enjoyed a particularly hearty welcome in California.

In 1885, Nevada returned to Europe and married Raymond S. Palmer, a physician who also became her manager. After a less brilliant but still successful second American tour, she returned to Europe, where she spent most her life thereafter. Also in 1885 in Paris, she had her only child, Mignon Nevada , who later became an operatic soprano. Emma's career continued to thrive as she toured Europe for several years; a favorite of the British royal family, she gave command performances for Queen Victoria and her successor Edward VII. She counted among her friends Sarah Bernhardt and the queen of Spain, Maria Christina of Austria , sometimes singing for the latter in the queen's chambers while Mignon played with the boy king Alphonso XIII. Her most popular roles included those in Faust, Lakmé, The Tales of Hoffman, Mireille, The Barber of Seville, Mignon, and Lucia di Lammermoor.

Nevada, Mignon (1885–1970)

English opera singer. Name variations: Mignon Palmer. Born Mignon Palmer in Paris, France, on March 18, 1885 (some sources cite August 14, 1886, but likely incorrect); died in Redwood City, California, in September 1970; daughter of Emma (Wixom) Nevada (1859–1940, an opera singer) and Raymond S. Palmer (a physician); studied with mother Emma Nevada.

The daughter of American opera singer Emma Nevada , soprano Mignon Nevada made her debut in Rome in 1907, followed by a debut at Covent Garden, London (1910), in Paris (1920), and in Milan (1923). She was particularly praised for her interpretations of Desdemona, Mimi, Lakmé, Zerlina, and Marguerite.

In 1899, Nevada returned to the United States to give a concert series at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. She performed in America again in the winter of 1901–02, and for the last time in 1907. She retired in 1910 after singing Lakmé in Berlin, and for several years after that taught voice in England. Nevada lived with her daughter during the last years of her life, and died in Liverpool in June 1940.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Warrack, John, and Ewan West. The Oxford Dictionary of Opera. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada