Calve, Emma

1866-

The greatest interpreter of the role of Carmen. A famous singer, who was born at Decazeville, near Aveyron, France, according to most authorities, although Grove's dictionary gives her birthplace as Madrid and the year of her birth as 1864.

Her name was originally, Emma Roquer, her father being a Spaniard, and a civil engineer. Emma attended a convent school and while there her singing attracted the attention of a Parisian gentleman, who urged her mother to send her to Paris to study. There she was instructed by a tenor, Puget, and another teacher named Laborde, and made her debut at the Brussels Theatre, as Marguerite in Faust in 1881. After appearing at another theatre in the same city, she became a pupil of Mme. Marchesi and then made a tour of Italy. Here she saw Eleanora Duse, the Italian tragedienne, whose impersonations made a deep impression on the young singer. According to Calve herself, her first public appearance was made at Nice, at a charity concert. Later she sang at La Scala, in Milan, with great success and also at the principal theatres of Naples, Rome, and Florence. Returning to Paris, in 1891, she created the part of Suzel in L'Amigo Fritz, by Mascagni, playing and singing the role later at Rome and, because of her great success in it, she was chosen to originate the role of Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, which has been ever since one of her greatest parts. She repeated her success in it in London. Her next triumph was Carmen, and before beginning the study of this part, she went to Spain, learned the Spanish dances, mingled with the people and patterned her characterization after the cigarette girls whom she watched at their work and at play. In 1894 she made her appearance in the role at the Opera Comique, Paris, and her triumphs followed. She was immediately hailed as the greatest Carmen that had ever appeared and other cities all over the world have since agreed with the Parisian verdict. She had had many famous predecessors in the role, Patti, Minnie Hauk and Mme. Galli-Marie, but critics and musicians were agreed, that in Calve they had found their ideal of Bizet's cigarette girl of Seville, and her many charms of voice, figure, and personality combined to make it one of the most brilliant impersonations ever given in opera. Calve first appeared in America in the season of 1893-1894, as Mignon and her reception then and ever afterward was flattering. She has made regular visits to this country ever since, both in grand opera and in concert tours. She created the part of Anita, which was written for her, in Massenet's Navarraise in London, in 1894, and sang Sappho, in an opera written by the same composer,' in 1897. She also sang Ophelie in Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet in Paris in 1899, but the part was not suited to her and she dropped it. She has appeared with success in many roles, among them, as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, the title role in Lalla Rookh, and Pamina in The Magic Flute, but she is best known as Carmen, and best liked in it. Her voice is a soprano, rich, and sympathetic and well-trained, and her singing has great charm. Her phrasing and vocalization show perfect art and natural musical instinct, combining to make her a star of the first magnitude. Mme. Calve is singularly philanthropic and among other things has built an orphanage near her mountain home at Aveyron, France, where forty girls are received and cared for, taught to cook, sew and knit and trained in useful professions, the singer taking a great deal of interest in the home. She is a great believer in the occult and all things mystic appeal to her, so it is said. She resides most of the year, except when on tour at her castle, near Aveyron, which was built in the Eleventh Century and which she acquired a few years ago.