Arthur Wisner.

Emma Calvé: her artistic life online

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Her Artistic Life

By A. Gallus

Author of
The Artistic Life of Sarah Bernhardt

With Numerous Autograph Pages

Especiaily Written by

Mile. Calve

Profusely Illustrated

New York










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Calv^'s first picture as Ophelia.

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Ce qui in*6meut en toi, ce n'est pas ton sourire,
Qui rendrait cependant tout TOlympe jaloux ;
Ce qui m'6meut en toi, ce n'est pas ton d61ire,
Qui jette cependant la foule 4 tes genoux.

Ce qui m'6meut en toi, ce n est pas ta vibrante

Et capiteuse voix, qui lance tour k tour

La joyeuse roulade k la note giisante,

Et le cri de fureur du dernier chant d'amour.

Non, ce qui m'6meut, c*est cette furtive larme,
Qui venant tout k coup nous d6voiler ton dme,
Com me un divin reflet, brille au fond de tes yeux.

Ces larmes. Carmen, sont la rangon du g6nie.

Souffre done, puisque, h61as, ici-bas tout s'expie,

Et que Dieu veut des pleurs pour nous ouvrir les cieux !

Arthur Gallus
York, F6vrier, 1902.

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Translation of Letter from Mlle. Calve.

Monsieur : —

Despite your charming letter, I am not going to yield to the
temptation to speak of myself, because, knowing myself thoroughly,
I should be obliged to confess many faults — if I were anything like
sincere — and because I cannot forget what one of my compatriots
said, — ** Self is hateful/'

But your question as to what I think of the American public puts
me thoroughly at ease. My answer
is simple : The American public
spoils me and I love it. Nowhere
else am I possessed by such a
desire to excel. If you knew,
Monsieur, what it means to an
artist to feel her efforts sustained
by the enthusiasm of a vibrating
and sincere people, who excite by
their applause and envelop one
with the magnetism due to a sym-
pathetic audience, you would not
pity me any longer when you see
me leave the stage with nerves and
muscles exhausted. To feel hun-

, , ^1 , . I ^1. • • CALVfe AT EIGHTEEN

dreds throb is surely worth giving

at each performance a little of one's strength and vitality. And
the next day ! The sincere letters, proving that one has given a
little happiness or a bright dream to the souls of unknown friends,
amply compensate all efforts.

I cannot close this letter, however, without saying how much in
sympathy I am with the wish expressed by my friend, Mme. Sarah
Bernhardt, concerning the foundation of an American Conservatory.

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In a short time marvelous results would be obtained by such an
establishment. Here in the United States, where uncounted noble
works flourish — thanks to the generosity of endowers — there
should be a school of Lyric and Dramatic Art. And I should wish
to see the most talented pupils receive a traveling scholarship and
thus be enabled to make an Art Pilgrimage to all the artistic centers
of Europe before entering upon a stage career. Everywhere, I am
sure, the travelers would be cordially received, and I know of one
house in Paris where all would be heartily welcome who came and
said, '* Good morning, Miss Calve ! I have gained the scholarship
and have just arrived from the United States."

It is thus that after refusing at the beginning of my letter to
speak of self, I perceive at the close that I have not kept my word.
Forgive me, and believe in my distinguished sentiments.

Emma Calv£.

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The Artist.

On the i6th of December, 1884, a young singer, slender, bru-
nette, with great black eyes and raverl hair, made her debut at
Op^ra Italien in Paris. There was a remarkable analogy between
her voice and her face — both possessed the same beauty, the same
purity. Hardly had she sung twenty bars when the audience was
conquered ! Next day the papers announced noisily that a new
star had risen to grace the Parisian firmament.

In a few days Emma Calv^ became the fashion — which is not
easy to accomplish in Paris. We know many artists of admittedly
great talent who
never were i la
mode and never
will be. To be-
come k la mode
one must have,
in addition to
talent, youth,
beauty, grace,
and that subtle
charm which
causes a woman
to be greeted by
murmurs of sur-
prised admira-
tion, whether in a parlor or on the stage. Emma Calv^ has all
that ; her presence is an event everywhere. A remarkable fact
was that the new star was as simple and modest as she was mar-
velously endowed. After reading the unanimous praise lavished
on her by the press, she ^aid :

**I am very joyous, greatly touched, but still more surprised."

Where did this young charmer come from — she who had only
to appear to conquer the Parisian public ?


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She was born in the south of France ;
her father was a civil engineer. She was
brought up by an aunt who lived in the
country, in the department of " Aveyron,
on the Larzac." She was a frail child,
delicate and impressionable, who loved to
hear the old shepherds tell the legends of
the country at night by the fireside. The
deep, grave voices filled her with an inde-
scribable emotion and were her first tragical educators.

Emma stayed at her aunt's until the age of ten, and there
acquired the taste for rural life which is so strong in her and which
makes her every year seek her dear mountains and take up again
the rustic life. When ten years old, she was sent to school in the
Convent of the Sacred Heart in Montpellier, where she made her
first communion. Very mystical, she wanted to become a nun and
imitate the life of the saints, and in a spirit of mortification, she
wore a knotted cord around her waist. The time spent in the con-
vent left indelible traces on her heart, and she always speaks with
deep feeling of this epoch so dear to her thoughts.

In 1889 she visited the convent. The good sisters were, of
course, in profound ignorance of her career. She insisted on sing-
ing the service, and when in the hush of prayerful meditation, her
pure voice soared in Gounod's ** Ave Maria," the nuns and inmates
of the school, little accustomed to such tones, became so moved
that the divine worship suffered'for it,

** But you have a voice worthy of opera," said the Sister Superior
to the artist.

*' I am now singing there," quietly an-
swered Calv^.

Calv^ adores revisiting the spots that
were the unconscious witnesses of her
childhood, and she loves to make them
reverberate with the tones of a voice
which has learnt all that art can teach.

Once as a tourist she was visiting the
immense grottos which are not far from

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her ^castle of Cabrie^res ; shepherds were her guides. . Arrived in
the magnificent crypt of Dargilan, she was so impressed by the
sonorous beauty of the scenery that she sang the aria of Alceste,
which was immediately repeated by the echoes of the cavern. She
had no sooner finished, than, much to her surprise, thunderous
applause, multiplied by the echoing cavern walls, rolled into the
crypt. A few Parisians visiting adjoining galleries had listened,
recognized, and admired.

" But you sing splendidly," said one shepherd, ** and if you
wanted to come here and sing your song when there are tourists
from Paris, the proprietor of the grotto would pay you all you asked."

** And how much
do you think he
would give me?"

"Oh, a great deal
of money."

"But how much?"

"Oh, I think he
would go as far as
fifty sous."

Emma was only
fifteen when family
misfortunes obliged
her to leave the con-
vent and renounce CABRifeREs.

her religious aspirations. In order to help her family, she decided to
take advantage of the fine voice which the Lord had given her.

Mme. Calv^ set to work resolutely. Emma had a pretty child-
ish voice and had sung with success in all the convent festivals.
Friends who were good critics in artistic matters had often expressed
regret that the child could not cultivate her voice with the best
masters. Mme. Calve took her daughter to Paris and introduced
her to M. Puget, former tenor at the Op^ra and Op^ra Comique.
He was touched by the poor child's longing to succeed and under-
took her artistic education. Emma Calv^ never forgot her bene-
factor, 'and it is always with the greatest emotion that she pro-
nounces his name.

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After two
years of assidu-
ous labor, under
the expert direc-
tion of M.Puget,
she made her
d^but at the
'^Th^itre de la
Monnaie" in
Brussels on the
29th of Septem-
ber, 1882, in the
rdle of Margue-
rite. M. Cala-
bresi, the direct-
or of the theatre, had heard her sing in Paris and had engaged
her on the spot. Her reception in Brussels justified his choice ; the
nineteen-year-old prima donna soon became the idol of the Belgian

This was not, however, the first time that Emma Calve sang in
public. She had made her debut in France in a charity affair the
year before. She was in Nice when the celebrated Sophie Cruvelli
(Countess Vigier) organized in the Theitre Francais of this town
a concert for the benefit of poor children. On the evening of the
performance, Cruvelli was attacked by a sudden hoarseness that ab-
solutely prevented her taking part. Calve, though unknown, offered
to take her place, not wanting the poor little ones to be deprived
of their expected Christmas tree. She sang a melody called
** The Star I Love is You," that was received with great favor.
At her first performance in Brussels, in the part of Cherubin in
** Noces de Figaro," a little incident occurred which excited a great
deal of mirth in the audience. Calv^ was then very slender, and
to supply what nature had denied her and to appear more imposing,
she wore '* false calves " in the first act. The stage manager forced
her to appear in the second act without them. The audience, look-
ing eagerly at the beautiful debutante, noticed at once the sudden
emaciation and burst into irrepressible laughter. Seeing her

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audience so well disposed, Calve forgot the nervousness that
always accompanies a first appearance and recovered her self-
possession. Her success was complete, and she subsequently
appeared in " Rom^o and Juliet," *' Hdrodiade," etc.

After a year in Brussels, she returned to Paris to work under
Mme. Marchesi. Twelve months later when she at last made her
d^but before the Parisian public, she had progressed wonderfully.
The circumstances were as follows :

The well-known barytone, Maurel, desired to resuscitate the
** Theatre Italien," which had slowly died of starvation, and to
present to the Parisians new works and new artists. Delight€:d
with the voice of Mme. Marchesi's favorite pupil, he asked her to
create the r6le of Bianca in ** Aben Hamet." by Theodore Dubois.
She impressed her personality on the Parisian public from the first

" She possesses a voice of a remarkably extended range," said
an eminent critic in his next day's article, ** very sonorous and very
flexible, which she handles with perfect art. Moreover, she showed
herself a tasteful comedienne, and used a very real talent in her
rendering of Bianca. What grace and what charm envelop her
whole being ! "

** Her voice's purity," said another critic, ** charms the ear and
— what deters nothing from her art — the new prima donna is a
beautiful and gracious person."

,Alas ! this
first Parisian
success was
only ephem-
eral. The
Theatre Ital-
ien failed,
an d C alvd
went back to
her studies.
But her re-
ception had

View from Cabri^res.



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favorable that the directors of the Op^ra, MM. Ritt and Gaillard,
expressed a desire to hear her. She preferred, however, to appear
for the second time at the Op^ra Comique, where she created the
role of Comtesse H^fene in ** Chevalier Jean," by Victorien Jon-
cieres. The theatrical articles of that time show what an impres-
sion she produced :

**The r6le of Helfene," said one, ** shows Mile. Calve worthy of
opera ; she has ample gestures, voice, diction, and rare quality ;
she knows how to reduce this powerful voice to the most delicate
pianissimos ; her success is very great and deserved."

** Beautiful as a Murillo Madonna," said another, *' gifted with a
voice as pure as her face, singing as a great virtuoso and acting as

a great come-
dienne, the
young prima
donna had an

** The new
diva," said a
third critic,
** is a beau-
tiful being
who did not
tire of admir-
Entrance to the Castle. ing ; she had

only three lovers in the play. General opinion declared this number
insufficient. She played as an actress and sang as a genuine prima

>Her success grew in David's *' Lalla Roukh," in which she
appeared November 29, 1885.

'* Calv^," said the musical critic of the Figaro, ** realizes the
type of this beautiful, passionate Oriental, ready to sacrifice a throne
to the love of a plain singer who has found the way to her heart.
Her success has been very great."

** Never," said another critic, " even at the most complete epoch
of her talent, did the beautiful Cico (the creator of Lalla Roukh)

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impersonate this rdle as vividly as
Calvd One can call her the prototype
of the Indian heroine immortalized by
Byron. Nobleness and distinction of
carriage, facial expression, dreamy atti-
tudes, the young prima donna seems to
have all the qualities required to impart
a new vitality to the admirable score of
the master."

She was heard with the same success in "Zampa" by Herold,
and as the Comtesse in ** Noces de Figaro " during the season of

1886. Her contract at the Opera Comique having expired, she
then left for Italy, where she sang in the Scala at Milan in January,

1887. She chose the r6le of Flora Mirabilis de Samara in Bizet's
** Pecheurs de Perles," and also the r6le of Ophelia in ** Hamlet."

At the Scala, Calve experienced the only check of her artistic
career. '* My debuc in Italy," she said herself, **was disastrous. I
was whistled and with good cause. The public at the Scala demands
something besides a pretty voice and a pretty woman. Despairing,
I returned to Paris and went to work again, this time under Mme.

Laborde After eighteen
months of study, I went back
to the Scala and took my
innings by having a veritable
triumph as Ophelia, my favor-
ite r6le at the time. Until
then, notwithstanding my
pretty voice and my assiduous
work, I was only an ordinary
artist, unable to communicate
to the public my emotions.
Did I even have any emotions ?
A serious illness, which kept
me away from the stage a
whole year, came to change
my whole moral and physical

life. From the languid young
One of the Castle Windowf ^ ^

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girl, I became the vibrating and passionate artist that the public
recognizes in all my r6les. And, by the way, this reminds me of
a pretty answer made by La Malibran to Alfred de Musset.

* What a world of difference between you and the Sontag,' the
great poet said to her ; * Sontag sings like a soulless doll ! ' ' Wait,'
answered the Malibran, *wait until she has suffered.' There is
nothing like suffering, moral or physical, to change an artist.
During my convalescence, which was long, I had time to think, to
read ; I devoured the works of philosophers, of thinkers, of celebra-
ted artists. Inspired by them, I completed my education. On my
return to Italy, everyone agreed in finding me transformed. I had
temperament, energy, will power. I created in Italy at that time

* Cavalleria Rusticana' in September, 1890; then * L'ami Fritz' in
Rome — creations which brought me triumphs in all the large Italian
cities. Then I took up once more my loved r6le of Ophelia. My
success in that opera was so great that Ambroise Thomas sent me
the following telegram : ' Happy triumph, my dear Ophelia.
Affectionate congratulations.' "

From this epoch, Calve began to think, to meditate on her r6les,

and to make creations stamped
with the seal of the highest
artistic originality. We bless
the suffering, physical or moral,
that transformed Mozart's cold
Comtesse into the great artist
whose name is Calvd

Her success in Italy became
so marked that her former
manager, M. Carvalho, director
of the Op^ra Comique, en-
gaged her to play " Cavalleria
Rusticana" in Paris. The
Parisian public soon perceived
the transformation.

**She remains as beautiful
as formerly," said a critic, ** but
beautiful with a new beauty,

The Parlor.

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more expressive, and more changing. The cold goddess has become
a woman — a woman vibrating with all the savage jealousy of San-
tuzza. Of her face, thinned and refined, victorious inspiration fears
no more to destroy the harmonious serenity, and her brown hair,
filled with night, is less carefully arranged. She comes back from
Sicily having swallowed Etna."

**She made of Santuzza an absolutely remarkable creation," said
another critic ; *' one owes her a rare artistic impression for the way
she impersonates this poor young girl, hopelessly in love, eaten by
a crazy jealousy, and driven by the despair and horror of abandon-
ment to irreparable violence. When, crawling on the church steps,

she pursues her

faithless lover
with her suppli-
cations, and
when she raises
herself with
trembling hands
to hurl at him a
supreme male-
die t i o n, she
reaches a dra-
matic effect of
exceptional in-
tensity. This

^ y fe » The Parlor Fireplace.

whom classical

beauty and cold voice had brought conventional success, experi-
enced a triumph the other night in this energetic and passionate
r6le which she has made absolutely personal."

** Yesterday's papers," said LEvenement, ** greet Calv^ as a great
artist. Did she not exist formerly ? Does she come to us crowned
with a halo of American gold ? Is she a foreign artist before which
our courtesy, enamoured of orientalism, loves to bow ? Is she not
the same artist, the same actress that the Opera Comique greeted
six years ago in * Lalla Roukh' and *Zampa' ? Is it not the same
Calv^ who interpreted the * Aben Hamet* under the management




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of Maurel ? Whence does it come that one seems to have
discovered her but yesterday ? Surely when she appeared at the
Opera Comique in 1885, after a year spent in Brussels, she already
was a finished artist. She was, as to-day, the artist, in love with
her art, very beautiful with her blue-black hair, her eyes shining
with a sombre fire, her face tragical and pure. Yet the public did
not learn to know and love her name, and it was necessary first for
this Fran9aise to come back crowned with Italian laurels."

After Calv^'s triumph in **Cavalleria Rusticana," M. Carvalho,
on the advice of M. Roger, the musical critic, engaged her to sing
for two years at the Op^ra Comique.

The following spring, she was heard for the first time in London

at Covent Garden
and was greeted
entliusiastically by
the English pub-
lic. During her
first stay in Eng-
land, Messrs. Abbey
and Grau proposed
to her a fabulous
contract to come to
America. That
season Calve sang
at Windsor before
Queen Victoria,
who showed great
Beatrice send her

A Bedroom.

attentions to her, often making Princess

Before leaving for America, Calve created her famous rdle of
Carmen at the Op^ra Comique in Paris. It is intentionally that I
use the word ** created," for, breaking from the Galli-Marie traditions
(Galli-Marie created Carmen in the literal sense of the word). Calve
made of the part an absolutely new character. She had gone to
Seville to observe those famous ** cigareras," to study their habits,
their lives. Her triumph was one of the greatest ever achieved on

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Online LibraryArthur WisnerEmma Calvé: her artistic life → online text (page 1 of 3)