Emma Calvé, born Rosa Emma Calvet (August 15, 1858 – January 6, 1942), was a French operatic soprano. Calvé was probably the most famous French female opera singer of the Belle Époque. She had an international career, singing regularly at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, and the Royal Opera House, London.
Calvé was born on August 15, 1858, in Decazeville, Aveyron. Her father, Justin Calvet, was a civil engineer. Spending at first her childhood in Spain with ther parents, then was sent to several convent schools at Roquefort and Tournemire, both in Aveyron. After her parents' divorce, she moved with her mother to Paris. She attempted to enter the Paris Conservatory, while studying singing with Jules Puget. She learnt music in Paris with Mathilde Marchesi, a retired German mezzo-soprano and Manuel García. She made a tour of Italy, where she saw the then-famous actress Eleonora Duse, whose impersonations deeply impressed the young singer. She trained herself in stage craft as well as gesture, closely observing Duse's performances.
Calvé died on January 6, 1942, at Montpellier, Hérault. She had a tragic end of life, very lonely, forgotten and ruined. She is buried in Millau. Her voice is preserved in a number of recordings made between 1902 and 1920.
Her operatic debut occurred on September 23, 1881, in Gounod's Faust at Brussels' La Monnaie. Later she sang at La Scala in Milan, and also at the principal theatres of Naples, Rome, and Florence.
Returning to Paris in 1891, she created the part of Suzel in L'amico Fritz by Pietro Mascagni, playing and singing the role later at Rome. Because of her great success in it, she was chosen to appear as Santuzza in the French premiere of Cavalleria rusticana, which was viewed as one of her greatest parts. She repeated her success in it in London. Her next triumph was Bizet's Carmen. 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 Opéra-Comique, Paris. The city's opera-goers immediately hailed her as the greatest Carmen that had ever appeared, a verdict other cities would later echo. She had had many famous predecessors in the role, including Adelina Patti, Minnie Hauk and Célestine Galli-Marié, but critics and musicians agreed that in Calvé they had found their ideal of Bizet's cigarette girl of Seville.
Calvé first appeared in America in the season of 1893–1894 as Mignon. She would make regular visits to the country, both in grand opera and in concert tours. After making her Metropolitan Opera debut as Santuzza, she went on to appear a total of 261 times with the company between 1893 and 1904. She created the part of Anita, which was written for her, in Massenet's La Navarraise in London in 1894 and sang Sapho in an opera written by the same composer.
She sang Ophélie in Ambroise Thomas's Hamlet in Paris in 1899, but the part was not suited to her and she dropped it. She appeared with success in many roles, among them, as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, the title role in Félicien David's Lalla-Rookh, as Pamina in The Magic Flute, and as Camille in Hérold's Zampa, but she is best known as Carmen.
Calvé developed an interest in the paranormal and was once engaged to the occult author Jules Bois.
In the winter of 1893/1894 the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862–1947) executed a life-size portrait of her standing full-length in a green-blue dress, wearing an opera cloak of white and gold with a sable edge, clutching American Beauty roses. It is now lost, but a pastel he made of her in March 1894 has been discovered in a London private collection.
The following story on Emma Calvé was written by Willa Cather and
published on June 6, 1897, in The Home Monthly.
Note: The Home Monthly was a monthly women's magazine published in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the late 19th century. When The Home Monthly was established in 1896, it hired Willa Cather as the managing editor of the magazine. Cather oversaw the publication of 12 issues of the magazine between June 1896 and July 1897. A number of Cather's short stories were published in the magazine during her tenure. The Home Monthly ceased publication in 1900.