DIVA Museum How Opera Divas Changed the World! Art.History.Women.Opera.Fashion: 1700-1920


26 Amazing Tidbits from the Diva Notecards



La Maupin:  By day a contralto in Paris Opèra; by night a sword-wielding bisexual lover and protector of women.


Francesca Cuzzoni: Handel threatened to throw her out window when she balked at singing an aria written for another.


Faustina Bordoni:  Legendary fistfight onstage with “Rival Queen” Cuzzoni, with two women pulling each others’ “coiffs” and screaming Italian insults.


Sophie Arnould:  Paris Opèra star whose intelligence and charm captured foremost Enlightenment minds  Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Franklin.


Zhemchugova:  Serf soprano marries master; their love story inspires Russian serf Emancipation.


Elizabeth Billington:  Painted by Reynolds and Romney as St. Cecilia, patron saint of music.


Angelica Catalani: Superhuman crescendo across three octaves from mighty blast to just-audible whisper made her international idol.


Isabella Colbran:  Created ten Rossini dramatic soprano roles and then married him.


Giuditta Pasta: Flexible voice sang both male and female roles; opera’s first dramatic actress.


Maria Malibran:  First American diva; back in Europe, her youth, beauty and desperate intensity drove tens of thousands of fans wild.


Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient:  Inserting dramatically powerful spoken words into vocal line made her “Queen of Tears” and Wagner’s muse.


Henriette Sontag:  Sang “Queen of the Night” aria on tabletops at 8; later toast of German opera world and ambassador’s wife.


Giulia Grisi:  First modern use of word “diva” as hyberbolic superlative applied to her Norma in 1830.


Jenny Lind:  Queen Victoria’s friend; 30,000 New Yorkers met “Barnum’s Bird” when her ship arrived; 5,000 attended her first concert.


Pauline Garcia Viardot:  Artist of high-minded purpose immortalized as Romantic heroine in George Sand and George Eliot novels.


Elizabeth Greenfield:  First African-American concert celebrity in US and abroad; command performance for Queen Victoria.


Adelina Patti:  Supported her family from 7 to 15 touring America singing arias from La Somnambula, Norma, and Il Barbiere; wore special bodice of 3,700 diamonds in La Traviata ballroom scenes.


Lilli Lehmann:  In first Bayreuth Ring 1876, under Wagner’s direction, played Rhinemaiden Woglinde, Forest Bird, and Valkyrie Helmwige; matchless range and repertoire: 170 roles in 119 different operas


Madame Selika:  First African-American to sing at White House; successful European concert career.


Lillian Nordica:  Daughter of Maine farmers is first American to master, under Cosima Wagner, all Wagner’s heroic soprano roles.


Emma Calvé:  Sang 4,000 Carmens, including for Sultan of Constantinople and his seraglio; learned secrets of breath control from Hindu monk Swami Vivi Kananda.


Nellie Melba:  Crystalline voice enchanted Covent Garden for 40 years; Melba Toast and Peach Melba created for her.


Sissieretta Jones:  Most famous African-American woman of 1900 for leading Black Patti Troubadours in “Operatic Kaleidescope."


Olive Fremstad:  Minnesota pioneer woman conquers Europe; rehearsed for Met Salome with a real 12-pound severed head and JP Morgan banned show after one shocking performance.


Lina Cavalieri:  Risqué café singer turned opera star and “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” collected diamonds, Russian princes, and 840 marriage proposals.


Geraldine Farrar: Sang alongside Caruso; adored by young female “Gerryflappers"; her 1908 dress account at Bendel’s reportedly ran to $80,000 per year.



More great stories in A Diva's Dozen and A Dazzle of Divas!



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