Willa Cather's Prototypes Who Were Recording Artists.

FARRAR. FREMSTAD. NORDICA. GARDEN. SCHUMANN-HEINK. BORI.

 

By Doug Boilesen, 2020

Willa Cather loved opera and was a devoted patron of opera wherever she lived or travelled. She had friendships with opera stars, understood the world of opera, knew the challenges of being an artist in a consumer world and of being a woman artist in male dominated domains, and wrote multiple stories where a prima donna or an aspirational artist was the central character.

Six of the opera singing performers identified by scholars as likely prototypes (1) for Cather opera related characters made phonograph records and appeared in phonograph ads.

By appearing in popular culture magazine ads these prototypes added their celebrity status, artistic reputations, and the prestige of opera to promote key phonograph industry themes; namely, that the world of entertainment, highlighted by opera, was available to anyone, anytime and anyplace. The stage of the world, it was advertised, could now be in your own home where you would be more comfortable than in a theatre; it was more convenient than going to a theatre, no expensive tickets to buy, unlimited reperotoires, and always the best seat in the house.

The promotion of opera by the phonograph industry also had an on-going subtext that recorded sound should be considered an equivalent of live music and not a sound-reproducing novelty. "The Victor Record of Farrar's voice is just as truly Farrar as Farrar herself."

This page is an overview of the six Cather prototype artists who have phonograph connections.

Each artist also has their own gallery (select from below) with many more examples of the presence of each in popular culture, as prima donnas and promoters of the phonograph and recorded sound.

Geraldine Farrar (one of the prototypes for Kitty Ayrshire in Scandal and A Gold Slipper and interviewed by Cather for her article Three American Singers).

Lillian Nordica (prototype for Cressida Garnet in The Diamond Mine).

Mary Garden (prototype for Eden Bower in Coming, Aphrodite! and one of the prototypes for Kitty Ayrshire in Scandal).

Olive Fremstad (prototype for Thea Kronborg in The Song of the Lark and interviewed by Cather for her article Three American Singers).

Ernestine Schumann-Heink (prototype for "soprano soloist" in Paulís Case).

Lucrezia Bori (prototype for "Spanish woman" in Scandal).

 

Cather's first collection of short stories (The Troll Garden, 1905) were written in the early years of the phonograph entering the home.

In the following decade, when Cather was writing many of her opera and aspirational artist stories e.g., The Song of the Lark (1915) and the publication of her collection of short stories Youth and Bright Medusa (1920), the phonograph became the definitive home entertainer. Electrical recordings were introduced in 1925 and the prevalence of radio in the 1930's would further alter how the public experienced sound.

The evolution of the phonograph from 1900 to 1920 included advertisements made by six of Cather's opera prototypes which reveal aspects of the new century's consumerism and themes of "live" versus recorded music, the "Stage of the World' entering homes and the advertising power of prima donnas.

 

E.T. Paull - Sheet music published by E.T. Paull Music Co., New York, 1900. (Sheet Music from University of Indiana).

 

In promoting opera The Victor Talking Machine Company led the way with its advertising campaigns featuring opera, Caruso and "the greatest artists of the world." Farrar, Schumann-Heink and Bori would all record for Victor. Schumann-Heink also did five records for Columbia.

Columbia was a strong competitor and promoted the exclusivity of their 'greatest artists of the world" whenever they could. Nordica, Garden and Fremstad would be featured Columbia artists. (3)

Edison didn't have as many of the first-tier opera stars and seems to have been more interested in advertising the technical accuracy of his phonograph than promoting world-renowned artists. Even the repertory of those Edison celebrity artists have been described as "confined to hackneyed operatic arias and quasi-popular encore pieces"(3A). Perhaps most revealing, the Edison business approach regarding these recordings was said to have been "the flat statement that the reproduction of operatic and symphonic music did not represent a sound commercial proposition -- in America." (3B)

On the other hand Edison was making movies and a 1914 article in The Talking Machine World stated that Edison was working every day to improve the "Talkie-Movies" and opera recording were important to him.

"Opera and drama for the poor workingman and his family for a nickel is what we should have, and what we eventually will have," Mr. Edison said.

Edison's phonographs were prevalent in popular culture for over three decades and some of his phonograph and record ads were for his 'grand opera' and the 'famous artists' that he did recruit. Mary Garden did record three records for Edison in 1905 and Lucrezia Bori made thirty recordings for Edison between 1910 and 1913. (3)

Remarkably, recordings were made between 1900 and 1903 by the Metropolitan Opera House's librarian Lionel Mapleson using an Edison "Home" Phonograph he purchased for $30.00. One hundred and twenty-six cylinders made by Mapleson are known to have survived with Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Lillian Nordica among those recorded voices.

Edison Home Model A 1900.

 

Soprano Lillian Nordica, with contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink and tenor Georg Anthes can be heard HERE from the 'live" performance originally captured on cylinder by Mapleson at the Metropolitan on Monday evening, February 9, 1903.

The re-recording onto 78 rpm records from these cylinders was started in 1937 by William H. Seltsam. For that story see "The Mapleson Cylinders that Lived in Bridgeport: William H. Seltsam, Lionel Mapleson, and Ghosts of the Golden Met" by Professor Jeffrey Johnson, 2018.

Johnson nicely summarizes the meaning of the records. "These recordings are audio sťances; they can summon ghosts."

 

 

Lionel Mapleson with Edison Home Phonograph and extra large horn, probably at the Metropolitan Opera House. (1901-1903) (New York Public Library Digital Collections, Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound).

"I neither work properly nor eat nor sleep,Ē wrote Mapleson in his diary, ďIím a phonograph maniac!!Ē (Ibid. Jeffrey Johnson).

 

GERALDINE FARRAR

 

In 1908 Victor ran an ad campaign questioning if you could tell the difference between a live performer and a record. "You think you can...But can you?" Victor then suggested there was a way to find out: "Why not hear the Victor for yourself?" Geraldine Farrar was one of the opera stars featured in the "Which is which" ads.

 

October 1908

 

Victor's 1908 "Which is which?" ad campaign was their first series of advertisements asking the pivotal question about a record's realism and featuring different grand-opera artists as evidence.

The next similiarly themed advertising campaign by Victor was the Victrola's "Both are" advertisements of 1914-15 where Farrar was again one of the featured artists. In this campaign Victor seemed even more confident with a declarative statement about equivalency, instead of asking a question.

It was now "Both are Farrar." "Both are Caruso." "Both are Schumann-Heink." "Both are Mischa Elman." "Both are Kreisler." "Both are McCormack." "Both are Alma-Gluck."

No difference between a recorded voice and the voice of an artist on stage. The record and an artist positioned side by side made it clear: the artist and the record were said to be equals -- a record had "the same singularly beautiful voice, with all the personal charm and individuality of the artist."

In listening to Farrar's record you will "be stirred with enthusiasm, just as were the vast audiences" that heard in in the Metropolitan Opera House. "The proof," said the Victor ad, "is in the hearing."

 

Everybody's Magazine, 1915

 

Farrar as Madame Butterfly, 1921

 

Between 1907 and 1927 the Discography of American Historical Records has 179 records listed for Geraldine Farrar made for the Victor Company. See DAHR for listing of Farrar's recordings which includes multiple records for some of the songs and the identification of which recordings were issued from which master. In 1905-1906 Farrar has three records listed as having been recorded for Gramophone. (3)

For additional examples of Geraldine Farrar, visit Geraldine Farrar - Recording Artist and Willa Cather Prototype

 

MME. SCHUMANN-HEINK

Schumann-Heink Postcard, 1907

 

Between 1906 and 1931 the Discography of American Historical Records has 135 records listed for Ernestine Schumann-Heink made for the Victor Company. See DAHR for listing of Schumann-Heink's recordings which includes multiple records for some of the songs and the identification of which recordings were issued from which master. In 1903 Schumann-Heink has five records listed as having been recorded for Columbia. (3).

 

Everybody's Magazine, 1910

 

The Victrola's "Both are" advertising campaign of 1914-15, included Madame Schumann-Heinkin as one of Victor's featured artists. Repeating the same truth as their "Both are Farrar" ad, Victor again defined their new reality of recorded sound: "The Victor Record of Schumann-Heink's voice is just as truly Schumann-Heink as Schumann-Heink herself."

 

Life, September 9, 1915

 

For additional examples of Mme. Schumann-Heink, visit Schumann-Heink - Recording Artist and Willa Cather Prototype

 

MARY GARDEN

Mary Garden as Thais, photograph by Reutingler, Paris, postcard c. 1901.

 

Mary Gardenís Scottish Records, Pathe Record Catalog, 1904 (Courtesy British Library).

 

1911

 

Mary Garden recorded 3 cylinder records for Edison in 1905. Between 1911 and 1912 the Discography of American Historical Records has 12 records listed for Mary Garden made for Columbia. Between 1926 and 1929 there are 16 records listed for Mary Garden made for Victor. See DAHR for listing of Garden's recordings which includes multiple records for some of the songs and the identification of which recordings were issued from which master.(3)

For additional examples of Mary Garden and the phonograph, visit Mary Garden - Recording Artist and Willa Cather Prototype.

 

LILLIAN NORDICA

Lillian Nordica as Brunnhilde, 1898 (Courtesy of Nordica Memorial Association).

 

Columbia advertisement courtesy of The Nordica Memorial Association.

 

Nordica was featured on Coca-Cola calendars, trays and advertising posters in 1904 and 1905.

 

Between 1906 and 1911 the Discography of American Historical Records has 33 records listed for Lillian Nordica made for Columbia. See DAHR for listing of Nordica recordings which includes multiple records for some of the songs and the identification of which recordings were issued from which master.(3)

For additional examples of Lillian Nordica, visit Lillian Nordica - Recording Artist and Willa Cather Prototype.

 

OLIVE FREMSTAD

First records of Fremstad's voice ever made exclusively for Columbia, 1911.

 

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, Columbia Graphophones and Grafonolas postcard 1911.

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, 1911.

 

Between 1911 and 1915 the Discography of American Historical Records has 23 records listed for Olive Fremstad made for Columbia. See DAHR for listing of Fremstad's recordings and the identification of which recordings were issued from which master.(3)

For additional examples of Olive Fremstad, visit Olive Fremstad - Recording Artist and Willa Cather Prototype.

 

LUCREZIA BORI

In the September 1910 Edison Phonograph Monthly in an article titled New Grand Opera Talent one of the featured artists discussed was Mlle. Bori who "has been engaged to sing exclusively for the National Phonograph Company."

 

The Edison Phonograph Monthly, September 1910.

 

Listen to one of her earliest recordings, the 1910 four-minute celluloid cylinder record, Mi chiamano mimì from La Bohème (Puccini), Edison Concert Series Record No. 28122 (courtesy of i78s.org).

 

Advance List for Edison Grand Opera Amberol Records, The Edison Phonograph Monthly, October 1910.

 

Between 1910 and 1913 the Discography of American Historical Records has 31 records listed for Lucrezia Bori made for Edison with one additional Edison record made in 1924.

Between 1914 and 1937 there are 95 records listed for Lucrezia Bori made for Victor. See DAHR for listing of Bori's recordings and the identification of which recordings were issued from which master.(3)

 

Farrar, Schumann-Heink and Bori, The Ladies' Home Journal, September 1919.

 

Farrar, Schumann-Heink and Bori, Victrola Book of the Opera, Sixth Edition, 1921.

 

For additional examples of Lucrezia Bori, visit Lucrezia Bori - Recording Artist and Willa Cather Prototype.

See What is an Opera? for the 1921 explanation in the Victrola Book of the Opera.

 

 

 

Phonographia