Willa Cather's Opera Prototypes who were Recording Artists

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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 wrote multiple stories where a prima donna or an aspirational artist was the central character.

Six of the prima donnas 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 a key phonograph industry theme; 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. You just needed to own a phonograph and records.

The Cather prototype artists and their respective ads featured in this gallery are the following:

Geraldine Farrar (one of the prototypes for Kitty Ayshire 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 Ayshire 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 Paul’s Case).

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

Popular culture, the phonograph and Willa Cather's writings are the sources for this gallery. 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 was becoming the definitive home entertainer. Electrical recordings were introduced in 1925 and the prevalence of radio in the 1930's further altered how sound was experienced. For me, the evolution of the phonograph during Willa Cather's lifetime and her stories of opera stars and their respective real world prototypes reveal important aspects of the changing world related to live performance, recorded sound and consumerism.

Live versus recordings. Recording artists and consumerism. The "Stage of the World' in your home. These are popular cultural themes, first seen at the beginning of the twentieth century, that have continued into the 21st century.

And what about the future? When will technologies create environments where the question "Which is which" is more than an advertisement, and is unanswerable?

 

Geraldine Farrar

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October 1908

 

 

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." Columbia was a competitor, likewise trying to exclusively promote the greatest singers of the world. Edison didn't have as many of the first-tier opera stars as Victor and Edison was perhaps more interested in advertising the technical accuracy of his phonograph than promoting world-renowned artists but he did recruit some 'famous artists', especially for promoting his Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph and records.

The Victrola's "Both are" advertising campaign of 1914-15, in which Farrar was one of the featured artists, was a promotion that the phonograph industry hoped all consumers would come to believe; namely, that there was no difference between a recorded voice and the voice of an artist on stage. With a record and an artist positioned side by side in the Victor ad, 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." "The proof," said the Victor ad, "is in the hearing."

 

 

 

 

Farrar as Madame Butterfly, 1921

 



 

The Outlook Magazine, 1909

 

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

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Mme. Schumann-Heink

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Schumann-Heink Postcard, 1907

 

 

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Everybody's Magazine, 1910

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Life, September 9, 1915

 

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





 

 

.Lucrezia Bori

Lucrezia Bori, The Ladies' Home Journal, April 1925

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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Geraldine Farrar, Mme. Schumann-Heink and Mary Garden

Farrar, Schumann-Heink, Mary Garden - 1922 sepia rotogravure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nordica, Fremstad, and Mary Garden

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, 1911

 

 

 

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, 1911

 

 

 

 

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, The Saturday Evening Post 1911

 

 

 

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, 1911

 

 

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, 1912

 

 

 

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, 1912

 

 

 

The Talking Machine World, Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, July 1913

 

 

Nordica, Fremstad and Mary Garden, Garden Magazine, August 1913

 

 

 

 

Fremstad and Mary Garden, The Theatre Magazine, September 1914

 

 

 

 

 

Lillian Nordica

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

 

 

 

Columbia advertisement courtesy of The Nordica Memorial Association

 

 

 

The Talking Machine World, February 15, 1907

 

 

 

Nordica 1902 endorsement of The Everett Piano

 

 

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

 

 

Nordica endoreses the Everett Piano, Harper's 1909

 

 

 

Endorsements of "The Fowler" Bicycle includes Nordica's

 

 

 

Madame Nordica's Bath Powder

 

 

 

"In the advertising campaign for her weight-loss powder, Nordica even published a pamphlet with weight-loss tips, as well as pictures of other famous opera singers. The pamphlet was designed to equate the beauty and glamour of opera and opera singers with being thin—which could be achieved simply by soaking the pounds away in a bath laced with Nordica’s powder."

Madame Nordica's Bath Powder, Life 1913 (Text and advertisement courtesy of the Avid Listener)

 

 

 

Cleans and Protects finest homes in America including Mmd. Nordica, The Saturday Evening Post 1913 (Courtesy of the Avid Listener)

 

 

Nordica enthusiastically supports Woman Suffrage cause, New York Times, June 26, 1910

 

 

 

Nordica posed as Columbia in a suffragette pageant. (Courtesy of The Nordica Memorial Association)

 

 

 

 

Mary Garden

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

 

 

 

Mary Garden made six cylinder records of Scottish songs for Pathe in 1903, four records for G&T in 1904 and 3 Edison records in 1905

 

Mary Garden’s Scottish Records, Pathe Record Catalog, 1904 (Courtesy British Library)

 

 

 

The Talking Machine World, April 1911

 

 

 

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1911 Mary Garden Parfum ad with same image used in 1911 Columbia Phonograph ad and

 





“Professional Jealousy – What happened When A Mary Garden Record Met a Tettrazini Record on the Library Table.” ca. 1910 by Albert Leving, Courtesy Music Division, Library of Congress

 

 

 

Mary Garden stopped Grand Opera to make this California song famous.

Sheet Music, 1913 (Courtesy New York Public Library)

 

 

 

 

 

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Mary Garden for Lucky Strike, Country Life, January 1928

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Olive Fremstad and Mary Garden

Announcement in the February 1911 trade magazine The Talking Machine World that Columbia has just added Nordica and Fremstad to their list of exclusive Columbia artists.

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Columbia Records featuring Mary Garden and Olive Fremstad, 1916. Outing 69, October 1916

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Columbia Records featuring Mary Garden and Olive Fremstad, 1916. Hearst’s, June 1916

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Columbia Records featuring Mary Garden and Alice Nielsen; Olive Fremstad listed in ad, Country Life in America, October 1916

 

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Columbia Records - You hear Fremstad, Garden..."1917

 

 

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Olive Fremstad

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

 



Scientific American, April 15, 1911






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Fremstad mentioned as one of opera's most brilliant stars singing for the Columbia Company because Columbia Records are truly "records of life."

The Literary Digest for January 13, 1917

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Phonographia