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Emmy Destinn

Emmy Destinn

(26 February 1878 – 28 January 1930)

Click here for recordings and performances by Emmy Destinn.

Emmy Destinn was a Czech operatic soprano with a strong and soaring lyric-dramatic voice.

She enjoyed an enormously successful career throughout Europe and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York

Emmy Destinn was a versatile artist and a very talented woman.

Aside from her successful opera career she was a poet, novelist and playwright although nothing she achieved outside the opera houses came anywhere near the reputation she garnered during her singing career.

She was born in Prague in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Starting as a violinist she switched to opera when it was discovered she had a rich full voice that had obvious potential

In honour of her vocal coach Marie Maria von Dreger Loewe-Destinn the young singer adopted her teacher's second name as a form of tribute- however, given the fact that her Czech name was virtually unpronouceable to anyone else but a fellow Czech- it was a good idea for all reasons anyhow :)

Emmy Destinn made her debut in July 1898 at the Berlin Court Opera as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana. She was barely nineteen but her secure voice and excellent acting skills soon captivated the Berlin public.

She stayed in Berlin until 1909 and sang leading roles in no less than 54 operas and no less than 12 premieres - the most noteable one was the very first performance of Richard Strauss's Salome performed in 1906 in Berlin a year after the premier had played in Dresden.

She had already become internationally known in 1901 when she sang the part of Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer at Wagner's Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

Emmy Destinn made her debut at Covent Garden's Royal Opera House London in 1904.

She played Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and returned there for the next two years to sing a variety of roles including the London premiere of Madama Butterfly with Enrico Caruso as her Pinkerton.

In 1908 she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in a highly praised production of Verdi's Aida.

She was to return there two years later to create the role of Minnie at the world premier of Puccini's old West opera, "La Fancuilla del West" again with Caruso playing Dick Johnston and under the baton of Arturo Toscanini.

Although she was an excellent exponnent of the lighter Wagnerian roles her spinto voice (although large in size) with a ringing top register was better suited to other styles of music- particularly some of the Verdi roles.

She made an excellent Carmen and was ideally suited to the Aidas, Butterfly's and Leonora's.

The first World War proved to be disastrous for Emmy Destinn's career.

When she returned to her homeland her passport was revoked and she was interred for the duration of the war.

By the time the war was over and she was free to move around again it was 1919 and the Metropolitan had gathererd a new assembly of stars- worse- her voice had declined and it was no where near what it was just a few short years earlier.

For two years she played a few roles before returning to Czechoslovakia and married.

In 1923 she retired from the opera stage and died following a stroke just a few years later in 1926. She is buried in Prague and in 1996 she was immortalised on the 2,000 koruna Czechoslovak banknote.

Today we can still hear her voice on the CD reissues of her many recordings that were made for 78rpm while still in her prime.

If it seems like just another wonderful voice from the past it is perhaps timely to remind ourselves that Emmy Destinn's achievements were quite extraordinary especially considering the times in which she lived.

Click here for recordings and performances by Emmy Destinn.

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