Alice Nielsen (June 7, 1872
- March 8, 1943) was a Broadway performer
and operatic soprano
who had her own opera company and starred in
several Victor Herbert operettas.
Alice Neilsen's Production of The
father, Ramsus, was a Danish troubadour from Aarhus.
mother, Sara Kilroy, was an Irish musician from Donegal.
Sara met in South Bend,
Indiana where Sara studied music at St. Mary's, now part of
Dame. After Rasmus was injured in the Civil War, the couple moved to Nashville,
Tennessee where Alice was born. The Nielsens moved to
Missouri when Alice was two.
Rasmus died a few years
later. Sara moved to Kansas
City with four surviving children.
Alice Nielsen roamed downtown Kansas City as a child singing.
Outside Kansas City Club she was heard by a wealthy meat packer
Jakob Dold and invited to sing at his daughter's birthday party.
Alice was a hit. Dold sent her to represent Missouri at a
musicale at the Grover Cleveland
On her return, she was cast in a regional
tour with Jules Grau's opera company for a season. When it ended,
Nielsen joined St. Patrick's Church choir. She married the church
organist and had a son. When the marriage turned violent she left for
Francisco on the
vaudeville circuit, joined by Arthur
Pryor, performing with Burton Stanley and Pyke Opera.
San Francisco she became a soloist at the St. Patrick's, singing at
The Wig-Wam and becoming a star in Balfe
. Joining the Tivoli Opera Company, trained by
Ida Valegra, Nielsen played 150 roles in two years. In 1895, Nielsen was
hired by The Bostonians, a leading light opera company, which took
her to New York
City and national fame in 1896.
Alice Nielsen in 1900, age about 25, was America's biggest
box-office draw. "We love our Nielsen, and proud she is an
American," said the press. Touring 40,000 miles a year in North
America between 1896 and 1901, her shows were Standing Room Only.
In New York City, Nielsen became a Broadway star in Victor
Herbert's The Serenade
Herbert had written his sixth operetta for prima donna Alice
Nielsen and her newly formed Alice Nielsen Opera Company. Nielsen
toured North America for three years before reaching London in 1901
in The Fortune
. Pushed by business conflicts, Nielsen abandoned
her Company and left to study grand
, coached in the Italian repertoire by Enrico Bevignani,
who had coached Swedish
later in 1905, Nielsen returned to London's Covent Garden where she sang Mozart operas
that Spring then joined the Covent Fall season of Naples' San Carlo
Opera with Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti.
was regarded as a masterpiece of ensemble
In summer 1906, Nielsen joined Eleonora
and Emma Calvé
in a joint
program of related operas and dramas to open the Shuberts' Waldorf Theatre
. One night Duse would act
, the next night Nielsen woud sing
. That fall, Nielsen returned to America, touring
in opera concerts featuring a cut-rate version of Donizetti
's Don Pasquale
. After a difficult
debut in New York
City, she became a strong hit by spring in Chicago, San
Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas and Columbia .
1907, Nielsen returned to America with Lillian Nordica, Constantino and a full company for a season at
Orleans' French Opera
During their subsequent North American tour, the
group was considered by critics as superior to the touring Met
Company, which had preceded Nielsen in LA, Chicago and Boston.
Chicago season was sponsored by the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Association.
end of the tour, in Boston's Park Theatre during March 1908, a week
of nightly grand opera performances featuring Nielsen and
Constantino La Boheme and Faust at Park Theatre
created such a sensation that Boston's music patron Eben Jordan
offered to build the Boston Opera House for Alice Nielsen and her Company.
was quickly realized. In 1909 Nielsen opened the 2,750-seat
and debuted at The
and Opéra de Montréal
. Her artist
allies for the project included Loie
, Josef Urban
. Within six years, however, Boston Opera
folded amid the turmoil of World War
. The magnificent building, designed by the
team which created Symphony Hall, was located across from New England
Conservatory's Jordan Hall and has since been
After Boston, Nielsen began a series of popular Chautauqua
tours. These outdoor concert took
place under a big tent, moving from town-to-town by rail.
circuit ranged from Florida to Chicago.
Nielsen was the highest-paid
performer on the circuit. The week-long Redpath Chautauqua series
closed in each town with "Alice Nielsen Day."
the 1910s, Nielsen sang in joint concerts with John McCormack and other artists at
Hall and in national tours.
consisted of art songs and arias, followed by dozens of encores of
popular Celtic and parlor songs. A typical program was,
Nielsen was a popular recording artist in sessions conducted by
. She recorded seventy
tracks between 1898-1928, most of the recordings made about 1910.
Her big hit record was "Home, Sweet, Home," followed by "Un bel
di," "Killarney" and "Last Rose of Summer." "I only sang the songs
I wanted to sing," she stated in Colliers Magazine
published her autobiographic 1932 series Born To
After a brief return to Broadway in 1917's short-lived Belasco
musical Kitty Darlin
, with lyrics
by P. G. Wodehouse
who was fired three weeks before the NY opening, Nielsen married
surgeon Le Roy Stoddard and moved to Bedford, NY
. By 1920, Nielsen's touring schedule
was light. She last appeared with Boston
in 1922. She sang with a reunited Alice Nielsen
Company at the Victor Herbert
memorial concert staged by ASCAP
in 1925. In 1929 she divorced Stoddard. Nielsen continued singing
occasional concerts until shortly before her death. In later years, she
owned a house in Far Rockaway, Queens near her brother, who was the parish organist for
St. Mary, Star of the Sea Church.
Its cemetery is her final
- Eleonora Duse— "Her voice makes
one dream and forget the realities of life."
- San Francisco
Chronicle— She is chic and vivacious and filled with
- NY World— At the present moment she has no rival in
- NY Evening World— America's greatest lyrical
- Chicago Post— Miss Nielsen is thoroughly a great
singer, and showed clearly that she has attained the high place she
holds in the musical world through sheer merit.
- Musical Courier— It is difficult to imagine a more
perfect Mimi than Miss Nielsen, who sings with a lovely lyric
beauty of a voice that has not its counterpart anywhere.
- Prima Donnas and Soubrettes of Light Opera and Musical
Comedy in America (Lewis Strang, Boston: L.C. Page & Co.,
- Florencio Constantino, 1869-1919, el hombre y el tenor
( Julio Goyén Aquado. Ayuntamiento de Bilbao. 1993)
- Boston Opera (Quaintance Eaton, New York:
- Born To Sing (Alice Nielsen, Colliers
Magazine. Jun 25, 1932 - July 2, 1932)
- We Love Our Nielsen (Pat McNamara. January 9,
- Wilson, Dall Alice Nielsen and the Gaiety Of Nations (
"Mu Phi Epsilon", January 1, 2006)
- Wilson, Dall Alice Nielsen and the Gayety Of Nations
(dall wilson. 2008)
- McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women (Dover
Publications New York. 1980)
- Gould, Neil Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life (Fordham
University Press. 2008)