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Frances Alda in the 1920s.
Frances Alda (31 May 1879 18 September 1952), born Fanny Jane Davis, was a New Zealandmarker-born, Australian-raised lyric soprano. She achieved fame as an operatic diva during the first three decades of the 20th Century due to her outstanding singing voice, fine technique and colourful personality.


Alda was born in Christchurchmarker, New Zealandmarker into a musical family and brought up in Melbournemarker, Australia. She sang in productions of Gilbert and Sullivan in Melbourne before leaving Australia for Europe at the age of 22 in order to undertake additional study and pursue an international singing career like her future soprano rival Nellie Melba. After receiving lessons from the renowned teacher Mathilde Marchesi in Paris, she made her debut at the Opera-Comiquemarker in 1904 in Massenet's Manon. She appeared at the Royal Opera House Covent Gardenmarker, London, in 1906 and at La Scalamarker, Milan, during the 1906-1908 seasons. In 1910, she married the La Scala impresario Giulio Gatti-Casazza.
Frances Alda
Frances Alda in 1909

According to American Art News (New York, March 19, 1910), the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury was painting her just before she married Giulio Gatti-Casazza on 4 April 1910. Alda's husband had become director of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, in 1908. It was in New York that Alda furthered her career, appearing to acclaim in such famous operas as Martha, Manon Lescaut, Otello, Faust, Mefistofele and La bohème. It was during this time that she recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Alda also created the title roles in Victor Herbert's Madeleine and Henry Hadley's Cleopatra's Night. She also sang regularly with Enrico Caruso, perhaps the most renowned Italian tenor of the 20th century.

Alda toured Australia and New Zealand in 1927. She and Gatti-Casazza separated the following year and then divorced. In 1929, she left the Met but continued to give concerts, make radio broadcasts and appear in vaudeville. Alda's acerbic 1937 autobiography was titled Men, Women, & Tenors. The book reflects her fiery, forthright temperament. She remarried in America in 1941 and travelled extensively in later life. She died of a stroke in Venicemarker, Italy, aged 73.

Alda was one of the finest lyric sopranos of her era, possessing a beautiful vocal timbre and a splendid vocal method. Her recordings, available on CD, repay frequent listening.


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