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Geraldine Farrar (February 28, 1882 – March 11, 1967) was a soprano opera singer and film actress. She had a large following among young women, who were nicknamed "Gerry-flappers".

Early life and opera career

Farrar was born in Melrose, Massachusettsmarker, the daughter of Sidney Farrar and his wife Henrietta Barnes. She studied voice in Bostonmarker, New Yorkmarker, Parismarker, and finally in Berlinmarker, with famed soprano Lilli Lehmann. (She had been recommended to Lehmann by another famous soprano of the previous generation, Lillian Nordica.) Farrar created a sensation in the German capital with her debut as Marguerite in Charles Gounod's Faust in 1901. She appeared subsequently in the title rôles of Ambroise Thomas' Mignon and Jules Massenet's Manon, as well as Juliette in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. Her admirers in Berlin included Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, with whom she is believed to have had a relationship beginning in 1903.

After appearing at Monte Carlomarker, she made her debut at the New York Metropolitan Opera in Romeo et Juliette in 1906. She appeared in the first Met performance of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly in 1907 and remained a member of the company until her retirement in 1922, singing 29 roles there in nearly 500 performances. She developed a great popular following, especially among New York's young female opera-goers, who were known as "Gerry-flappers". Farrar created the title roles in Pietro Mascagni's Amica (Monte Carlomarker, 1905), Puccini's Suor Angelica (New Yorkmarker, 1918), and Umberto Giordano's Madame Sans-Gêne (New York, 1915) as well as the Goosegirl in Engelbert Humperdinck's Die Königskinder (New York, 1910)

She recorded extensively for the Victor Talking Machine Company and was often featured prominently in that firm's advertisements. She also appeared in silent movies, which were filmed between opera seasons. Farrar starred in more than a dozen films from 1915 to 1920, including Cecil B. De Mille's 1915 adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen. One of her most notable screen roles was as Joan of Arc in the 1917 film Joan the Woman.

According to her biographer, Elizabeth Nash:
Unlike most of the famous bel canto singers of the past who sacrificed dramatic action to tonal perfection, she was more interested in the emotional than in the purely lyrical aspects of her roles.
According to Miss Farrar, until prime donne can combine the arts of Sarah Bernhardt and Nellie Melba, dramatic ability is more essential than perfect singing in opera


Personal life

Farrar had a seven-year love affair with the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini. Her ultimatum, that he leave his wife and marry her, resulted in Toscanini's resignation as chief conductor of the Met in 1915. He returned to Italy. Farrar was close friends with the star tenor Enrico Caruso and there has been speculation that they too had a love affair, but no substantial evidence of this has surfaced.

Her marriage to cinema actor Lou Tellegen on February 8, 1916 was the source of considerable scandal, terminating, as a result of her husband's numerous affairs, in a very public divorce in 1923. The circumstances of the divorce were brought again to public recollection by Tellegen's bizarre 1934 suicide in Hollywood.

Farrar retired from opera in 1922 at the age of 40. Her final performance was as Leoncavallo's Zazà. By this stage, her voice was in premature decline due to overwork. According to the American music critic Henry Pleasants, the author of The Great Singers from the Dawn of Opera to Our Own Time (first published 1967), she gave between 25 and 35 performances each season at the Met alone. They included 95 appearances as Madama Butterfly and 58 as Carmen in 16 seasons. The title role in Puccini's Tosca, which she had added to her repertoire in 1909, was another one of her favourite Met parts.

Farrar continued to give recitals until 1931 and was briefly the commentator for the radio broadcasts from the Met during the 1934-35 season. Her autobiography, Such Sweet Compulsion, published in 1938, was written in alternating chapters purporting to be her own words and those of her mother, with Mrs Farrar rather floridly recounting her daughter's many accomplishments.

Farrar died in Ridgefield, Connecticutmarker of a heart attack in 1967, aged 85, and was buried in Kensico Cemeterymarker in Valhalla, New Yorkmarker. She had no children.

Media

Fiction

The American author Barbara Paul has written several murder mystery novels based on Geraldine Farrar, Enrico Caruso, and the Metropolitan Opera.

References

Sources

  • Nash, Elizabeth, Always First Class: The Career of Geraldine Farrar, University Press of America, 1981. ISBN 0819118826
  • Rosenthal, H. and Warrack, J., "Farrar, Geraldine", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 161. ISBN 019311321X


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