What are Rock Stars and Divas today, were the Opera Singers of the 19th century. I am telling you, Opera was the scene! It was all the rage and the personalities of the singers both on and off stage were fodder for the papers. Many of the female headliners began their career as mere adolescents; think Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus. . . . Actually, do not think of Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus, the Victorian vocalists were on tight leashes from management. Many came from rural poverty, but a few grew up in musical families. I shall not give you their biographies here, but you may click on their names to for the Wikipedia article to learn more about them.
The most famous of all 19th century Operatic singers is Jenny Lind, The Swedish Nightingale. Ironically, her voice was nice, but not stunning. She began young and had a talent for some flair in presentation. Her fame is mainly in part due to her “publicists.” I think of her similarly to Taylor Swift. She is attractive and amusing but her voice is not the strongest in the industry.
Pauline Viardot nee Garcia had a range of C3-F6; My Suitor confirms this is truly impressive. She was born into an Operatic family, so “she cheated,” as my brother would say. She could be likened to Mariah Carrey in talent, though I do not imagine she rocked Daisy Dukes, but who am I to say? I do not know what is hidden under those voluminous skirts.
Lilli Lehmann is considered one of the Grand Dames of the Opera world. She had one of the longest operatic careers spanning over 120 different roles. She was also a vocal coach for many years. She also has a medal named after her. That is quite the honor and reputation. I think of her as the Dolly Patron of the Opera world. Enduring, mentoring, sweet, but head-strong well endowed singer.
Emma Calve. . . ahhh, the French just do these differently. Not only did she have an amazing strong voice, she had stage presence like no other. She was influenced by stage craft and theater. Her stage presence was almost like a brilliant alter ego. Or maybe not, she seemed to have quite the lavish taste off stage as well. Perhaps she is the Beyoncé of the Victorian era?
Ernestine Schumann-Heink; supposedly, every busty opera matron was styled after her. In the operatic sense she was a prima donna in more than one company. Ironically, she was the replacement for a true “prima donna” (as we Moderns think of the term) and she performed both times without rehersal to great acclaim and landed a decade long contract as a result. Ten year contract?! Now that must have been on jaw dropping performance. I cannot think of a modern equivalent to Ernestine. . . but I am open to suggestions . . .
Anastasia Vyaltseva a Russian opera singer who first got her start in . . . ballet. She was not a particular great dancer; as the pelting of tomatoes indicates, but she had a pretty voice and a beautiful face. She was famous for a folksy-type Russian music. And goodness, did she know many songs by heart. She was not beneath being a chorus girl to put food on the table, but alas her big chance came and she took it! She reminds a bit of Emmy Lou Harris, a striking face but a folksy-niche.