EMMY DESTINN
Arias from  Der Freischutz, Robert le Diable, Les Huguenots, Mignon, Aida, The Bartered Bride, Tannh”user, Il trovatore, Dalibor, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Psohlavci and Salome

SYMPOSIUM 1283 (F) (ADD) TT:  78:11

Czech soprano Emmy Destinn was born in Prague, Feb. 26, 1878 and died in Budejovice Jan. 28, 1930. At first she studied the violin but when it was discovered she possessed a beautiful voice she studied in Prague with Marie Loewe-Destinn (whose name she assumed; she was born Kittl). She made her debut in 1898 with the Kroll Opera in Berlin in Cavalleria Rusticana and a month later was engaged by the Berlin State Opera where she remained for a decade singing about 700 performances.  In 1901 she was chosen by Cosima Wagner to be Senta in the first Bayreuth production of The Flying Dutchman. In 1905 Richard Strauss chose her for the Berlin premiere of Salome and a few years later she also sang the Paris premiere. Although highly successful in the role (photo above right), she felt it was too heavy for her voice and sang only twelve performances. In 1904 she made a spectacular debut at Covent Garden as Donna Anna, and remained at Covent Garden for ten seasons during which she sang the English premiere of Madama Butterfly

Now recognized as a leading prima donna, Destinn made her Met debut opening night Nov. 16, 1908 in Aida, in a cast that included Enrico Caruso, Louise Homer, Antonio Scotti and Adamo Didur, with Arturo Toscanini making his Met debut as well.  Reviews were ecstatic:  "Mme. Destinn...has a voice of great power, body and vibrant quality, dramatic in expression, flexible and wholly subservient to her intentions, which are those of a singer of keen musical feeling and intelligence.  She showed the possession of strong dramatic gifts...a most interesting figure..."  Destinn remained at the Met for a decade singing the American premieres of The Girl of the Golden West  and La Wally (both with Toscanini) and The Bartered Bride (with Mahler conducting), as well as Tiefland, Madama Butterfly, Pagliacci and the Verdi Requiem during her initial season.

During her rather short career, Emmy Destinn sang more than eighty roles in leading opera houses of the world including French, German, Italian, Russian and Bohemian operas.  She was interned during World War I at her Bohemian estate, returning to opera in 1919 and retiring two years later. Her private life was tempestuous, filled with brief (Arthur Rubinstein) and lengthy (baritone Dinhy Gilly and conductor Karl Muck) love affairs, to mention just a few.  Caruso supposedly proposed to her, but she married Joseph Halsbach, an officer in the Czech air force, living with him, a wide assortment of animals plus more than 7,000 books, some devoted to bizarre subjects. And also wrote novels, plays and poetry and appeared in two films in one of which (The Power of Song) she is surrounded by a lion, lionesses and cubs.  After a few years of indulgence her good looks vanished, she retired from singing prematurely and died relatively young (52).

Destinn made about 220 78rpm disks.   This fine CD gives a fair representation of her repertory recorded during her best years (1906-1911) beginning with Agathe's Prayer from Der Freischutz in which she shows her distinctive style and vocal powers.  The Meyerbeer arias hold no difficulty for her, and her assured trill can be heard in the Trovatore aria.  Arias from two Czech operas find her on home territory, and excerpts from the two Puccini arias show why she was a favorite of Toscanini and other leading conductors.  Her recording of two brief excerpts from Salome made in 1907 was the first ever made of vocal music from the opera (the following year Johanna Gadski recorded an excerpt).

The acoustic recording process captured Destinn's voice quite well and Symposium has provided their usual honest transfers. There are few CDs currently available of her artistry; aside from a Preiser disk (89949) which I haven't heard, we have only her "complete" Carmen recorded in 1908 issued on Marston (52022).  Two Nimbus CDs will disappear now that the label, unfortunately, has closed shop.

R.E.B.