Frances Davis Alda (31 May 1879 – 18 September 1952) was a New Zealand-born, Australian-raised operatic soprano. She achieved fame during the first three decades of the 20th century due to her outstanding singing voice, fine technique and colourful personality, as well as her frequent onstage partnerships at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, with Enrico Caruso.
Alda circa 1920
Fanny Jane Davis
May 31, 1879
|Died||September 18, 1952 (aged 73)|
(m. 1910; div. 1928)
Leonore, a promising singer from a musical family, in September 1880 divorced David and resumed her singing career. Fanny spent her early years traveling with her mother on her operatic tours. After false starts in Australasia, she took Fanny and her younger brother to San Francisco, California in 1883. Leonore Davis remarried but died of peritonitis in San Francisco on 29 December 1884, shortly after remarrying, to Herman Adler. After her mother's death, Alda was sent to live with her maternal grandparents, Martin and Fanny Simonsen, in Melbourne, Victoria, 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 in Paris from the renowned teacher Mathilde Marchesi, who gave her her stage name, Alda made her debut at the Opéra-Comique in 1904 in Jules Massenet's Manon. She appeared at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1906, and at La Scala, Milan, during the 1906-08 seasons.
In 1908, the former La Scala impresario Giulio Gatti-Casazza became director of the Metropolitan Opera. On 7 December 1908 Alda made her debut there. On 4 April 1910, Alda and Gatti-Casazza married. According to American Art News (New York, 19 March 1910), Adolfo Müller-Ury was painting Alda just before her marriage. 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. She began recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1908 and several of her records became best-sellers. She created the title roles in Victor Herbert's Madeleine and Henry Hadley's Cleopatra's Night as well as Roxane in Walter Damrosch's Cyrano. She also sang regularly with Enrico Caruso.
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 1937 autobiography was titled Men, Women, & Tenors.
- Alda amended her birth year to 1883 to make herself more appealing to operatic managers. This incorrect year is often recorded as her actual year of birth.
- "Frances Alda Dies. Former Met Star. 21 Years Before Retiring in 1929. Sang 40 Roles. A Gatti-Casazza Protege. Came to U.S. With Milanese Impresario in 1908. Stricken by Brain Hemorrhage". The New York Times. 19 September 1952.
- Charlotte Macdonald (1992). The book of New Zealand women (First ed.). Wellington, NZ: Williams. ISBN 0-908912-04-8.
- Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc. p. 21. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
- "Mme. Frances Alda Wed To Ray Vir Den. Former Opera. Singer Bride Of New York Advertising Man". The New York Times. 15 April 1941.
Media related to Frances Alda at Wikimedia Commons
- Profile of Frances Alda, "New Zealand's most famous daughter"
- Melba versus Alda
- Madame Frances Alda. Does Not Seem to Like Australia
- Photo from the Library of Congress's George Grantham Bain Collection
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- Discography of Frances Alda on Victor Records from the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR)