Saturday, July 10, 2010

I am Looking for a Juliet; Gounod and Emma Eames

The story of how the American soprano Emma Eames became connected to composer Charles Gounod was told in 1905 by vocalist and singing instructor Mathilde Marchesi on page 266 of her book "Marchesi and Music:"

"I am looking for a Juliet. Has your wife one among her pupils? If so, please ask her to bring her to me. She will find me at home to-morrow at eleven o'clock."

Gounod had seen Marchesi's husband on the Boulevard Malesherbes in Paris and asked him to deliver the message.

"Well, next day we went to Gounod's house in the Place Malesherbes, M. Mangin going with us as accompanist, and when we arrived we found all his family assembled to hear the new Juliet. That morning Miss Eames sang several airs from the opera in question very successfully, and, greatly delighted, the master exclaimed, 'Here is my Juliet.' A few days later he made her rehearse her part in my presence, Mangin accompanying on the piano, and Gounod himself giving her the cue, singing and playing the part of Romeo from beginning to end. Then, after a rehearsal at the Grand Opera-house, Emma Eames's engagement was signed."

The legendary Emma Eames was raised by her grandparents in Bath, Maine, which is north of Portland. She was twenty-one when this defining moment launched her career.

Among countless high-profile performances she sang Donna Anna in Don Giovanni under Mahler at the Met in 1908. She retired from operatic singing early in her career (1911-1912 season) and stopped singing in 1916.

A wonderful illustrated feature story from the New York Times (March 12, 1899) describes her homes near Florence and in Paris. A description of her personality is given in fashionable Wagnerian metaphor:

"To those who do not know her well, she is a magnificent personification of the Wagnerian roles. The magnificence of her physical beauty, a strong wholesomeness, distinctly outlined and clean-cut, and a cold Northern impassiveness, as opposed to a warm Southern type, make the Nibelungen roles distinctly appropriate to her."

But her "Northern impassiveness" was the brunt of a barb from James Huneker who saw her in Aida and said, "Last night, there was skating on the Nile."

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