Three Euphonic Emmas

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library has finished processing an archival collection of French opera autographs donated by Illinois alumnus and operatic sound recording producer Robert Zarbock (’52). The Robert Zarbock collection of opera autographs [Post-1650 MS 0657] is largely composed of letters written by opera singers famous on the Parisian stage in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Also included are photographs, lithographs, and newspaper clippings, representing 47 opera personalities in total. The collection is open to researchers.

Today we highlight three well-known performers: Emma Albani (Canadian soprano, 1847-1930), Emma Calvé (French soprano, 1858-1942), and Emma Eames (American soprano, 1865-1952).

Emma Albani performed on stages in Italy, Paris, New York, and London. Perhaps her most famous role was Isolde in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at London’s Covent Garden in 1896, alongside Jean de Reszke (Tristan), who is also represented in the collection. Albani studied in Paris under Gilbert Duprez (also in the collection) in 1868, and performed on the Parisian stage with the Italian Opera during the 1872-1873 season. The Main Library holds her French language memoir [780.923 AL13A], and the Music and Performing Arts Library holds a recording featuring Albani and fellow Canadian singer Pauline Donalda [DISC M1505A412 E47].

Emma Albani
Emma Albani’s signature on a letter dated 5 April, 1878. Zarbock Collection, Box 1 Folder 1.

Emma Calvé is perhaps best remembered for her performance in the titular role of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1894. In 1922, Calvé published an autobiography, available in English translation in the Main Library [780.923 C13]. The Music and Performing Arts Library holds a collection of Calvé‘s known recordings [CDISC M1611C24 E46].

Emma Eames’s autograph on an undated letter addressed “Chère Madame.” Eames married painter Julian Story, and includes both her maiden and married names here. Zarbock Collection, Box 1, Folder 15.

American Emma Eames spent the first several years of her career performing at Paris’s Palais Garnier, where she debuted in 1889 as Juliette in Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Eames also performed in New York (Metropolitan Opera), London (Royal Opera House and Covent Garden), and Monaco (Monte Carlo Opera), among other cities. The Music and Performing Arts Library holds recordings of Eames from the early 20th century [CDISC M1611 E25E57], as well as Eames’s 1927 memoir [780.923 EA62E1].

An undated letter written by Emma Calvé and addressed to “Mon cher Directeur.” Zarbock Collection, Box 1, Folder 5.

Special thanks to John Wagstaff, Head of the Music and Performing Arts Library, for transferring this collection to the RBML.
– EM