B0084. A RECOLLECTION OF MARCELLA SEMBRICH. H.Goddard Owen. New York, DaCapo Press, [Reprint of the Marcella Sembrich Memorial Association 1950 Edition]. 79pp. Numerous Photos. Very Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 9780306761416 0-306-76141-6
“Marcella Sembrich was born in Wisniewczyk, then part of Austria, and now part of Ukraine. She first studied violin and piano with her father, and later she entered the Lemberg Conservatory and studied piano with her future husband Wilhelm Stengel. She was able to enter the Vienna Conservatory in 1875 where it was soon discovered that her voice was exceptional, and she dedicated herself exclusively to voice from then on.
She made her operatic début at the relatively tender age of 19 in Athens, as Elvira in I PURITANI, in 1877. She was engaged shortly thereafter by the Vienna Opera, but due to pregnancy she broke the contract. Later, after the birth of her first son, she had to wait for another opportunity and was finally hired as a guest artist at the Dresden Royal Opera House in September, 1878, as Lucia. Her success was immediate and she was dubbed the ‘Polish Patt’. She remained in Dresden for two years, but decided to act boldly—in order to make up for lost time—and broke her Dresden contract and began concertizing on her own, in order to raise money. She managed to get to London, and after a successful audition was accepted at Covent Garden, where she was quick to sign a contract with them. She created quite a sensation in her 1880 début there in Lucia.
Emboldened by her success, she broke her London contract two years early and came to the United States in 1883 to make her Met début, also as Lucia. From there it was on to St. Petersburg, and eventually back to the Met in 1898, where she finally settled. She remained there until 1909, having given over 400 performances. She concertized for years, finally retiring after WWI. From then on, she dedicated herself to teaching, in important conservatories. She was very successful as a teacher, and had significant influence. Among her students were the great Alma Gluck, Hulda Lashanska, a successful concert singer, coloratura soprano (and novelist!) Queena Mario, and dramatic soprano Dusolina Giannini, who had a very successful international career. Also among her students was radio vocalist and concertizer Conrad Thibault, who studied with her at Curtis, and who told the distinguished musical biographer James A. Drake in an interview in 1976 ‘she was always very attentive and generous to her students, and talked to them personally about the [singing teachers Francesco and Giovanni Lamperti] and their methods’. Drake goes on to say, interestingly, that he (Thibault) ‘added that at least in his experience with her, she never demonstrated vocalises or otherwise sang even so much as a single tone’. She was also a fundraiser for Polish causes, following WWI.
I feel I can very nearly hear the voice of this singer from long ago with a clarity resembling what one might hear in the opera house. Several things become apparent; first, the purity of intonation and articulation of which we have spoken is not an aural illusion from [these ancient] records! It is very real, and absolutely characteristic of the voice and training. Second, the vocal registers remain superbly well integrated; there are no register scoops and there is no inappropriate huskiness in the lower register at all. The purity of the high soprano voice remains spotless even at age 54. This is a diva who deserves her reputation! A fine, elegant, articulate, vocally and stylistically immaculate first lady of the lyric stage!”
- Edmund St. Austell