V1689. ELLEN BEACH YAW: Songs by Saint-Saëns, Rabey, Key, Eckert & Ellen Beach Yaw; Arias from Manon Lescaut (Auber), L’Étoile du Nord, Les Noces de Jeannette, La Perle du Brésil, Lakmé, Mignon, Mireille, Hamlet, Il Re Pastore & Zauberflöte. (Germany) Truesound Transfers 3044, recorded 1899 – 1947, partially private recordings (incl. the infamous Co-Art 1941 rarity). [Truly worth the price if only for yaw's infamous 'Skylark'!] Transfers by Christian Zwarg.
“Ellen Beach Yaw was an American coloratura soprano, best known for her concert singing career. She had an extraordinary vocal range and could produce unusually high notes. Known as ‘Lark Ellen’ or ‘The California Nightingale’, she was reportedly the only known soprano of her era who could sing and sustain the D above high D. She was also able to trill in major thirds or fifths (trills usually involve rapidly alternating notes over an interval of a minor or major second).
Yaw was born in the small town of Boston, near Buffalo, New York (not Boston, Massachusetts, as is often stated),the daughter of Ambrose Yaw, who manufactured cow and sheep bells. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was very young, but her father died when she was a small child, and the family was very poor. Yaw began singing and composing songs as a child. She studied singing in America, first with her mother; then with Mrs. Torpadie, the wife of tenor Theodore Bjorksten; and then with Ernesto delle Salle. Yaw sang in concerts, beginning as a child in the 1880's, to make money to pay for singing lessons. Tours of the southern United States, California, England, Switzerland, and Germany followed, and on her return to America she gave a concert in Carnegie Hall in 1896. Yaw raised enough money through these concerts to study in Paris with Mathilde Marchesi and later coached with Alberto Randegger. She also sang several opera rôles in the late 1890's, including Ophelia in Thomas' HAMLET in Nice in 1897.
In 1898 and 1899, Yaw was singing in private concerts in London, and at one of these, at the home of Mrs. Fanny Ronalds, she so impressed Sir Arthur Sullivan that he prevailed upon the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company to cast her as the Sultana Zubedyah in his comic opera THE ROSE OF PERSIA, which opened on 29 November, 1899 at the Savoy Theatre in London. Sullivan went so far as to write a special high cadenza for her song 'Neath My Lattice’, a cadenza that only she could sing.
Yaw made some grand opera appearances thereafter in Monte Carlo, including as Ophelia in Thomas' HAMLET in 1902, Rome, where she sang the title rôle in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR in 1905 (under the name of Elena Elvanna at the Quirinal Theatre - she was the first American singer to make a successful operatic début in Rome); Naples; Catalonia; and Milan. Yaw sang Gilda in RIGOLETTO in London in 1905 and gave a single performance of LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at the Metropolitan Opera on 21 March, 1908 (after which she was described by the Met's manager as ‘the world’s greatest coloratura soprano’). She sang a total of about 18 operatic rôles. However, she mostly devoted herself to the concert hall, where she had a long and successful career, singing for many of the crowned heads of Europe and for U.S. President William McKinley. In 1904, the Los Angeles Daily Times wrote, ‘Miss Yaw's voice is high soprano of crystalline lightness and purity and of a range so extreme in altitude that... it was the wonder of the European continent’.
Yaw was much in demand as a recording artist, and her first records were made in May 1899. She made many recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company. In order to display her voice to its best effect, she wrote several songs of her own with titles such as ‘The Skylark’, ‘The Cuckoo’, and ‘The Firefly’. News dispatches from Paris in 1902 reported that the Shah of Persia had engaged Yaw to sing her repertoire into his phonograph. A few of her recordings are still available. Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph, recorded her voice for mechanical experiments on a visit to his Orange, New Jersey laboratories. She sang various songs throughout her range into several machines. Afterwards, Edison said of her voice, ‘I can see no defects of any kind in this voice. Sweet on lower notes, and mellow. Best high tones yet for the disc machine’."
- Ned Ludd
“[Truesound] transfers have been an absolute revelation to me….Amazingly, Christian Zwarg has managed to unlock the sound of these recordings in such a way as to present [voices] such as I have never heard before. Here the sound has a sheen and glow which is quite beautiful. It is as if an old masterpiece painting has been cleaned and restored, allowing rays of brilliant light to emerge….”
- Davyd Booth, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2012