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Emma Albani - Concert Tours

Engraving of Emma Albani, 1883

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An engraving of Emma Albani, 1883

In the autumn of 1874, Albani embarked on another ambitious tour, this time to the American cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Chicago. Accompanied by a lady companion and Ernest Gye, son of Covent Garden manager Frederick Gye, Albani arrived first in New York and then gave a concert in her hometown of Albany. The highlight of her American engagement was a production of Wagner's Lohengrin, in which Albani appeared in the role of Elsa. The management in New York had decided to produce the opera at the last minute, thus Albani had had only fifteen days to study her role. She sang the role in Italian, as was the custom at that time, and a review from the New York paper Republic stated, "The worst enemies of Wagner -- and he has many obdurate ones -- cannot but admit that there is a peculiar spell of fascination about his melodious harmonies, and of these Mlle. Albani looks, acts, and sings as the very priestess of them might." 12

Photograph of Emma Albani, 1922

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Emma Albani sang the role of Marguerite in a 1922 production of Gounod's Faust

By the time Albani had started her fourth season at Covent Garden in 1875, she was making 250 pounds per month. 13 For the next four years, she continued to appear at Covent Garden, adding to her repertoire such roles as Marguerite from Gounod's Faust, Elisabeth from Wagner's Tannhäuser and Senta in Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander. In addition to her Covent Garden appearances, Albani continued to tour ambitiously, singing in Venice, Paris, Nice, Ireland, Scotland and the English provinces. She also secured yearly engagements at the English music festivals. In 1875, she appeared at the Norwich festival, singing in Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise and Sir Julius Benedict's St. Cecilia. She sang in both the Bristol and Birmingham festivals in the following year, appearing in Elijah, Beethoven's Engedi (Mount of Olives) and Handel's Messiah. Other oratorio engagements included performances at the Leeds Festival (1876), the Gloucester Musical Festival (Sept. 1877) and the Worcester Festival (1878).

Sketch showing Emma Albani in some of her principal operatic roles

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A sketch from Canadian Illustrated News, showing Emma Albani in some of her principal operatic roles

On August 6, 1878, at the age of 30, Albani married Ernest Gye in London. She became pregnant with her first and only child shortly thereafter, but continued to perform, appearing at the Norwich Festival and then embarking on another tour of Russia. While in Russia, Albani was devastated to learn that her father-in-law, Frederick Gye, had passed away as a result of a hunting accident. The manager of Covent Garden never had the opportunity to see his grandson, Frederick Ernest, who was born on June 4, 1879. Albani did not appear in any operas during the year her son was born, but by the spring of 1880, she was back on the Covent Garden stage performing a new role in Herold's Le Pré aux Clercs.

Hand-written letter to Albani from Joseph Joachim

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Letter to Emma Albani from violinist Joseph Joachim

Concert tours took Albani to Florence, Nice and Brussels, and in 1881, she was invited to sing in Wagner's Lohengrin at the Royal Opera in Berlin. Emma had sung the role of Elsa on numerous occasions, but only in Italian. For the Berlin performance, she restudied the part in German and gave her first performance in the German language in front of a receptive audience in Berlin. A Berlin correspondent of the Times reported, "Madame Albani appeared to-night as Elsa in Wagner's Lohengrin, singing her part in the native German. The house was crowded to the very ceiling, and extravagant prices were paid for seats. The Emperor and his Court were present, and all the leaders of Berlin society. Madame Albani achieved what may well be called a complete triumph, greater even than any she has won hitherto. After the first and second acts she was recalled thrice, and when the curtain finally dropped, four times, the audience cheering enthusiastically."14

A few years later, in 1884, Albani sang the part of Elsa in German at Convent Garden. Opera companies had been chastised by critics for their practice of performing all opera in the Italian language and in order to keep up with the changing tide, they had begun to produce operas in their original language. 15