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Emma Albani - Later Career

Photograph of Emma Albani, 1899

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Emma Albani, 1899

Albani's reputation as an international opera star became further established throughout the 1880's, as she amassed success after success in countries all over Europe. She performed in Holland, Norway, Austria, Prague and Hungary, and continued to tour the British Isles, the United States, Mexico and Canada. Touring in Canada and the United States required an extensive amount of train travel and questionable hotel accommodations, and Albani and her travelling companions had their share of discomfort. However, the journey was made worthwhile by the warm reception they often were given upon arriving at their destinations. For example, in 1883, Albani arrived at the train station in Montréal to find a cheering crowd who escorted to her hotel, where she was met by another crowd so dense that she had to be carried over the heads of people into the building. 16 In an interview with a New York Tribune reporter, Albani described her 1889-90 tours of the United States and Mexico. "We have been roasted in Mexico, drenched to the skin in San Francisco, frozen to death in the western cities. We spent six days in the cars without stopping from Chicago to Mexico. It was simply horrid. But three weeks in Mexico were ample compensation for all discomfort. Mexicans do not see good opera very often, and will cheerfully pay $12 a ticket and live on bread and water." 17

Handwritten note to Albani from composer Arthur Sullivan

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Letter to Emma Albani, from composer Arthur Sullivan of the famous duo Gilbert & Sullivan

During the 1880's, Albani had a number of encounters with renowned composers. In March of 1886, she met composer/pianist Franz Liszt at a London reception and he expressed his admiration for her talent after she sang the lead in his oratorio The Legend of St. Elisabeth. Albani also had a close relationship with composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan) and sang in his oratorio Golden Legend at the 1886 Leeds Festival. She met Johannes Brahms on a visit to Vienna and her performance of an excerpt from his German Requiem moved the composer to tears. 18

Program listing Albani as Elsa in Wagner's LOHENGRIN

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In 1896, Emma Albani sang the role of Elsa in Wagner's Lohengrin, opposite opera legend Jean de Reske

Albani's final season at Covent Garden (1896) included yet another new role -- Isolde from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. She appeared opposite the famous tenor Jean de Reszke and both received rave reviews. Albani retired from the Covent Garden stage soon after this performance, but her singing career was far from over. She embarked on a nation-wide tour of Canada in 1896, concertizing in Halifax, Montréal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver. In 1898, she appeared before a crowd of 3000 in Sydney Australia, before moving on to Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide. 19 She continued to receive invitations from Queen Victoria to sing at Windsor Castle and when the Queen died in January of 1901, Albani was the soloist at the final services at St. George's Chapel.

Photograph of Emma Albani in her later years

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After her operatic career ended, Emma Albani continued to concertize and perform oratorio in Europe, North America and even Australia. She sang professionally for forty years

Near the end of her career, Albani's concert engagements brought her to Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa and India. She also made several recordings dating from around 1904. Included in the recordings are arias by Handel, Gounod's "Ave Maria", and "L'Eté" by composer Cécile Chaminade. Albani was already past her prime when she made these recordings -- in fact, as early as 1896, there was evidence that her voice was beginning to deteriorate. A review of a concert that took place at Toronto's Massey Hall described her performance in this way: "Albani is still wondrous in her volume and braviture, but the music has gone a little out of her voice; the fatal hardness that tells of wear and tear and strain is creeping in." 20

Advertisement by Albani for voice lessons, including a list of fees

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After Emma Albani retired from the stage, she experienced financial difficulties and began teaching in order to supplement her income

On October 14, 1911, at the age of 54, Albani performed publicly for the last time. One year later, she published Forty Years of Song, in which she recorded her lengthy and eventful career that included over 35 operatic roles. After her retirement, Emma and her husband continued to live in their house in Kensington, but as a result of some poor investments, they experienced devastating financial difficulties. Albani began teaching and even performed in music halls to earn money, but by the mid-1920s, her situation was quite desperate. Fortunately, benefit concerts held in Montréal, London and Emma's hometown of Chambly, raised enough funds to allow the aging singer to live in comfort until she died in 1930.

Photograph of Emma Albani at age eighteen. This image was later used as the basis for a Canadian postage stamp

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In 1980, this photograph was used as the basis for a Canadian stamp, issued in honour of the 50th anniversary of Emma Albani's death

Before her death, King George V honoured Albani with the title of Dame Commander of the British Empire. In 1939, the citizens of Chambly unveiled a plaque in her honour and a street was named after her in Montréal. 21 In the latter half of the twentieth century, further efforts have been made to honour her memory. Eight of her recordings were re-released in 1967 for Canada's 100th birthday. In 1980, a special postage stamp commemorated the 50th anniversary of her death. Her name has even appeared in recent fiction: Canadian author Anne-Marie MacDonald mentions both Albani and her autobiography Forty Years of Song, in her best-selling novel Fall on Your Knees.

Emma Albani's early successes in opera, her relationships with esteemed composers and musicians, and the devoted audiences that attended her performances for forty years are a testament to her professionalism and her extraordinary musical abilities. Many other Canadian singers, like Pauline Donalda and Eva Gauthier, would enjoy rewarding singing careers, but Emma Albani has the distinction of being the first Canadian to achieve such phenomenal success on the international stage.

For more information on Emma Albani's recordings, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.