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Born in Chambly, Quebec, in 1847, Emma Lajeunesse began her musical studies with her parents. She performed publicly in the 1850s and 1860s around Montreal and was engaged as a soloist for three years at a church in Albany, New York, before leaving in 1868 to pursue advanced musical studies in Paris and later Milan. The following year she made her operatic debut in Messina, Italy. She enjoyed early success in Messina in 1869-70 as word of her talent spread rapidly. It was at this time that she adopted the name Albani.
Engagements followed quickly elsewhere in Italy as well as in Malta, where she sang the entire 1870-71 season. In 1871, at age 24, Albani was offered a contract with London's prestigious Covent Garden opera house, with which she would be affiliated from 1872 until 1896. During this period she went on to sing at many of the great opera houses in Europe as well as in Russia and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She made highly acclaimed concert tours in Europe, North America, the British Commonwealth and elsewhere, returning to Canada several times, including a triumphal coast-to-coast tour in 1896. She gave English and American premières of Wagner operas, and world premières of works by Gounod, Dvorak, Liszt and Brahms, among others, some of which were created specifically for her.
In a career that spanned four decades, she sang 43 different roles in 40 operas, and was also highly acclaimed for her oratorio and recital performances. As the first Canadian musician to achieve international fame, Emma Albani set high standards for later generations of Canadians. She received many honours from royalty and became a personal friend of Queen Victoria, singing for the Queen's private soirées many times at Windsor and Balmoral castles. Canadian commemorations include a monument at her birthplace in Chambly, a street named after her in Montreal, and a postage stamp issued in 1980 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her death. Archival materials are held at Library and Archives Canada, the City of Chambly, and the Archives nationales du Québec.
Albani, Emma. — Forty years of song. — London: Mills and Bonn Ltd., . — 285 p.
MacDonald, Cheryl. — Emma Albani: Victorian diva. — Toronto: Dundurn Press Ltd., 1984. — 205 p. — ISBN 091967075X (bd.), 0919670741 (pa.)
Willis, Stephen. — "Archives of Emma Albani at the National Library of Canada". — National Library news. — Vol. 25, no. 12 (December 1993). — ISSN 00279633. — P. 13-14
You can listen to an excerpt of Handel's Sweet Bird, that Shunn'st the Noise of Folly (709K) from l'Allegro, Il penseroso ed il moderato sung by Emma Albani. (IRCC, ©1904)