DESTINN (b. Prague
1878 d. Ceske Budejovice 1930) –
girl of the Golden West !
Destinn was one of the most sought-after singers before the
Great War. She was a dramatic soprano with an exceptionally
rich voice, power, great control and a singer with a passion
for music. All these attributes led to remarkable achievements
throughout her career. She sang at Bayreuth, London 's Covent
Garden, Berlin 's Staatsoper, New York 's Metropolitan Opera
and holds a prominent place in the history of opera.
Destinn was born Emilie Pauline Venceslava Kittlova on 26
February 1878 in Katerinska Street, Prague, the oldest of
five children. She probably inherited her voice from her mother,
who studied singing in Milan, as a young and very good soprano.
Since puberty, young Emmy showed a great interest for music
and her parents, who were dedicated to the arts, encouraged
her to pursue it.
first studied violin with Ferdinand Lachner and took on acting
classes with Otylie Sklenarova-Mala. She privately studied
singing with mezzo-soprano Marie Dreger-Loewe, a soloist of
the Vienna Opera, whose artistic pseudonym was Destinn. Emmy
later adopted this name as a tribute to her teacher. On 19
July 1898, Emmy was twenty years of age when she debuted at
the Berlin 's Hofoper, partnered by another compatriot, tenor
Karel Burian. The debut role was Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana
followed by Valentina in Les Huguenots, Carmen and Salome.
In 1901 and 1903, she was at the Prague National Theatre,
singing Carmen, Mignon and Marenka (The Bartered Bride).
November 1908, Destinn debuted at the Met as Aida with Caruso
as Radames, Toscanini conducting. By 1910, she had become
a popular and celebrated diva worldwide. Puccini chose her
to create the role of Minnie in La Fanciulla del West for
the Met world premiere. Destinn arrived in New York on opening
day of the Met opera season (1910) and went to work immediately,
rehearsing the role of Minnie.
the following decade, Emmy enjoyed success after success in
Berlin, especially at the Hofoper. She sang in 43 roles, including
Santuzza, Carmen, Salome, Mignon among others and made 706
appearances on the stage! Wagner's widow Cosima invited her
to Bayreuth, where she created the role of Senta (Der Fliegende
Hollander). That success opened the door of Covent Garden,
was Cio-Cio-San at the London premiere of Madama Butterfly
on 18 July 1905, co-starring Enrico Caruso. In London, they
sang together in many Romantic operas, including Cavalleria
Rusticana, Aida, Don Giovanni, Les Huguenots, Andrea Chenier,
Un ballo in Maschera and Tosca.
was not a good year for Destinn. Despite that she travelled
back to America as a star, the Metropolitan Opera had meantime
opened the door to a new generation of singers, encouraged
and took particular care of them. A very disappointed Destinn
returned to Czechoslovakia .
managed to secure a contract with the Prague National Theatre,
where she sang Milada (Dalibor), Marenka and the princess
of Bohemia in Smetana's opera, Libuse. Milada was her favourite
role in Czech operas. She also performed in many other venues
and audience greeted her as a national hero because of her
patriotism, which was central to her character.
1923, twenty-five years after her debut, Destinn bade farewell
to the regular artistic activity with many concert all over
Europe. She then returned to Straz nad Nezarkou, where she
lived a quiet life surrounded by her cats and antique treasures,
collected throughout her career. She died unexpectedly at
52 years of age, while visiting her doctor in Ceske Budejovice,
on January 28 1930 .
fanciulla del West)
husband of her teacher, mezzo-soprano Marie Dreger-Loewe,
made a deal with Emmy's father that, ‘in case your
daughter will not become famous, you can call me silly for
the rest of my life'. In 1897, Emmy tried to make it
to the National Theatre of Prague but the director Subert
did not like her style of singing. He told her: ‘Young
lady, you should sing more in the shower. At least that would
have some effect' The result was ... no voice, no beauty.
She was also rejected by other two opera houses – the
Dresden Semper Oper and Berlin 's Theater des Westerns, ‘not
beautiful enough to be an opera singer '.
studying the role of Minnie in La Fanciulla del West, Emmy
was a quick learner but the role was hard work and there were
problems of communication with the conductor, Arturo Toscanini.
There is a document in the form of a letter, which Destinn
wrote to her lover, Jaroslav Otto, the son of a famous Prague
publisher. On 17 November 1910, she wrote to him, ‘Tonight,
Aida is on - I don't know what it's going to be like, Toscanini
will probably make it sticky for me, as he is absolutely livid
with me ... Puccini arrives tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,
they will probably make it a great do...'
daily she kept writing to Otto in Prague and continued on
with, ' 23 November 1910 - rehearsals are in
full swing, Toscanini is so angry with me again that he won't
even speak to me. He is full of bile and last night he carried
on like an absolute fool. He is a stuck-up man, who thinks
he understands everything better than everyone else, and he
even quarrelled with Puccini about tempi. I'm sure they'll
soon be at each other's throats, there is no doubt about that;
I myself get treated like a schoolgirl; I think that he'd
really like to buy a cane and use it on me. Puccini is truly
patient and I'm immensely surprised that he lets himself be
lectured by the man - that is a totally private affair which
has no place in a rehearsal room! '.
the monumental success of the premiere on 10 December 1910,
Fanciulla failed to establish itself. On December 30 of the
same year, Caruso asked Emmy to marry him. As the story goes,
she refused probably because she had fallen in love with another
singer, Ding Gilly, a French-Algerian baritone. With Gilly,
she lived back in southern Bohemia in a chateau bought shortly
before. They planned to get married and Gilly even learnt
to speak Czech, in order to sing with her in Czech operas.
1915, Destinn returned to Europe from one of her assignments
in America to find the continent at war. The return played
fateful consequences to her career. Officials immediately
seized her passport because her name was linked to a resistance
movement and she was confined to her chateau at Straz nad
Nezarkou. Being a French citizen, ex soldier and enemy of
Austria, Ding Gilly was interned first in the chateau and
later in a concentration camp of Raab.
Destinn's timbre was typical of a true dramatic soprano; the
voice was rich and powerful. Apart from a perfect technique
and breathing control, she mastered an impeccable phonation
through years of practice. They made possible an almost perfect
legato, diminuendo and crescendo. The voice had great warmth
and depth. Her dedicated preparation in each role resulted
in perfect phrasing combined with great sensitivity and imagination.
was captivating with her beauty, charm, scenic personality
and singing. She is one of my favourite sopranos. The clear
and excellent pronunciation of her Italian is notable (all
audios). She displayed a rich middle range, a reflection of
the way singers sang at the turn of XX century. Voices were
trained to develop a strong, full low and middle registers
as high notes were not considered appealing although acceptable.
High notes were not necessarily weak but the volume we associate
with them today was considered tasteless. Yet, Destinn's voice
was full at the bottom, gradually lightened and very penetrating
at the top. She had one of the most beautiful, limpid, round,
penetrating voices in history and capable of entering the
myth. The rich almost sensual sound we hear in Destinn' singing
was probably the natural heart of her voice and passion for
music throughout her career.
di un'alma già vicina – the chorus and duet
sung by Leonora (soprano Emmy Destinn) and Manrico (tenor
Giovanni Martinelli) – Il Trovatore act IV scene
2 Morrò ma prima in grazia... – the aria sung by Amelia
(soprano Emmy Destinn) – Un ballo in maschera act III
the aria sung by Gioconda (soprano Emmy Destinn) –
La Gioconda act IV scene II