Frances Alda

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Frances Alda photographed on board a passenger liner during the 1920s
Frances Alda relaxing away from the stage, 1909

Frances Alda (31 May 1879[n 1]– 18 September 1952) was a New Zealand-born, Australian-raised operatic soprano. She achieved fame during the first three decades of the 20th century due to her outstanding singing voice, fine technique and colourful personality, as well as her frequent onstage partnerships at the New York Metropolitan Opera with Enrico Caruso.


Alda was born Fanny Jane Davis in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1879. Her father David, wanted her mother, Leonore (née Simonsen), to settle down. But Leonore, a promising singer from a musical family, had other ideas and in 1880, divorced her husband to resume her singing career. Young Fanny spent her early years travelling with her mother on her operatic tours. After false starts in Australasia, she took Fanny and her younger brother to San Francisco in 1883. Leonore Davis remarried but died of peritonitis in December 1884. After her mother's death, Alda was sent to live with her maternal grandparents in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.[1] She sang in productions of Gilbert and Sullivan in Melbourne before leaving Australia for Europe at the age of 22 in order to undertake additional study and pursue an international singing career like her future soprano rival Nellie Melba. After receiving lessons in Paris from the renowned teacher Mathilde Marchesi, who gave her her stage name, Alda made her debut at the Opéra-Comique in 1904 in Massenet's Manon. She appeared at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in 1906, and at La Scala, Milan, during the 1906-1908 seasons.

In 1908, the former La Scala impresario Giulio Gatti-Casazza became director of the Metropolitan Opera, New York. On 4 April 1910, Frances Alda and Gatti-Casazza were married. According to American Art News (New York, 19 March 1910), the Swiss-born American artist Adolfo Müller-Ury was painting her just before her marriage. It was in New York that Alda furthered her career, appearing to acclaim in such famous operas as Martha, Manon Lescaut, Otello, Faust, Mefistofele and La bohème. She began recording for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1908 and several of her records became best-sellers.[2] Alda created the title roles in Victor Herbert's Madeleine and Henry Hadley's Cleopatra's Night as well as Roxane in Walter Damrosch's Cyrano. She also sang regularly with Enrico Caruso, perhaps the most renowned Italian male singer of the 20th century.

Alda toured Australia and New Zealand in 1927. She and Gatti-Casazza separated the following year and then divorced. In 1929, she left the Met but continued to give concerts, make radio broadcasts and appear in vaudeville. Alda's 1937 autobiography was titled Men, Women, & Tenors. The book reflects her fiery, forthright temperament and acerbic wit. She remarried in America in 1941 and travelled extensively in later life. She died of a stroke in Venice, Italy, aged 73.


"O mio babbino caro" from Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, sung by Frances Alda in 1919.

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A 1913 recording of "Ancora un passo" from Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

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  1. ^ Alda amended her birth year to 1883 to make herself more appealing to operatic managers; this incorrect year is often recorded as her actual year of birth.


  1. ^ Charlotte Macdonald (1992). The book of New Zealand women (First ed.). Wellington, NZ: Williams. ISBN 0-908912-04-8. 
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc. p. 21. ISBN 0-89820-083-0. 

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