Genius Of Geraldine Farrar
( Originally Published 1907 )
Some half-dozen years ago rumors, vague as perfume from an unfolding flower, began to reach America about a new prima-donna; a Boston girl, very young and very beautiful; singing at the Berlin Royal Opera-house. No American before had ever held such a position —life-member of the opera company which Kaiser Wilhelm supervises, and the Great Frederick founded.
Years went by and still the name of Geraldine Farrar was wafted across the waters—and still she was spoken of as "very young."
American critics grew somewhat incredulous ; Germany, of course, is musical and deep-rooted in the science of the art, but New York holds a record of her own in matters operatic, and is not disposed to accept unchallenged a verdict from the land of beer and thorough-bass.
At last the hour came when Geraldine Farrar appeared as a star in her native land. It was a momentous occasion-the opening of the sea-son ; a brilliant audience, diamond-glinting and decollete; an audience familiar with the value of Tiffany tiaras, but inclined to be dubious about Berlin laurels.
The curtain arose upon the first act of Romeo and Juliet; a blaze of color and a whirl of gay music. Soon the dancers dispersed, and a slender figure in saphire satin sauntered down the Capulet stairs, came forward with quiet confidence, and commenced the famous Waltz Song—slowly—dreamily.
With these very first notes Geraldine Farrar revealed originality; she sang them as tho thinking aloud; the words fell from her lips like a tender caress
" I would linger in this dream that enthralls me."
She closed the aria with brilliant tones, a high note—and a smile. Geraldine Farrar's smile is something to drive a poet to sonnets—and a prince to sighs!
One paper the next morning declared : " From that moment she could have wrapped the whole audience around her little finger."
There followed a " Farrar furor," tho cautious critics were careful to point out that her performance as yet evinced nothing more than "a lovely voice, a peculiarly gifted dramatic temperament, youth, beauty, and considerable experience! " That's all!
" She is not yet a finished artist," these critics say, but at four-and-twenty what would you? Her voice is " golden," and no one denies that her histrionic gifts are phenomenal.
It is strange—this quality of native greatness. In the case of these famous singers, one almost feels that the greatness makes the voice. The mind is what counts, after all. Geraldine Farrar impresses one forcibly with this fact. Her mind is alert, keen, observant, thoughtful, quick at reaching conclusions, widely interested, eager to learn, but at the same time self-contained and firmly poised.
When talking about music her face lights up. She has much to say; she has thought and studied deeply; she is intense, enthusiastic, full of her subject, aglow with earnestness and vitality.
From early childhood she was always singing, always acting, and always intending to be a prima-donna.
" I began voice-study when I was twelve, but before that had sung all of Faust in Italian, and acted it according to my own imagination."
When asked if she had not run some risk of harming the vocal cords by beginning so young, she explained that her voice at this age was remarkably mature and full. She was possessed, besides, with an irresistible desire to sing, so it seemed both prudent and wise to commence serious study thus early.
"A born singer is instinctive, and selects, almost instinctively, her individual means of expression, avoiding, in the main, what is distinctly harmful. But practice and study are continuously and always necessary. I work faithfully every day with scales and trills and intervals. Before a performance I go over my part, mentally, from beginning to end."
In reply to a question about her ambition, she answered promptly and impressively:
"Yes, I have one very decided ambition : I wish to develop my powers to the fullest extent and most complete beauty, and then—I wish to have the courage, when physical strength no longer responds to the creative demands, to abdicate in favor of Youth ! Youth must be recognized, enjoyed, encouraged! We should have more of this God-given fragrance in our mimic world, and less of hard-earned, middle-aged experience."
Miss Farrar's favorite recreation is "sleep-and much of it! "
As for books, she likes " everything."
"I read a great deal, " she commented. "When I was studying 'Madame Butterfly,' I read everything I could find about the Japanese. I tried to imbue myself with their spirit. I bought up old prints, and pictures, and costumes ; I learned how they eat, and sleep, and walk, and talk, and think, and feel. I read books on the subject in French and German, as well as in English."
Incidentally it came out that she memorized this most difficult of operas in fifteen days.
"No, I am never afraid of forgetting my lines." Then, tapping her forehead lightly, she added : "When a thing is once learned, it seems to stick in a certain corner of your brain and stay there."
There was youth and girlishness in her off-hand manner of making this remark. In fact, the artist and girl are constantly alternating in the play of her features, and it is fascinating to watch this hide-and-seek of youth and maturity.
The girl-spirit was uppermost now, as she sank back comfortably in her big arm-chair, drew her Frenchy peignoire more snugly about her, and related some of the droll contretemps that occur on the opera-house stage.
" The audience never seems to see them, but the most ridiculous things happen, and then it is terrible when you want to laugh, but dare not."
A mention of Lilli Lehmann suddenly sobered the conversation. Lilli Lehmann is Geraldine Farrar's teacher—"and a very severe one "—her pupil asserts.
" But she—and all Germans—appreciate personality. That is why I have been allowed to develop my own ideas—to be individual. That is, to me, the most interesting part of the art. I am keenly interested in observing life—the expression of people's faces, their way of saying and doing things. Wherever I am, whatever I see, I am always finding something to use in my art.
" I once saw a death—it sounds unfeeling to say it, but I now use the very expression I saw then in the finale of ' Boheme.' "
Geraldine Farrar's realism is a well-known phase of her art. A striking instance is her performance in the last act of Romeo and Juliet : she sings almost the entire scene lying down! An amazing innovation.
"Perhaps it is unusual," she commented, but the simple repose seems to me more fully to accentuate the sublime and lyric climax of the tragedy."
This is a little rift into the prima-donna's viewpoint. She believes that " vocal intensity and dramatic value should so merge one into the other that they produce equalized sincerity of expression and constant changing of color, movement, and sentiment."
"Give your best always ; take Sincerity for your guide, and Work, never-ending, for your master."
This is Geraldine Farrar's creed.