Geraldine Farrar

52040-2 (2 CDs)  | $ 36.00


Geraldine Farrar
Geraldine Farrar was, for many years, the prima donna assoluta of the Metropolitan Opera. She is remembered as having one of the best soprano voices of her time and yet, those who know her through her recorded output on Victor, are missing the magic that is Farrar. This two CD set, instead, captures Farrar when she made her earliest, finest, and scarcest recordings for G & T (1904-1906). These rare and stunning recordings are fresh, exciting, and expressive and demonstrate Farrar in “best voice.” This set also chronicles Farrar at the end of her career when technology provided an opportunity to hear her “true” voice during the 1920s and 1930s. While none of these were issued at the time, these test pressings and unpublished Bell Laboratory test-recordings of 1934 provide a glimpse of her brilliance.
CD 1 (73:01)

Gramophone and Typewriter Company, Berlin Recordings

1. LA TRAVIATA: Follie, follie…Sempre libera (Verdi) 2:44
  (2173h) 53344  
2. MIGNON: Non conosci il bel sol {Connais-tu le pays} (Thomas) 3:17
  (2174h) 53345  
3. Mattinata (Tosti) 3:06
  (2250h) 53363  
4. Aime-moi (Bemberg) 2:47
  (2251h) 33457  
5. MANON: Nützet die schönen jungen Tage [Gavotte] (Massenet) 2:54
  (2252h) 43568  
6. ROMÉO ET JULIETTE: Je veux vivre [Juliette’s Waltz Song] (Gounod) 3:10
  (2253h) 53364  


7. Elsbeth! Gott stehe allzeit (Act 1) 2:37
  with Wilhelm Grüning, tenor
(2483) 44445
8. Ich ihn lieben? (Act 2) 2:42
  with Wilhelm Grüning, tenor
(2482L) 44444
9. Nun wohl! Dann hast du auch (Act 4, Scene 1) 2:38
  with Wilhelm Grüning, tenor
(2484L) 44446
10. Ja! Dich nur liebe ich (Act 4, Scene 1) 1:56
  with Wilhelm Grüning, tenor(2498 1/2L) 44452  
11. Fahr wohl! Trautgesell (Act 4, Scene 2) 3:13
  (2496L) 43632  

27 September 1905

12. Dear heart (Mattei) 3:24
  (3799h) 3621  
13. Cherry ripe (Horn) 2:42
  (3798h) 3620  
14. MEFISTOFELE: L’altra notte (Boïto) 3:28
  (3800h) 53425  
15. Caro mio ben (Giordani) 3:06
  (3801h) 53430  
16. FAUST: Juwelen-Arie [Jewel Song] (Gounod) 3:01
  (3802h) 43721  
17. MIGNON: Kennst du das Land {Connais-tu le pays} (Thomas) 3:26
  (3803h) 43733  

23 June 1906

18. DOMINO NOIRE: Ines so schön (Auber) 2:07
  (1313r) 43780  
19. MANON: Nützet die schönen jungen Tagen [Gavotte] (Massenet) 3:12
  (1314r) 43796  
20. ROMÉO ET JULIETTE: Je veux vivre [Juliette’s Waltz Song] (Gounod) 3:26
  (1315r) 33618  
21. LA TRAVIATA: Follie, follie…Sempre libera (Verdi) 3:08
  (1316r) 53469  

September 1906

22. MARTHA: Die letzte Rose {Last rose of summer} (Flotow) 2:37
  (4718h) 43841  
23. TANNHÄUSER: Gepriesen sei die Stunde (Wagner) 2:41
  with Karl Jörn, tenor
(4719h) 2-44145
24. RIGOLETTO: E il sol dell’anima (Verdi) 3:21
  with Karl Jörn, tenor
(4720h) 54311
25. FAUST: Es ist schon spät (Gounod) 2:33
  with Karl Jörn, tenor
(4721h) 2-44137

Accompaniment: Tracks 1-11 piano; Tracks 12-25 orchestra

Languages: Italian [1-3,14-15,21,24]; French [4,6,20]; German [5,7-11,16-19,22-23,25]; English [12-13]

CD 2 (79:52)

Victor Talking Machine Company, Camden, New Jersey, Electrical Recordings

1. Pur dicesti (Lotti) 4:37
  11 January 1927; (CVE 37348-1) IRCC-40  
2. LE NOZZE DI FIGARO: Dove sono (Mozart) 4:44
  Recitative and Andante section only
11 January 1927; (CVE 37349-1) IRCC-40
3. On wings of song [Auf Flügeln des Gesanges] (Mendelssohn) 3:38
  11 January 1927; (CVE 37350-1) unpublished  
4. Serenade [Ständchen] (Richard Strauss) (Translated by Ferrar) 2:41
  11 January 1927; (BVE 27731-3) IRCC-55  
5. LE NOZZE DI FIGARO: Non so piu cosa son (Mozart) 3:25
  12 January 1927; (BVE 37351-2) unpublished  
6. FRASQUITA: Rest with the dew of the dawning (Farrar; Lehar) 3:46
  12 January 1927; (matrix number unassigned) IRCC-1953 re-recording  
7. Midnight bells (Fritz Kreisler) 3:20
  13 January 1927; (BVE 37354-1) unpublished  
8. Christina’s lament {Humoresque} (Creyke-Dvorak) 3:17
  13 January 1927; (BVE 37356-1) IRCC 41  
9. Hame to the highlands (M. Gilmour) 2:20
  8 March 1927; (BVE 38147-1) unpublished  
10. Drowsy poppies (M. Gilmour) 2:31
  8 March 1927; (BVE 38146-1) unpublished  
11. Serenata (Tosti) 3:11
  8 March 1927; (BVE 26034-9) unpublished  
12. Pur dicesti (Lotti) 3:18
  8 March 1927; (BVE 38145-1) unpublished  
13. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (Mendelssohn) 3:39
  5 April 1927; (BVE 37350-6) IRCC-41  

Bell Telephone Laboratories Experimental recordings (Vertically cut at 33 rpm)
Lyric Theater, Hoboken, New Jersey

15 December 1932

14. The old refrain (Kreisler) 3:53
  BTL 2432 unpublished  
15. Old folks at home (Foster) 2:57
  BTL 2432 unpublished  
16. Love’s old sweet song (Malloy) 3:47
  BTL 2434 unpublished  
17. In old Madrid (Bingham-Trotere) 3:16
  BTL 2434 unpublished  


General Motors Symphony Concerts Broadcast
Taken from primitive off-the-air home recording

28 October 1934

18. Marie am Fenster (Franz) 2:30
19. Heiden Röslein (Schubert) 2:21

Metropolitan Opera
Rehearsal recordings for intermission talks

4 January 1935*

20. Excerpt from Intermission 1 () 7:56
21. Excerpt from Intermission 2 () 4:03
22. Excerpt from Intermission 3 () 4:53
  *These recordings were made in preparation for the broadcast of 5 January 1935.  

Accompaniment: Tracks 1-4 and 9-13 Claude Gonvierre, piano; Tracks 5-8 orchestra; Tracks 14-17 piano; Tracks 18-19 orchestra, conducted by Walter Damrosch

Languages: Italian [1-2, 5, 11-12]; English [3-4, 6-10, 14-17, 20-22]; German [13, 18-19]


Producer: Ward Marston

Audio Conservation: Ward Marston

Photographs: Charles Mintzer

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi

Marston would like to thank John R. Bolig, Sir Paul Getty, Lawrence F. Holdridge, Jeffrey Miller, William Shaman, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Robert Tuggle, and Richard Warren Jr. for their help in the production of this CD release.

The following selections are re-recorded from copies in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Laurence C. Witten II, the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings, Yale Music Library [CD 1, Tracks 3-5, 8-10]

Geraldine Farrar

There were famous prima donnas before Geraldine Farrar. Maria Malibran, Jenny Lind, and Adelina Patti all achieved world fame. But none—not even Nellie Melba or Luisa Tetrazzini—reached a wider audience than the American soprano. Farrar was not only an international opera star, she made more than 200 recordings and appeared in 14 silent films. The first media diva claimed headlines in newspapers, graced countless covers of magazines, and shared her life story in two autobiographies. During her 16-season reign at the Metropolitan Opera, Farrar commanded higher fees and appeared in more new productions than any other leading soprano. She sang 671 performances of 34 roles in 29 operas, a record matched by no soprano in the eight decades since Farrar’s retirement. Before arriving at the Met on the opening night of the 1906 season, Farrar made headlines in Berlin, Monte Carlo, Munich, Stockholm, Salzburg, Paris, and Warsaw. Physical glamour, vocal appeal, and star temperament guaranteed Farrar acclaim few prima donnas have enjoyed.

Giulio Gatti-Casazza divided sopranos on the Metropolitan Opera’s roster between “magnificent voices” and “women of outstanding personalities.” In the former category, the Met’s general director placed Olive Fremstad, Lillian Nordica, Emma Eames, and Rosa Ponselle. In the latter, he cited only Geraldine Farrar. In his memoirs, Gatti-Casazza dubbed Farrar the Met’s “beniamina” or “pet child.” He also claimed, “She was not the possessor of a voice that was particularly flowing and free, a thing which she admitted herself. But she had a will of iron and succeeded always in triumphing over all obstacles.”

An “iron will,” asserted Farrar to Frederick Mertens in The Art of the Prima Donna, was a prerequisite for an operatic career. The diva also advised young singers to “work like a galley slave.” Farrar precisely plotted each of the 42 roles she sang. “When I go on stage,” she explained to Henry T. Finck, “everything is mathematically placed in my mind. I have diagrammed every bit of the opera, the work of the other roles, the orchestra’s part, my own business; there is nothing left to chance.” Farrar told another critic, “The real artist will have an organized mental strategy just as minute and reliable as any intricate machinery.”

Farrar insisted on total preparation to achieve spontaneity and freedom on stage. “At every performance,” she explained to Carl Van Vechten, “I cut myself open with a knife and give myself to the audience.” American soprano Mary Mellish witnessed that knife slash when she sang with Farrar in Zaza. In her memoirs, Mellish recalled the stunning impact Farrar made after Zaza discovers her lover has been unfaithful. “When Farrar unleashed her emotions and cried real tears, I cried with her. I felt her intensity like a burning flame. She grabbed my wrist and squeezed it until I was sure she had broken some bones. This was acting such as I had never seen.”

That burning flame flickers faintly in most of Farrar’s recordings. She must have found the recording horn inhibiting, if not intimidating. Without sets, costumes and other singers to react against, Farrar could not duplicate the impact she created on stage. If she spills little blood in her recordings, Farrar does display steely determination. The “Je veux vivre” she recorded in Berlin shortly before her Met debut sounds rather efficient and businesslike. Farrar attacks the notes precisely, takes the intervals cleanly and displays a decent trill and good scale work. Although the brief high D falls below the pitch, the top B flat shines brightly and a sustained high C—boldly attacked—caps the waltz. But this Juliette projects willpower rather than girlish innocence or rapture. Farrar sings confidently, but without the dynamic shading or rhythmic élan achieved by Amelita Galli-Curci and Lucrezia Bori.

Farrar fará — “Farrar will do it” — was the motto that graced the diva’s stationery and appeared on the cover of her first book of memoirs. Those words reveal Farrar’s determination as well as the confidence she displayed throughout her career. But talent and luck played roles, too. Few singers have progressed so quickly or enjoyed the crucial support of so many important musicians and singers.

Farrar triumphed in an age of vocal titans. She sang with—and held her own against—Caruso, Chaliapin, Lehmann, Plançon, Fremstad, Stracciari, Eames, Martinelli, and Amato. Karl Muck, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Arturo Toscanini coached her and conducted her performances. Theatrical artists like Sarah Bernhardt and David Belasco encouraged and counseled her.

Born in Melrose, Massachusetts, 28 February 1882, Farrar resolved at an early age to become an opera star. A child full of “temper and temperament,” Farrar confessed, “At times I walked on air, and always my head was filled with dreams and hopes of this marvelous career.” Henrietta Barnes Farrar provided the impetus. Marriage to Sidney Farrar, a shopkeeper who played professional baseball, cut short her hopes for a singing career. Henrietta must have instilled her dreams in the heart of her only child. “My mother tells me that before I was five I had already shown strong musical tendencies,” relates Farrar in The Story of an American Singer by Herself. “By the time I was ten I had visions of studying abroad. At the age of twelve I had heard the music of almost the entire grand opera repertoire. By the time I was sixteen I was studying in Paris.” In 1884, at the age of 12, Farrar impersonated Jenny Lind in the Melrose May Carnival. Within two years, she made her Boston recital debut. An admirer introduced her to Jean de Reszke. Although she did not sing well in an impromptu audition, the Polish tenor encouraged her to go to New York and pursue her vocal studies. Farrar and her mother moved to Manhattan, where she became of pupil of Emma Thursby, an American soprano who had studied with Lamperti in Milan.

Thursby invited Nellie Melba and Lillian Nordica to hear her prize pupil. Excited, Melba asked Farrar to sing for Walter Damrosch and her manager, C.A. Ellis. Damrosch gave the young singer encouragement. Ellis offered her a contract, wisely refused by Farrar’s mother. More than an ambitious stage mother, Henrietta Farrar knew what was best for her talented daughter. A meeting with the wife of Maurice Grau led to an audition with the manager of the Metropolitan Opera. Grau immediately offered the 16-year-old soprano a debut in one of the Met’s Sunday night concerts. Following her mother’s advice, Farrar turned down that offer and also rejected the title role in a performance of Mignon with Melba. Supported by a $30,000 loan from a wealthy Boston arts patron, Farrar and her parents sailed from New York in 1898 on a cattle ship bound for France.

Melba’s letter of introduction brought the young singer to Mathilde Marchesi. But Farrar, as she recalled in Such Sweet Compulsion, refused to submit “to a dazzling treatment whereby all voices were taught to shame the flute in impossible skyrocket cadenzas or fall by the wayside when unable to do so.” Farrar also balked at the stylized gestures and artificial poses taught by a disciple of Delsarte. Realism - in both song and drama - was her goal.

Unhappy with her studies in the French capital, Farrar decided to secure Nordica’s help. Pursuing the American diva to the Bois de Boulogne, Farrar boldly approached her idol in an open carriage. Nordica recommended Berlin and Lilli Lehmann. The Farrars promptly resettled in Germany. A letter of introduction brought Farrar to the attention of Frau von Rath, the wife of a wealthy German banker. Farrar’s German patroness arranged for an audition with the indendant of the Royal Opera, Count von Hochberg. She was immediately offered a contract.

On 15 October 1901, at the age of 19, Farrar made her Berlin debut as Marguerite in Faust. Singing in Italian by special dispensation, Farrar earned favorable reviews but quickly inspired envy and criticism for the special treatment she received. Her name disappeared from the billboards for six weeks until she interceded with von Hochberg. After triumphing in La Traviata—and being forced to pay a 25-pfennig fine for smashing her champagne glass - Farrar was accorded star treatment. In the next five seasons, she appeared in new productions of Roméo et Juliette, Manon, Der Schwarze Domino, Tannhäuser, Rigoletto, and Faust and also added Nedda, Mignon, and Leonora in Il Trovatore to her repertory.

During her second season in Berlin, Farrar met Kaiser Wilhelm. Invited to sing at the palace while the court was still in mourning, Farrar was told to appear without jewels and wear a lavender or black dress and gloves. Accustomed to dress as she chose when she sang, Farrar appeared in white and wore no gloves. Dazzling the court with her audacity, she became a royal favorite and often sang command performances. Her friendship with the Crown Prince generated headlines and scandalous rumors. Outraged by a lurid newspaper article, Farrar’s father pursued the editor and assaulted him. To stifle the growing gossip, the American Women’s Club of Berlin intervened to defend Farrar’s honor.

In 1903, Lehmann accepted Farrar as a pupil. In grueling daily lessons, she worked hard to perfect Farrar’s vocal technique and rein in her pupil’s exuberant physical movements. Lehmann tied Farrar’s hands behind her back and forced her to express emotions through her eyes and face. Although she called Farrar “an obstinate and willful little wretch,” the strong-willed Lehmann enjoyed working with such an ambitious and headstrong student.

Under her tutelage, Farrar painstakingly acquired the “repose, economy of gesture, eloquence of attitude, and clean singing” she admired in her teacher. But she never completely mastered her voice. A German critic claimed Farrar’s “faults interest us more than the merits of ordinary singers. She remains a vocal personality who has moments of the highest transport.” Farrar later admitted her limitations to Henry T. Finck. “I do not long to—nor do I believe I can—climb frozen heights like the great Lilli Lehmann.”

Farrar used Berlin as the springboard for a European career. During her third season, she made her debut in Monte Carlo where she sang Mimi in La Boheme with Caruso. The tenor’s “shrieking checks. . . grey fedora (and) yellow gloves” shocked Farrar, but the moment Caruso poured out his golden voice, she succumbed. They formed an artistic partnership that blossomed in Monte Carlo, and Berlin and flowered at the Metropolitan, where they sang together 105 times. Returning to Monte Carlo in 1905, Farrar sang Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust and, on five-day’s notice, replaced Calvé in the world premiere of Mascagni’s Amica. In her third and final Monte Carlo season, Farrar appeared in Massenet’s Le roi de Lahore, Saint-Saëns’ L’Ancêtre, and Verdi’s Don Carlos with Chaliapin.

Farrar’s success in Monte Carlo led to an engagement in Stockholm, where she added King Oscar to her list of royal admirers. A devoted fan, the Swedish king awarded Farrar the Gold Cross of the Order of Merit, previously given to only two sopranos, Christine Nilsson and Melba. Paris, Munich, and Warsaw came next. In Munich, Richard Strauss invited Farrar to portray Salome. After she voiced concern about the taxing vocal demands, Strauss told her to “act and dance half-naked so no one will worry if you sing or not.” She refused. But in Warsaw she added Andrea Chenier to her repertory.

Five years after her Berlin debut, Farrar returned to America, ready to conquer New York and claim the Metropolitan Opera as the center of her operatic career. In her debut as Juliette, Farrar won the audience but divided the critics. W.J. Henderson astutely observed “largeness, power, brilliance are what this young woman has sought instead of mellowness, liquidity and perfect poise.” “Not a wholly finished vocalist,” huffed Richard Aldrich in the Times. But Farrar aspired to become a singing actress like Calvé, not a vocal technician like Patti or Melba. “Today,” she argued, “people want something more than a voice.” Farrar called herself “an actress who happens to be appearing in opera” and added, “I leave mere singing to the warblers. I am more interested in acting.”

Farrar may have divided the critics. but her independence and brash self-confidence—she fearlessly stood up to managers and conductors—won her a legion of loyal fans who stood by her during vocal difficulties. Farrar pushed her voice to its limits as Tosca and Madama Butterfly and suffered from the exertion. Within a few years, she was regularly experiencing vocal difficulties. Colds and bronchitis, stomach ailments and nervous tension—exacerbated by exhausting recital tours and frequent performances at the Met—undermined Farrar’s health and vocal control. In 1913, she lost her voice in the middle of Faust and was forced to cease singing for a month. In 1919, Farrar retired for six months after an operation to remove a polyp on her vocal cord.

Farrar left a bold imprint on a whole range of roles, from Carmen and Mignon to Manon, Violetta, and Mimi. She was one of the last prima donnas to champion contemporary composers. The operas of Puccini, Mascagni, Massenet, Leoncavallo, Dukas, Charpentier, and Giordano—all living—formed the core of her repertory. She specialized in parts that played to her interpretive gifts—the Goose Girl in Die Königskinder, Caterina in Madam Sans-Gêne, Rosaura in Le Donne Curiose, and the title part in Zaza.

Farrar gained notoriety as much for her unconventional acting as for her vibrant, if flawed, singing. As Zaza, she scandalized the critics when she hoisted her skirt and sprayed perfume on her undergarments. As Thaïs, she wore a costume one critic described as “two small groups of jewels, inconspicuous but essentially located.” In comparison, he wrote, Mary Garden looked like “a modest missionary.”

Refusing to cling to her throne, Farrar ended her operatic career at the age of 40 in the most tumultuous farewell in Met history. Crowding the theater, Farrar’s fans — dubbed Gerryflappers by Henderson — unfurled banners and handed her a crown and scepter. They cheered and wept before accompanying Farrar’s flower-laden, open limousine up Broadway. After a pause, she embarked on lucrative concert and recital tours that kept her before the grateful public for another decade. In one season, she sang an adaptation of Carmen 123 times in 125 nights.

Farrar excited adulation wherever she appeared. In Berlin, the young Frida Leider collected and colorized postcards of her favorite singer. “She seemed to me the most elegant and bewitching figure,” recalled the German soprano. A young American destined to achieve greatness in dance was entranced by Farrar at a Hollywood party when she entertained guests after dinner. “She took off her black pearl rings, large as robins eggs, her diamond and pearl bracelets and tossed them on top of the piano, then sat down and played like a man—music and song and laughter reverberated throughout the house,” reminisced Agnes DeMille in her autobiography.

Anyone who knows Farrar’s voice only from her Victor acoustics will find this Marston release a revelation. The Victors too often find Farrar sounding routine, if not ordinary. There are exceptions, of course, but most of the Victors prove Farrar was a singer to be seen as well as heard. The Berlin acoustics capture Farrar in fresh and vibrant voice. The electrics, made decades later, reveal a different singer. In the years following her operatic farewell, she has clearly reworked her technique and made vocal adjustments that allow her to sing—in a more limited range, to be sure—with more imagination and nuance. The 1934 Bell Labs discs are even more interesting. They provide a moving valedictory to a long career in the recording studio.

Few vocal critics rank Farrar among the great singers on record. Compared to virtuosas like Patti, Melba, Nordica, or Eames, she lacks complete technical schooling. The scales and passagework are fluent but not flawless. Her trill is good but not always reliable. The voice itself is full and firm in the middle, but when the vocal range widens problems appear. The top—up to sustained high C—can sound pushed and emerges only in full cry. The bottom lacks color and fullness of tone. “A pleasing, straightforward singer of a healthy voice and an assured manner,” sums up John Steane in his analysis of Farrar in The Grand Tradition. Steane also notes that her singing lacks “subtlety of individual inflections” and “any great musical imagination.” The recordings, more or less, sustain this judgment.

But Farrar, especially in her Berlin recordings, could surprise and delight. In “L’altra notte” [CD 1, Track 14] she does both. Farrar catches the anguish of the music in a voice suffused with intense feeling. She tosses off the crazed melismas rapidly and precisely and descends into a full chest voice with vigorous attack. This is one of Farrar’s great recordings. She suggests feverish abandon in both versions of “Sempre libera.” [ CD 1, Track 1] There is spirit and energy in her singing but also technical polish in the scales and divisions. She attacks the high Cs confidently and sustains them with ease. There is light but not much shade in her singing. But the vocal fireworks blaze brightly.

A poised “Caro mio ben” [CD 1, Track 15] shows the classical virtues of Farrar’s singing although the trills are missing. The tone is limpid, the attack pure. There is repose in the vocal line even if not much tonal variety or subtle rhythmic shading. A clean, unaffected piece of singing. Those virtues can also be heard in arias from Massenet’s Manon and Flotow’s Martha. Both lie in the firmest and finest part of Farrar’s voice. The Gavotte [CD 1, Track 5], although sung in German, sounds stylish in Farrar’s natural, unaffected performance. Even better is “Die Letzte Rose.” [CD 1, Track 22] Farrar ennobles this simple Volkslied through the delicacy and restraint of her interpretation. Singing artlessly but artfully, Farrar traces the unadorned melodic line with touching honesty, adding intensity to the top notes and some delicate shading to sustained tones.

Farrar labored with Lehmann to polish her only Wagnerian role, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser. [CD 1, Track 23] The duet with Carl Jörn shows the results. Despite the scratchy orchestral accompaniment, both singers suggest the joyous abandon in Wagner’s music. Farrar takes the intervals decisively and negotiates the turns with precision. At her first performance of Elisabeth at the Hofoper, Farrar won accolades from her teacher. This recording shows why.

Two decades later, Farrar made several series of electrical recordings. They show she commanded diminished but still dependable vocal resources. The tone may no longer be so firm and taut, but the voice has acquired more expressive possibilities. She sings with delicacy and imagination in an English version of Strauss’s Ständchen. [CD 2, Track 4] Pur Dicesti [CD 2, Track 1] is not perfectly smooth but shows her vocal schooling and her careful verbal pointing of the Italian text. An aria from Lehar’s Frasquita [CD 2, Track 6] proves Farrar still can bring off sustained singing. The Mozart arias are even better. Cherubino [CD 2, Track 5] was one the roles Farrar mastered under Lehmann’s tutelage. A bubbling account of Non so piu [CD 1, Track 5] is matched by a bravely sung E Susanna non vien. . . Dove sono” [CD 2, Track 2] that breaks off just before the concluding allegro.

The Bell Laboratories discs from 1934 provide moving documents of Farrar’s art. After three decades of strenuous singing, the voice has lost luster but has gained expressive colors. Singing within a reduced range, the soprano gives touching and sincere accounts of these songs. Farrar finds the right tone of wistful charm in Love’s old sweet song. [CD 2, Track 16] She catches—and sustains—a mood of quiet sentiment in Old folks at home. [CD 2, Track 15] These discs show us another side of Geraldine Farrar’s artistry.

Farrar retired without apparent regret. In 1931, she sang her final Carnegie Hall recital and withdrew from further public performance. She traveled widely and proved a gracious hostess and a loyal friend. Although her dark hair turned white, her blue eyes still flashed with piercing intelligence and sparkling gaiety. During the 1934-35 season, she hosted intermissions of broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. Farrar illustrated her talks by playing the piano and singing in one octave only, since “the vibrations in this range were easily handled by the engineers without blasts and gurgles.” She was a fine pianist, as private recordings made in 1942 with Marion Telva show. Playing accompaniments for songs adapted from Tchaikovsky’s orchestral scores, she performs with accuracy and flair. One would expect nothing less from an iron-willed musician determined to make operatic history.


©Robert Baxter, 2003

The author gratefully acknowledges vital help in preparing these notes from Farrar authority Jeffrey Miller.

Geraldine Farrar made her first records in Berlin for the Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd. in 1904. Although the exact recording dates are unknown, discographic sources indicate that nineteen sides were recorded over three or possibly four sessions. These comprised fifteen titles and four re-takes. All nineteen sides were assigned catalogue numbers and ostensibly published, though to my knowledge, only eleven have ever surfaced. These 1904 G&Ts are unquestionably Farrar’s rarest records and most of the extant copies are only in average condition. The Manon “Gavotte” is particularly scarce and, unfortunately, both available copies possessed worn grooves causing severe noise on Farrar’s loudest notes. Especially notable among these recordings are the excerpts from Leoncavallo’s opera Roland, often referred to in error as Roland von Berlin. Sadly, only five sides have come to light, although twelve were actually recorded. These included two solos plus seven duets and three re-takes with tenor Wilhelm Grüning. The extant sides are presented here in musical sequence rather than by matrix. It should also be mentioned that two sides were transposed down a semi-tone presumably for the comfort of Heir Grüning. Over the following two years, Geraldine Farrar recorded an additional fourteen sides all of which were published and are presented here in matrix order. Taken as a group, Geraldine Farrar’s G&T discs are undoubtedly her finest recordings. Despite the limitations of acoustic recording, these discs convey the force of Farrar’s magnetic personality which was to be a hallmark of her persona throughout her professional career. They also allow us to hear the buoyant vitality of her voice which, alas, would fade all too soon.

Farrar made her final Metropolitan Opera appearance in 1922 and her last published Victor recording in 1923. With the advent of electrical recording, however, she entered the Victor recording studio again for one last group of recording sessions. Between January and April, 1927, she recorded 35 sides comprising multiple takes of thirteen titles. Although these recordings were all rejected for issue at the time, during the 1930s, the International Record Collector’s Club published four sides from the original masters and two others as re-recordings from Farrar’s own test pressings. Many of these pressings still survive and only two of the thirteen recorded titles have disappeared. The present edition contains one take of each surviving title and two re-takes. Mendelssohn’s “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges” is presented twice since Farrar sings one in English and the other in German. It should also be noted that the piano accompaniments for these two versions differ slightly. Two takes of “Pur dicesti” have also been included because of the differences in Farrar’s performances.

Five years later, Geraldine Farrar recorded four songs for the Bell Telephone Laboratories who, at that time, were experimenting with high fidelity recording technology. These Farrar discs were vertically cut at a speed of 33 rpm. No one knows exactly how and why this recording session was arranged but it seems plausible that Bell Laboratories intended the recordings for publicity purposes. Although Farrar’s voice is in serious decline by this point, it is, nonetheless, fascinating to hear it so faithfully reproduced. (Incidentally, two other noted singers who made recordings for Bell Labs were soprano Elisabeth Rethberg and baritone Nelson Eddie.) The sound of these Bell Laboratories recordings is quite stupendous and one can only wonder why fifteen years would pass before commercial record companies would begin producing recordings of comparable quality.

Next come two songs from a 1934 broadcast that may well be Farrar’s last radio concert appearance. These items were recorded off the air via a primitive home recording system, hence the very poor sound quality. A third song from this broadcast, Fritz Kreisler’s “Liebesleid,” was also recorded, but the quality is too poor for inclusion here.

During the Metropolitan Opera’s 1934-35 broadcast season, Geraldine Farrar was invited to give intermission talks over the air. As an additional feature, Farrar sang short musical fragments accompanying herself at the piano. This set concludes with excerpts from a rehearsal recording of Miss Farrar practicing her intermission talks for the 5 January broadcast of Verdi’s La Traviata. These charming reminiscences of Geraldine Farrar’s early career will, I hope, serve as a fitting conclusion to this compendium.