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The daughter of a professional baseball player, Geraldine Farrar was strongly supported by her mother in her early desire to be an opera singer. When only fourteen she gave a recital in Boston; and encouraged by Jean de Reszke to pursue her vocal studies she moved to New York where she became a pupil of Emma Thursby. Although quickly offered a contract by the Metropolitan Opera, she and her mother instead left for Paris in 1898 for further study. Here she studied with Trabadello, but balked at Mathilde Marchesi’s traditional approach to operatic singing and acting, searching instead for greater realism. She sought the advice of Lilian Nordica who suggested she approach Lilli Lehmann in Germany.

Farrar and her mother therefore moved to Berlin, where she studied with Graziani. Through an introduction to the intendant of the Berlin Court Opera she was immediately offered a contract to sing there, making her debut as Marguerite / Faust in 1901. This was quickly followed by Violetta / La traviata, after which she was accorded star status. Further roles included Nedda / Pagliacci, Zerlina / Don Giovanni, Juliette / Roméo et Juliette, Elisabeth / Tannhäuser (1905, her only Wagnerian role) and the title role in Massenet’s Manon. In 1903 Lehmann agreed to take Farrar as a pupil, training her to express emotions through her eyes and face rather than by means of extravagant gestures.

Using Berlin as a springboard for her European career, Farrar appeared at Monte Carlo for three seasons from 1904. Here she first sang in La Bohème (1904) with Caruso, with whom she was to form a close artistic partnership, and replaced Calvé at short notice in the world premiere of Mascagni’s Amica (1905). Next she triumphed in Stockholm, Paris, Munich and Warsaw, before returning to America, where in 1906 she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York as Juliette.

During her sixteen-year reign at the Met Farrar gave more than 600 performances of thirty-four roles across twenty-nine operas, receiving higher fees and appearing in more first performances than any other rival soprano. Notable highlights included the title roles in the first Metropolitan Opera performances of Madama Butterfly (1907), Wolf-Ferrari’s Il segreto di Susanna (1911), Mascagni’s Lodoletta (1918) and Leoncavallo’s Zazà (1920), the Goose Girl in the first performance of Humperdinck’s Königskinder (1910) and the title roles in the world premieres of Giordano’s Madame Sans-Gêne (1915) and Puccini’s Suor Angelica (1918). Popular roles included the title parts in Carmen, Manon, Mignon, Thaïs and Tosca, as well as Cherubino / Le nozze di Figaro, Gilda / Rigoletto, and Zerlina. Farrar’s powerful stage presence and vivid acting won her numerous fans.

In 1922, by which time she was experiencing considerable vocal difficulties through over-work, Farrar gave her farewell performance at the Met as Zazà. However she continued to sing in concerts and recitals for a further ten years, making her final appearance in recital at Carnegie Hall in 1931.

She travelled widely and hosted the intermissions for the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts of the 1934–1935 season. Alongside her operatic work, Farrar also appeared in several silent films made between 1915 and 1920, including the title role in Cecil B. De Mille’s adaptation of Carmen (1915) and Joan of Arc in Joan the Woman (1917).

An artist of iron determination, driven by a greater interest in the emotional rather than the lyrical character of opera, Farrar worked with singers of the calibre of Amato, Caruso, Chaliapin, Eames, Lehmann, Martinelli and Stracciari, as well as with major conductors including Muck, Mahler, Richard Strauss and Toscanini. She recorded throughout her career, in Berlin for the Gramophone Company and later in America for Victor, who featured her extensively in their advertisements. However her recordings cannot give a complete idea of the extent of her very considerable art.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Singers, Naxos 8.558097-100).

Role: Classical Artist 
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