Today is the birthday of Emma Calve (Emma Rosa Calvet, 1858-1942). Calve, a soprano, was the most famous French opera singer of the Belle Epoque. Originally from Aveyro, she studied in France and Italy in her youth and modeled the histrionic elements of her craft after Duse. Her professional debut was in 1881, and she was to become especially associated with the title role in Bizet’s Carmen. In 1893, her international tours began to include New York, with the Metropolitan Opera, and later Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera Company as venues.
Calve was just the sort of class act Martin Beck loved to bring to vaudeville. In 1915 he booked her for the Palace Theatre, helping to bolster that house’s reputation as the jewel in the crown of the industry. According to Marion Spitzer’s definitive book The Palace, by the time Calve returned to the Palace for another engagement in 1927 she was well past her prime, no longer famous, and enormously overweight. Sadly, the audience laughed at her.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.