Sections: Operatic Singers in Formal Clothing | French Repertoire | German Repertoire | Italian Repertoire

Jussi Björling

Swedish-born Jussi Björling was among the greatest tenors of the twentieth century. He made his debut in a minor role in Stockholm in 1930 and went to the top quickly. Vienna was the first major European opera center to hear him, and his recordings soon made his name known everywhere. Björling is said to have detested the theater, but he sang widely, except during World War II, when he limited his stay in Sweden. Björling sang at the New York Metropolitan Opera from 1938 to 1960, as well as in Chicago and San Francisco. His early death saddened many opera lovers. #opera

Jussi Björling (1911–1960). Photographer unknown. Gelatin silver print, ca. 1932. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (001.00.00)

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Alessandro Bonci

Alessandro Bonci made his debut in 1896 as a tenore di gracia or lyric tenor, and rose rapidly in his classification. After appearances at La Scala in Milan, Italy, and Covent Garden in London, England, he was engaged by Oscar Hammerstein for the Manhattan Opera from 1906 to 1908. The Metropolitan Opera enticed him away, and he performed there beginning in 1908. Bonci then sang with the Chicago Opera and with several smaller companies in Philadelphia and elsewhere. He taught for three years in New York City, and conducted master classes across the United States in 1924. Though their voices were not similar, he was considered a rival to tenor Enrico Caruso. #opera

Alessandro Bonci (1870–1940). Photographer: Dover Street Studios. London, England. Gelatin silver print, 1905. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (002.00.00)

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Margarete Matzenauer

Born in Hungary to German parents, Margarete Matzenauer, a contralto soprano, was perhaps the most outstanding example of her type of voice in the 1920s. After an inconsequential debut in Strasburg in 1901, she sang in Munich, Bayreuth, and London. At the Metropolitan Opera from 1911 until 1930, the beauty of her voluminous voice and her regal bearing established her as a force to be reckoned with, even against rivals of considerable power. She sang mezzosoprano and soprano roles at the Met and in Chicago, and continued to appear in operatic productions until 1942. #opera

Margarete Matzenauer (1881–1963). Photographer: Adepa Studios. New York. Gelatin silver print, 1939. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (003.00.00)

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Maria Olszewska

Born in a Bavarian village, Maria Olszewska chose her stage name from the Munich phone book. She made her debut in 1915 in Krefeld, and was then signed by the Hamburg Staatsoper. Vienna and Munich followed, and her world career began in Spain. She performed in Argentina, the Balkans, London, and then Chicago from 1928 to 1932. The Metropolitan Opera inherited her from the bankrupt Chicago Civic Opera. Although her voice was a strong, and rather colorless, mezzo, it was her acting that made her performances memorable. Olszewska knew the value of pose and repose, although she could be tempestuous. #opera

Maria Olszewska, (1892–1969). Photographer unknown. Gelatin silver print, undated. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (004.00.00)

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Meta Seinemeyer

Berlin-born Meta Seinemeyer was a lyric-dramatic soprano with a voice whose rich qualities were captured on many recordings. Her voice together with her early death, has made her into a cult figure. She debuted in 1918 at Deutsche Opernhause in Berlin, where she sang for several years. When Sol Hurok’s German Opera Company toured America in 1923, Seinemeyer, in spite of frequent illness, sang more than forty performances throughout the eastern United States in a three-month period. She then joined the Dresden Opera and appeared in Buenos Aires, London, and Vienna. Seinemeyer’s large repertoire ranged from Mozart to verismo (realism) roles, and she created the female lead in Busoni’s Doktor Faust. #opera

Meta Seinemeyer (1895–1929). Photographer: Franz Fiedler. Dresden, Germany. Gelatin silver print, 1926. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (005.00.00)

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Francesco Tamagno

Francesco Tamagno was the foremost Italian dramatic tenor of the nineteenth century. At first appearing in supporting roles in 1869, he was soon singing leads, due to his immensely powerful voice, which could hurl out high Bs and Cs from a seemingly endless supply. Composer Giuseppe Verdi chose him to inaugurate the title role in Otello in 1887 at La Scala in Milan, Italy. Tamagno was in demand everywhere, and expensive, and came to America in 1891 with the touring Abbey and Grau Company. He appeared in New York as a regular at the Metropolitan Opera during the 1894–1895 season. #opera

Francesco Tamagno (1850–1905). Photographer: Falk. New York. Gelatin silver print, 1895. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (006.00.00)

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Luisa Tetrazzini

Luisa Tetrazzini was a truly great coloratura (vocal range of low B to high F). She made her debut in 1891 in Florence, Italy, and then left for a long stay in South America where she led a bohemian existence. She first sang in San Francisco in 1904 with a Mexican company and remained there for two seasons. Tetrazzini then went to London and was rapturously received. Oscar Hammerstein signed her immediately, and she soon conquered the New York public. When Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera failed, she joined the Chicago Opera from 1910 until 1913, singing briefly with the Metropolitan Opera, in 1911–1912. Her voice was uneven, and while superb in the upper register was somewhat undeveloped elsewhere. However, her joy of singing is apparent on her records. #opera

Luisa Tetrazzini (1871–1940). Photographer: Kirkland. Denver, Colorado. Gelatin silver print, 1911. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (007.00.00)

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Helen Traubel

Missouri’s Helen Traubel first sang concerts in St. Louis in 1923. Her 1937 Metropolitan Opera debut in Walter Damrosch’s The Man Without a Country revealed a voice of unprecedented beauty, particularly in Wagnerian roles, beginning with Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walküre in 1939. A somewhat short range distracted from the whole, and her acting was rudimentary. Unflattering costumes were another liability. She made her career chiefly in the United States, but she sang also in Mexico, Buenos Aires, and London. Traubel’s predilection for radio and night club appearances annoyed the Met management and ended her operatic career in 1953. #opera

Helen Traubel (1899–1972). Photographer: Abresch. New York. Gelatin silver print, 1939. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (008.00.00)

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Giovanni Zenatello

If Enrico Caruso had one rival during his lifetime, it was Giovanni Zenatello, because of the latter’s ringing high notes. He debuted as a baritone in 1898 and yet again as a tenor in 1899. Four years later he performed at La Scala where he created many leading roles including Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in 1904. He then went to London, and while there Hammerstein engaged him for New York between 1907 and 1910. For the Metropolitan Opera’s 1910 tour, Hammerstein graciously lent Zenatello to replace Caruso. He sang in Chicago and frequently in Philadelphia during the 1920s, and finally in New York’s Bryant Park in 1933. #opera

Giovanni Zenatello (1876–1949). Photographer: Winkler. Vienna, Austria. Gelatin silver print, 1926. Charles Jahant Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (009.00.00)

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Sections: Operatic Singers in Formal Clothing | French Repertoire | German Repertoire | Italian Repertoire