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Frances Alda


Frances Alda was born Frances Davis in New Zealand. Her mother, already separated from her English father, died when she was five, and Frances was educated by her maternal grandparents in St Kilda’s, Australia. Her French grandmother had been an opera singer and her Austrian grandfather a violinist: one of their daughters was the famous coloratura soprano Frances Saville, a pupil of Mathilde Marchesi. Following the death of her grandparents, Alda moved to Melbourne, where she secured an engagement with the Williamson and Musgrove Light Opera Company, singing leading parts in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas; then, using money from her mother’s estate, she sailed for Europe. After an unsuccessful audition for the Gaiety Theatre in London, on the advice of Messager she studied voice for ten months in Paris with Marchesi (who hailed her as the new Melba) as well as stage-craft and languages. Marchesi arranged her début in 1904 as Massenet’s Manon at the Opéra-Comique, for which she was coached by the composer himself, and also suggested she should change her name to Alda. She went on to sing at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels for the next two seasons, appearing successfully also at Warsaw and at Covent Garden (1906). In 1907–1908 Alda made her début at La Scala, Milan, singing in Boris Godunov opposite Chaliapin, as well as the title rôle in Charpentier’s Louise, and coming into contact with Toscanini and Giulio Gatti-Casazza.

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