Emma Abbott

Emma Abbott (December 9, 1850 – January 5, 1891) was an American operatic soprano and impresario known for her pure, clear voice of great flexibility and volume.


Abbot was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of a struggling Chicago musician. As a child she studied singing, piano, and the guitar with her father. Her family suffered from financial problems, and in order to help she began performing professionally at the age of nine. She made her debut as a guitar player and singer in Peoria, Illinois in 1859 and was teaching guitar by age 13. [ [http://www.picturehistory.com/product/id/23027 www.picturehistory.com] ] In 1866 she joined an itinerant concert troup; touring around the country. While performing on the road she met and befriended Clara Louise Kellogg. Upon hearing Emma in a concert in Toledo, Clara made it a point to meet her and encourage her to pursue an opera career. Consequently, Emma studied in New York City under Achille Errani, and made her concert début there in December 1871. [Hitchcock and Preston, "Grove Music Online"]

In 1872 Abbott went abroad to study with Sangiovanni in Milan and Marchesi. This was followed by further studies with Pierre François Wartel and Delle Sedie in Paris. She appeared in several productions in Paris, earning rave reviews for her fine soprano voice. She was awarded a contract with the Royal Opera in London and made her début at Covent Garden as Marie in "La fille du régiment" in 1876. However, her contract was cancelled shortly thereafter when she refused to sing Violetta from Verdi's "La traviata" on moral grounds. That same year she secretly married Eugene Wetherell (d 1889) and they returned to the United States, where she remained for the rest of her career. [Hitchcock and Preston, "Grove Music Online"]

On 23 February 1877 Abbott made her American operatic début in New York, once again portraying Marie. The following year she and her husband organized an opera company known by her name (the Abbott English Opera Company), which toured extensively throughout the United States. Her husband ran the buisness end of the company and she managed the artistic side, often staring in the productions. The company garnered a reputation among the public for quality productions and was quite successful. Among the notable roles that Abbott sang with the company are Juliette in Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette", Virginia in "Paul and Virginia", Josephine in "H. M. S. Pinafore", the title role in Flotow's "Martha", Amina in Bellini's "La Sonnambula", and Violetta in "La Traviata", a role which apparently she no longer objected to. [Hitchcock and Preston, "Grove Music Online"]

Abbott continued performing up until her sudden and unexpected death of pneumonia in Salt Lake City in 1891. Throughout her career, she retained artistic control over her troupe, which sometimes numbered 60. Although the company's repertory included works from the French, Italian and English operatic literatures, they always performed in English. Many of the works were abridged and interpolated songs were commonplace. For this reason the company and Abbot were not popular with many music critics who were not happy with the changes to the standard repetory. However, the company was incredibly popular with the public and was consistantly financially successful. Abbott herself became known among Americans as ‘the people’s prima donna’. [Hitchcock and Preston, "Grove Music Online"]



*wikicite|id=idGroveMusicOnline|reference=H. Wiley Hitchcock/Katherine K. Preston: "Emma Abbott", "Grove Music Online" ed. L. Macy (Accessed September 21, 2008), [http://www.grovemusic.com (subscription access)]
*"Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607-1896." Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1967.

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