Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tetrazzini Served in the Streets 100 Years Ago

The San Francisco Gate takes a fascinating look back at an historic event and a tantalizing soprano:

On Christmas Eve, exactly 100 years ago, Luisa Tetrazzini, the most famous opera singer of her day, sang in the streets of San Francisco as a gift to the city she loved. There was a huge throng present that night - some said as many as 250,000 people - but they are all gone now and only the memory remains, like the ghost of Christmas past.

Tetrazzini, then 39, was a huge celebrity, the way movie stars and famous athletes are celebrities now. It was the Golden Age of Opera, the age of Enrico Caruso, Nellie Melba, Amelita Galli-Curci. Tetrazzini was not only an amazing singer, she was also colorful, with famous love affairs and huge financial disputes with impresarios. She was flamboyant. She loved life. A story about Tetrazzini was always good for Page One.

In the fall of 1910, she got into a contract dispute with Oscar Hammerstein. He wanted her to sing in New York, she wanted to sing in San Francisco. Money was at the heart of the dispute - she wanted $2,500 per concert. Hammerstein took her to court. "When they told me I could not sing in America unless it was for Hammerstein," she said, "I said I would sing in the streets of San Francisco, for I knew the streets of San Francisco were free.

"I never thought I would be a street singer," she said, "but I want to do this for San Francisco ... because I like San Francisco better than any other city in the world. San Francisco is my country."

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