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Frances Alda
, 1912

by Herman Mishkin

gelatin silver photograph (backing sheet: 37.5 cm x 29.0 cm, image: 19.8 cm x 14.5 cm)

Frances Alda (1879–1952), soprano, was born Fanny Jane Davis in New Zealand, but was raised in Melbourne, where she began singing professionally in 1897. In 1902 she left Australia to study with Mathilde Marchesi, Melba’s teacher, in Paris. Marchesi identified her as ‘la nouvelle Melba’ and gave her the name Alda. She made her European debut in 1904, and by 1908 she had appeared at the Monnaie, Brussels, Covent Garden and La Scala. That year, she became a member of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, remaining with the company for 21 years. Her wartime fundraising efforts in support of the US Navy were so successful that she received a personal letter of thanks from President Woodrow Wilson. Noted for lyrical roles such as Manon Lescaut, Mimí and Desdemona, she also enjoyed a successful recording career, making her debut with Caruso, who claimed that his voice and hers blended perfectly: ‘I have never found that with any other woman singer’, he said. Alda toured Australia in 1927. Her memoirs, Men, Women and Tenors, were published in 1937.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2007
Accession number: 2007.11