Category Archives: Contraltos

NARIA DUCHÊNE-BILLIARD, Contralto * 1884 – ?;


Maria Duchêne-Billiard (1884 – ?) was a French contralto of the Metropolitan Opera from 1912 to 1916. She portrayed such roles as Amneris in Aida, Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann, Lola in Cavalleria rusticana, Maddalena in Rigoletto. She sang the role of the Old Woman in L’amore dei tre re, Rosette in Manon, Schwertleite in Die Walküre, and the Solo Madrigalist in Manon Lescaut among others.

She was born in 1884. She made her debut at the Met on March 16, 1912 as La Cieca in Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda with Emmy Destinn in the title role, Enrico Caruso as Enzo, and Arturo Toscanini conducting.

She appeared in the American premiere of Boris Godunov as the Nurse in 1912 with Arturo Toscanini conducting.

On March 12, 1913 she was to sing the role of Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann when she fainted and her role was taken over by madam Fremsted who had sung the role when it premiered in the United States.

With the company she notably portrayed the role of the Peasant Woman in the United States premiere of Gustave Charpentier’s Julien on February 26, 1914.

Her mother, Elizabeth Duchêne (1859–1915) died in 1915 of pneumonia just as Maria was about to take the stage as Lola in Cavalleria rusticana.

Her final and 166th performance with the Met was as Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera in an out of town performance at the Boston Opera House on April 18, 1916. Details of her life after leaving the Met are unknown.

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Posted by on July 6, 2018 in Contraltos


MAARTJE OFFERS, Contralto * 27 February 1891, Koudekerk (aan den Rijn) + 28 January 1944, Tholen;


Maartje Offers (27 February 1891, Koudekerk (aan den Rijn) – 28 January 1944, Tholen) was a Dutch contralto classical singer.

Het Puik van zoete kelen (The Cream of Glorious Voices) Philips Dutch Masters 464 385-2 Songs include “Where Corals Lie” from Elgar’s Sea Pictures.
Lebendige Vergangenheit Preiser Records 2916777
Maartje Offers, contralto cd1: The Opera Recordings 1923-1927 – DDR 0703
Maartje Offers, contralto cd2: The Lied & Song recordings, 1926-1930 – DDR 0704


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Posted by on June 26, 2018 in Contraltos


CAROL BRICE * Contralto * 16 April 1918, Sedalia, North Carolina, United States + 15 February 1985, Norman, Oklahoma, United States;

Carol Brice (1918 – 1985) contralto and one of the first African American classical singers to record extensively, was born in Sedalia, North Carolina. Brice earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Talladega College in 1939 and studied at the Juilliard School of Music from 1939 to 1943. She first gained public attention when she sang in the 1939 production of “The Hot Mikado” at the New York World’s Fair. In 1943, Brice became the first African American to win the Walter Naumburg Award and the following year made her recital debut at Town Hall. Brice made a number of appearances on Broadway, including the 1959 production of “Saratoga, the 1960 revival of “Finian’s Rainbow,” the 1971 production of “The Grass Harp,” and the 1976 revival of “Porgy & Bess.” In 1975, Brice and her husband founded the Cimarron Circuit Opera Company in Norman, Oklahoma. Brice died February 15, 1985.



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Posted by on March 21, 2018 in Contraltos


EVA MYLOTT, Contralto * 16 September 1875, Tuross Head, New South Wales, Australia + 20 March 1920, New Jersey, United States;


Eva Mylott ukS

She was a contralto and the paternal grandmother of the actor and film director Mel Gibson.

Tuross Head, from the Narrows east, was owned by the Mylotts, wine merchants and shipping fleet owners. It was not until well into the 20th century that the headland was subdivided for building.

Eva was born in September 16, 1875 in the stone house built by her father Patrick Mylott in 1870 on Tuross Head. Discovering his daughters rich contralto voice at an early age, Mylott leased his farm in 1883 and invested in a Sydney wholesale liquor firm. Eva first went to Madame Christine, an internationally known Canadian opera singer turned nun. then to the teacher Kowalski. She matured slowly but in 1897 was a rising young star in the Sydney Musical world. Encouraged by the great Melba Eva was to leave for Europe in 1902.

Eva Mylott uk

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Posted by on March 20, 2018 in Contraltos


RUBY HELDER, Contralto * 03 March 1890, Bristol, United Kingdom + 21 November 1938, Hollywood, Los Angeles, United States;

She was born as Emma Jane Holder on March 3, 1890 at 7 Brooklyn Terrace in the Easton district of Bristol. Her father, Thomas, a dairyman at the time, later became landlord of the nearby Glasshouse pub, where little Emma would sing to entertain the regulars. From these humble beginnings an outstanding operatic career was launched.

Encouraged to take formal singing and piano lessons, the young Emma Holder became Ruby Helder on finding out someone else in her class had the same surname. This tiny child’s deep and powerful singing voice astonished everyone who heard her perform. Her aunt, housekeeper to the great Scottish music hall star Harry Lauder, made arrangements for Helder to train at the Guildhall School of Music under Charles Tinney, before she received tuition from one of the outstanding figures in British music, Charles Santley.

He later wrote: “Miss Ruby Helder possesses a natural, pure tenor voice of great beauty and power. She also possesses what few can boast, a thoroughly artistic temperament. In my opinion, she has no rivals among the artists of the day.”

Helder began recording for Pathe as early as 1908 and in July 1909 made her first public appearance on the operatic stage at the Queen’s Hall, London. After making further records for Edison Bell Velvet Face, in 1911 Ruby signed a recording contract with HMV. By this time, her remarkable voice was known worldwide and invitations to sing poured in from many countries, including Russia. An American millionaire is said to have persuaded Ruby to cross the Atlantic in 1913, for the sole purpose of singing at his private party.

The United States witnessed some of Helder’s greatest concert triumphs, especially in Philadelphia and Chicago, and in 1915 the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso took an interest in her career. On hearing her voice, he was so amazed by its two octave range – from C to high C, only three notes short of his own – he approached the management of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and suggested they offer Helder tenor roles.

They declined, fearful of engaging someone who might be regarded as a freak. Undeterred, she continued performing and recording a mixture of operatic pieces and light, sentimental music of the time, while pursuing further music studies at the Grinnell College Faculty between 1916 and 1917.

While rehearsing at New York’s Hippodrome Theatre, the petite 5ft 3ins tall Helder, sporting a bob hairstyle long before it became fashionable, attracted the attention of the legendary John Philip Sousa. Impressed by her voice, he invited her to join his band and she enjoyed a lengthy tour of the United States and Canada with them.

In 1920, Helder returned to England with the eminent American architect and artist Chesley Bonestell and they were married at St Marylebone Register Office on July 12. In 1925, to further both their careers, they undertook an extensive tour of Italy, living in Florence for most of the time. But her popularity had started to diminish, with her last recording having been made in 1921, and most catalogues no longer listed her work.

A Gramophone magazine review reflected the opinion of Helder’s abilities by certain critics. “Miss Helder, if she will forgive me saying so, has a fresh voice, a tenor, yet not a tenor… it is quite lacking in the characteristic power and expression of the tenor’s top register.”

She and Bonestell returned to England before moving back to the United States in 1927, where they set up home in Berkeley. Helder made a number of radio broadcasts from New York in the late twenties, prior to announcing her retirement from singing in 1935. During this period she threw many lavish parties, which were attended by her musician friends from the operatic world. Jam sessions took place with Ruby adding her unusual voice. It was said that at any one party up to one hundred people would pass through the house.

But there was a price to pay for this high living and on November 21, 1938 she died, aged just 48 years, at the Highland Hotel, Hollywood, after a long battle with alcoholism.

Britain’s world famous lady tenor has not been completely forgotten in her birth city of Bristol. In June 2001 a plaque was unveiled at her birthplace by the city’s Lord Mayor. Also, a few years ago, a CD containing some of her best recordings, including Come into the Garden Maude, Songs of Araby, Good Night Beloved and My Dreams was issued by Pearl Records.

© Terry Hallett – The Stage 2013
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Posted by on March 18, 2018 in Contraltos


MARIAN ANDERSON, Contralto * 27 February 1897, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States + 08 April 1993, Portland, Oregon, United States;

American Contralto Marian Anderson
Remembering MARIAN ANDERSON on her birthday !
An African American Opera Singer.
Deemed one of the finest contraltos of her time, Marian Anderson became the first African American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955.
Born February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, Marian Anderson displayed vocal talent as a child, but her family could not afford to pay for formal training.
Members of her church congregation raised funds for her to attend a music school for a year, and in 1955 she became the first African American singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

An acclaimed singer whose performance at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 helped set the stage for the civil rights era, Marian Anderson was born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The oldest of three girls, Anderson was just 6 years old when she became a choir member at the Union Baptist Church, where she earned the nickname “Baby Contralto.”

Her father, a coal and ice dealer, supported his daughter’s musical interests and, when Anderson was eight, bought her a piano. With the family unable to afford lessons, the prodigious Anderson taught herself.

At the age of 12, Anderson’s father died, leaving her mother to raise her three still-young girls.
His death, however, did not slow down Anderson’s musical ambitions.
She remained deeply committed to her church and its choir and rehearsed all the parts (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) in front of her family until she had perfected them.

Anderson’s commitment to her music and her range as a singer so impressed the rest of her choir that the church banded together and raised enough money, about $500, to pay for Anderson to train under Giuseppe Boghetti, a respected voice teacher.

Over her two years of studying with Boghetti, Anderson won a chance to sing at the Lewisohn Stadium in New York after entering a contest organized by the New York Philharmonic Society.

Other opportunities soon followed. In 1928, she performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time, and eventually embarked on a tour through Europe thanks to a Julius Rosenwald scholarship.

By the late 1930s, Anderson’s voice had made her famous on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the United States she was invited by President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor to perform at the White House, the first African American ever to receive this honor.

Much of Anderson’s life would ultimately see her breaking down barriers for African-American performers. In 1955, for example, the gifted contralto singer became the first African American to perform as a member of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Despite Anderson’s success, not all of America was ready to receive her talent. In 1939 her manager tried to set up a performance for her at Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall.

But the owners of the hall, the Daughters of the American Revolution informed Anderson and her manager that no dates were available.
That was far from the truth.
The real reason for turning Anderson away lay in a policy put in place by the D.A.R. that committed the hall to being a place strictly for white performers.

When word leaked out to the public about what had happened, an uproar ensued, led in part by Eleanor Roosevelt, who invited Anderson to perform instead at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. In front of a crowd of more than 75,000, Anderson offered up a riveting performance that was broadcast live for millions of radio listeners.

Over the next several decades of her life, Anderson’s stature only grew. In 1961 she performed the national anthem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
Two years later, Kennedy honored the singer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

After retiring from performing in 1965, Anderson set up her life on her farm in Connecticut. In 1991, the music world honored her with a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Her final years were spent in Portland, Oregon, where she’d moved in with her nephew. She died there of natural causes on April 8, 1993.

Courtesy of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture


Marian (center front) with her mother and sisters (circa 1910).

Photo credit: Owlcation


Marian Anderson 1898, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Photographer: Strawbridge & Clothier Photographic Studios


Marian Anderson, ca. 1936 New York, New York Photographer: D’Arlene


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Posted by on February 27, 2018 in Contraltos


MARIE GOETZE, Contralto * 02 November 1865, Berlin + 18 February 1922, Berlin;


Marie Goetze (02 November 1865, Berlin – 18 February 1922, Berlin) was a German contralto.
She made her debut in 1884 at the Berlin Kroll Opera as Azucena in the “Troubadour”. In the same year she was committed to the Berlin Court Opera, where she remained until 1886. In 1886-1890 she sang at the City Theater (opera house) of Hamburg, where she immediately had a sensational success in her first role, the Carmen. In the season 1890-1891 she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera New York.


as Brangäne


as Ortrud


as Adriano

Goetze_Adriano (1)

as Adriano


as Dalila


as Dalila


as Carmen Hamburg


as Fides in Le Prophete



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Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Contraltos

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