The Queen of verismo


The Hariclea Darclée biography has been ‘in the making’ since 1988. The main text was finished in 2014. Since then I used the time for corrections and the design of the book  which was done by graphic designer Dick Bak. At this moment in 2021 the book is ready for print. The probable publishing of the book) depends on financing the printing of it. I devoted 25 years of my life to reconstructing Darclée’s career in the perspective of her time. In all scenarios that was time well spent on a labour of love. People sometimes ask me if I wouldn’t be sad if it would never be published? The answer is:

‘Quite the opposite. I wish my labour of love to all those who, like me, are curious about this enigmatic Diva. I wrote the book out of personal fascination with the creator of my favourite operas Iris and La Wally. During these 33 years she became a spiritual companion. To me it was worth everything that I have invested in it over the years. If there are enough people interested in this beautiful book, I will gladly share it with others, but if I am the only person to whom it was worth enough, I will still be very happy with the results. For the book to be printed in a limited high quality edition we need 60 people buying the book in advance at € 50,-- (excl. shipping from the Netherlands). Or we need a blend between pre-sales and ‘sponsors’, donating up to € 3.000,-- in total. Once this amount is secured the book will be printed’.

René Seghers, May 2022.


Number of pages: 430+ pages on quality paper.
Photographs: Over 100 photographs.
Design: Lavish design, full colour print. Hard cover with wrapping.
Content: Detailed and critical account of Darclée’s life and times (it is NOT a hagiography: Darclée celebrated incredible victories and suffered tragic defeats, both in her personal life and in her career. Readers can rejoice in her triumphs and mourn her increasingly tragic sorrows, up to the heartbreaking end).
Chronology: 70+ page detailed career chronology/ discography.
Publisher: 40DutchOperas


The number of times that I have been asked “Why on earth are you writing a biography on Hariclea Darclée?” is perhaps only surpassed by the question “Who is Darclée?”

Hariclea Darclée was much more than just the Maria Callas or Anna Netrebko of her day. Certainly, she was the operatic idol of the 1890s, but today’s singers sing Darclée’s creations. Along with Gemma Bellincioni Darclée created the core of the verismo repertoire. Gemma created Cavalleria Rusticana and Fedora, Darclée created La Wally, Condor, I Rantzau, Iris and Tosca. Puccini wanted her for Manon Lescaut in 1894, but could not yet afford her. Giulio Ricordi’s pleading and begging couldn’t persuade her to leave her Teatro Real Madrid season for an uncertain creation of a work by a unknown composer. Once the Turin world premiere of Manon Lescaut made headlines she cancelled her contract with the Teatro Real and took the first train to La Scala, where she stepped in as the Manon of Puccini’s dreams. Puccini was infatuated with her. It was then and there that he started working on Tosca, from the start with Darclée in mind.


In Brasil Darclée inspired fantasy novels of her alleged life together with local composer Carlos Gomes, whose marvelous opera Condor she created at la Scala 1891. Her accompanist at the time may have learned a trick or two from the rehearsals. His name: Ruggero Leoncavallo. Legendary are her beginnings in Paris 1886, when she was studying at the conservatory, when Gounod’s scouts plucked her from classes to create Juliette in the grand opera version of his already legendary Roméo et Juliette, alongside Jean de Reszke. At that age, stage-fright and intrigues prevented her debut in one of the most prestigious world premieres of the era, which she had to leave to Adelina Patti, the fading idol of an era that was already gone by then. Vengeance was sweet. Patti fled from Paris under a storm of bad reviews. When Darclée stepped in she had the sympathy of the press. From Russia to Nice and from Monaco to Buenos Aires, Italy, Spain and elsewhere Darclée would onwards be promoted as ‘the Diva who had hurled Patti out of Paris’. Her further career could be described as ‘the stuff of legend’, if weren’t so real. There were unbelievable love affairs with Don Carlos of Portugal, aspiring young singers such as Andres Perello de Segurola or stars like Emilio De Marchi and Eugenio Giraldoni up to Puccini. Catalani dedicated La Wally to her. She single-throatedly salvaged la Scala in 1890. Her tours through South America and Russia provide unbelievable stories. There were bankruptcies, bitter rivalries, there were triumphs and eventually also defeats.


Haricli’s little girl to the rebellious young woman who ran off with army officer Georges Hartulary, a gambling womanizer. They married, she became pregnant and with the last of their money Hariclea decided to try and build a career in… Paris! The amazing thing about her life is that every time she left everything behind in an all or nothing attempt to start over, a fairy appeared that turned the impossible odds in her favour. In Paris, on the verge of begging, she was plucked from classes to become the creator of Juliette at the Paris Opera. When intrigues by De Reszke and Melba cut short her career there in 1889, she survived in the opera troupe of the colourful impresario Raoul Gunsbourg, a landsman from Romania who created the legend of ‘the diva who hurled Patti out of Paris’.

In 1890 she decided to try her luck in Milan. She wasn’t stopped by the fact that she did not speak Italian and that she  knew only one person there, Ruggero Leoncavallo, at that time a pianist repetitor without means and merely dreaming to make it as a composer. He helped Hariclea with solfège when the next miracle happened: the La Scala impresarios walked under the balcony where Darclée was rehearsing with Leoncavallo. She was hired on the spot as the leading Diva of the 1890 season, creating Carlos Gomes’s Condor, the Italian premiere of Tannhäuser and La Wally in the process.

By the end of the season Darclée was the leading Diva of a new era, the Queen of verismo. Her unchallenged reign lasted a full ten years, with the January 14 1900 Tosca creation as the apex. In the first decade of the 20th century competiton became fierce, but by then the operatic ‘repertoire’ was largely established. Whereas in Darclée’s days each year saw a new masterpiece, the new century saw only one new addition to the repertoire per ten years or so. Until 1926 a singer was very lucky to have but one successful creation behind her name. What Bellincioni and Darclée achieved together was unbelievable. They were the monstres sacrées of verismo, the idols of Puccini, Mascagni, Catalani, Gomes, Giordano, Massenet, Gounod and Leoncavallo.


The book enables the reader to relive all those legendary creations and ultimately also the tragedies in Darclée’s life. No voice remains in power forever. Darclée’s luck ran out in 1904, when she signed a mysterious recording contract with Fonotipia, that never produced the stuff the world was waiting for: published recordings that documented her legendary creations. She did record them, but they remained unpublished and have never materialized. The book follows the making of those recordings from contract to studio, and from there to their destruction in the Allied bombings of Berlin.  Is all hope lost that one or two of her Fonotipias survived? No. There is a spark of hope to be found in the book, but I did not have the financial means to follow the leads to the source. I have stalled the publication of the book for nearly a decade, hoping I might find the support needed, but in the end I had to accept that Darclée is my own madness.


I devoted 25 years of my life to the research and writing of Darclée’s biography. I had incredible support from many people in research and in editing and designing this gorgeous book. It is one of the best researched biographies in opera and certainly one of the most beautifully designed ones. Other gorgeous books in this field have served as my inspiration, if it is the Battistini book by Jacques Chuillon, the Massenet bio, the Milka Ternina book, Landini’s Italian Franco Corelli bio or Henstock’s De Lucia biography. Together with graphic designer Dick Bak I have turned the Darclée biography into the book of my dreams. No effort was spared, the cover art gives a fair idea of the interior, with its Jugendstil look and feel. I have personally restored all 100+ photos to pristine, scratch, wear and tear free condition. We have colourized black and white photographs in cases where the original colours of the costumes were known from drawings.