A biography and CD of Hariclea Darclée


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?" There are many possible answers, but I shall restrict myself to three.


Cantatrice celebre

When in 1912 Gino Monaldi published his famous book Cantanti Celebri Del Secolo XIX his fifteenth and final chapter dealing with the 1890's mentions the two tenor names of Alessandro Bonci and Enrico Caruso in one breath with a single soprano: Hariclea Darclée. The previous chapter goes back to Verdi's Otello premiere and distinguishes the names of Victor Maurel, Fransesco Tamagno, Gemma Bellincioni and Mattia Battistini. With the exception of Darclée all these names are still famous today. And there are many, many other names of singers that Monaldi only mentions in a single line, that are almost as famous as the ones he mentions in headlines. Thus Darclée today can't even stand in the shadow of a Fanny Toresella, Angelica Pandolfini, Cesira Ferrani or her great Romanian predesessor Elena Teodorini. The reason naturally being that we have no evidence of her voice, as there are no recordings apart from two one minute takes of Romanian songs made when she was well in her sixties. Yet she recorded between six to ten aria's for Fonotipia, among which are some of her own creations. Unfortunately Roberto Bauer tells us that the known ones were lost in the war, whereas the question if any of Darclées Fonotipia titles has been issued remains open. Perhaps some testpressings were distibuted, as Bauer mentions having known several persons who actually possesed some, but these people aren't among us today. And even if some of those famous Fonotipias survived, it would be sheer luck when someone would recognize them, as they have no shiny labels saying that this is a genuine Darclée 78RPM.

Alas, the year 1900 was not only the year when Darclée created Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, but also the watershed year for the shift in arguments upon which a singers posterity would come to rest: recordings. Still Monaldi's valuation counts when it comes to recognizing the true value of Darclée.

A Collectors Holy Grail

A more personal reason for my interest in Darclée concerns the fact that she created my favorite opera ­ Pietro Mascagni's Iris. When I discovered the work, somewhere in the late eighties through the wonderful recording with Ilona Tokody and Plácido Domingo, I was enraptured and went looking for more of the same. Subsequently I found a tape from a little known Iris recording of Magda Olivero and Salvatore Puma (now on cd), that had an alteration of which the effect completely knocked me out. It is at the point where Osaka tries to stir Iris sexual awakening while the girl keeps seeing him as the puppet of Sungod Jor. In the Olivero–Puma recording the lines between Iris repeated 'Figluol del sol!" are cut, which brings about an amazing climax. Basically that was the point of no return: I had to know everything about this opera and it's composer. I soon discovered the names of the original principles: Fernando De Lucia and... Hariclea Darclée. The next day I stumbled over Michael Henstocks outstanding Fernando De Lucia biography which I read in a single breath. For a while I was happy to collect De Lucia's famous recordings on Rubini and other extravagant historical labels, until I felt a gap: where were the notorious recordings of Darclée? They intrigued me especially after reading Leo Riemens Great Operabook, where he mentioned possesing well over seventy 'Vissi d'arte's from Puccini's Tosca, while the only one that had always eluded him was the one made by it's legendary creatrice ­ Hariclea Darclée.

So this woman had not only created Mascagni's Iris, for which alone she deserved un trono vicino al sol, but she had also created Tosca in one of the most steamy worldpremieres ever, complete with bombalerts, terrorist threats and anti Puccini claques. The missing recordings came up once more when I read in the text segment of Nuova Era's Genovese Voice Anthology, that the ultimate collectors dream would be stumbling on one of them in a fleemarket. Darclées recordings were presented with just the right word to feed my curiosity - as a collectors Holy Grail!

Unique verismo creatrice

High time for some thorough research. At the time I was already writing on opera for various Dutch newspapers and magazines and had access to all sorts of archives and books. Yet the results of my inquiries were futile. The knowledge about Darclée was restricted to what Kutsch-Riemens Grosses Sängerlexicon and a few other encyclopedias wrote. From those I learned the date of her presumed debut, and the stunning list of major works that she had presented to the world throughout the 1890s. After her Paris debut in December 1888, Darclées career takes wing with the prestigious European premiere of Glinka's La Vie pour le Tsar in Nice, on January 30, 1890. On February 21, 1891 this notbale Russian prelude was crowned with her creation of Odaléa in Gomes magnificent opera Condor (as Odaléa available on cd Masterclass Brazil MC 007-1) at La Scala. Alfredo Catalani's La Wally followed on January 20 of 1892 and Luisa in Pietro Mascani's I Rantzau followed on November 10 of the same year. When the great conductor Luigi Mancinelli needed a soprano for the spectacular operatic version of his oratorio Ero e Leandro on November 30, 1897 it was again Darclée who created the soprano part. Iris follows in 1998, Tosca in 1900.

Condor, La Wally, Ero e Leandro, Iris and Tosca ­ Darclée practically created verismo on her own! And on top of that she created many other works by Mascagni and Puccini abroad or in other cities then they were premiered in, among others Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, which she already made her own in the very year of it's premiere. In the following years she took up both Massenets Manon and Puccinis Manon Lescaut, which she both createed for Spain. There, or in Russia, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, Brasil and elsewhere she did the same for Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and Zazà and Puccini's la Bohème – to name but a few!

Now that is what I call a Leading Lady, who moreover lived her life much in the same way as her heroines: she was the mistress of Portugals King and of Puccini as well as of his first Scarpia ánd Cavaradossi, respectively Eugenio Giraldoni and Emilio De Marchi.

There is your book!

René Seghers.

Realised in 2012.

The life and times of Hariclea Darclée

Along with the book, we will present a CD and a renewed website, on which we will present The Life and Times of Hariclea Darclée in recordings of the Diva, and her contemporaries. In this context, we have collected some UNIQUE RECORDINGS, that have NEVER been heard since the beginning of the twentieth Century! In presenting these recordings, we aim to reconstruct her performances as a whole, as complete as possible, from 1888 onwards. The CD will contain selected recordings; the website will eventually present hundreds of recordings, photographs and other documents.