Geraldine Farrar was born on February 28, 1882, in Melrose, Massachusetts. She made her debut in Berlin in 1901 and sang three seasons with the Monte Carlo Opera before joining the Metropolitan Opera in the season of 1906-07. She performed many of the leading roles, but eventually settled on the roles of Madama Butterfly, Carmen, Manon, Mignon, Mimi, and Tosca, discarding the other roles. She brought her portrayal of Carmen to the screen under the direction of Cecil B. de Mille and starred in six of his silent films. After her retirement from the stage in 1931, Farrar served as commentator for the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts and became an active supporter of the American Red Cross, the Republican Party, and America First. She died March 11, 1967, in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
Farrar was a beauty: small and slender, with delicate, finely proportioned features. Her voice was splendid, and she used dramatic coloring effectively. She was also a strong (and professional) stage personality. When Toscanini (who insisted on musically controlling both orchestra and singers) came to the Met in 1908, he commented (for Farrar's benefit) "The stars are in heaven." Farrar's defiant reply: "There was also a human constellation that trod the Metropolitan boards to the renown of that institution and the gratification of the public; not to mention the box office." On another occasion during an interpretive dispute, she was a bit more rude (but hilarious) when she responded to Toscanini: "Remember, the audience pays to see my face, not your backside."
We may get some idea of how she sounded, how she looked on stage, by reading the reviewers who wrote of her opening night at the Met. Krehbiel of the Tribune:
She appeared as a beautiful vision, youthful, charming in face, figure, movement and attitude. She sang with a voice of exquisite quality in the middle register, and one that was vibrant with feeling almost always. She acted like one whose instincts for the stage were full and eager.And Aldrich, of the Times:
Her voice is a full and rich soprano, lyric in its nature and flexibility, yet rather darkly colored, and with not a little of the dramatic quality and with a power of dramatic nuance that she uses, in the main, skillfully.
This recording is of the famous aria from Madama Butterfly. The fact that it is not rushed through the mill testifies to Farrar's ability to exercise artistic control over her recorded performances.