The Sound of the Hound #13: Emma Calvé

Diva alert! In episode four, Holley and Hall tell the story of the recording of one of opera’s greatest characters, Emma Calvé. Basking in the glory of having captured the voice of the mighty Enrico Caruso in Milan (as outlined in Series One of The Sound of the Hound), Fred goes on something of a recording spree back in London. But he gets more than he bargained for with Calvé, who proves to be something of a handful.

Calvé, who is today seen as one of the greatest opera singers of the Belle Epoque era, had made her name playing the lead role in Carmen when Fred records her (indeed, her interpretation of the role is still widely used today). But Fred and his team discover that the character’s feistiness is not confined to the stage when they try to coax Calvé into their Covent Garden studio. Holley and Hall tell the tale of this complex French diva, and play some of her famous – or as Fred would no doubt have it – infamous recordings. Her dissatisfaction with one of her tracks was caught on disc, and we play it here.

We are joined in this episode for the first time by our new regular guest Michael Volpe, the founder and former general director of Opera Holland Park. Michael brilliantly dissects Calvé’s voice and gives us an insight into her career. He also tells us if, to put it bluntly, she was really any good.

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