26 Singers Who Surmounted All Barriers
Their Genius Made Them Immortal
I glory in tales of women who, through beauty or talent, jump lower-class origins and burst as queens upon the glamorous grand world. No historical company of women did so more powerfully than the great opera divas of the past.
Their rich visual and print legacy inspired my collage-based artworks and led me to tell their stories.
DIVA Museum presents twenty-six opera stars through whose voices two centuries of colorful cultural history unfold.
DIVA Museum celebrates their images and brings their life stories into wider circulation. Twenty-six sirens of song summon us across two centuries; join me in experiencing their beguiling magic.
Amazing Tidbits from Epic Lives
By day a contralto in Paris Opèra; by night a sword-wielding bisexual lover and protector of women
Cuzzoni: Handel threatened to throw her out window when she balked at singing an aria written for another. Bordoni: Legendary fistfight onstage with “Rival Queen” Cuzzoni, with two women pulling each others’ “coiffs” and screaming Italian insults.
Paris Opèra star whose intelligence and charm captured foremost Enlightenment minds Rousseau, Beaumarchais, Franklin.
Serf soprano marries master; their love story inspires Russian serf Emancipation.
Painted by Reynolds and Romney as St. Cecilia, patron saint of music.
Superhuman crescendo across three octaves from mighty blast to just-audible whisper made her international idol.
Created ten Rossini dramatic soprano roles and then married him.
Flexible voice sang both male and female roles; opera’s first dramatic actress.
First American diva; back in Europe, her youth, beauty and desperate intensity drove tens of thousands of fans wild.
Inserting dramatically powerful spoken words into vocal line made her “Queen of Tears” and Wagner’s muse.
Sang “Queen of the Night” aria on tabletops at 8; later toast of German opera world and ambassador’s wife.
First modern use of word “diva” as hyberbolic superlative applied to her Norma in 1830.
Queen Victoria’s friend; 30,000 New Yorkers met “Barnum’s Bird” when her ship arrived; 5,000 attended her first concert.
Pauline Garcia Viardot
Artist of high-minded purpose immortalized as Romantic heroine in George Sand and George Eliot novels.
First African-American concert celebrity in US and abroad; command performance for Queen Victoria.
Supported her family from 7 to 15 touring America singing arias from "La Somnambula," "Norma," and "Il Barbiere;" wore special bodice of 3,700 diamonds in "La Traviata" ballroom scenes.
In first Bayreuth Ring 1876, under Wagner’s direction, played Rhinemaiden Woglinde, Forest Bird, and Valkyrie Helmwige; matchless range and repertoire: 170 roles in 119 different operas.
First African-American to sing at White House; successful European concert career.
Daughter of Maine farmers is first American to master, under Cosima Wagner, all Wagner’s heroic soprano roles.
Sang 4,000 Carmens, including for Sultan of Constantinople and his seraglio; learned secrets of breath control from Hindu monk Swami Vivi Kananda.
Crystalline voice enchanted Covent Garden for 40 years; Melba Toast and Peach Melba created for her.
Most famous African-American woman of 1900 for leading Black Patti Troubadours in “Operatic Kaleidescope."
Minnesota pioneer woman conquers Europe; rehearsed for Met "Salome" with a real 12-pound severed head and JP Morgan banned show after one shocking performance.
Risqué café singer turned opera star and “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” collected diamonds, Russian princes, and 840 marriage proposals.
Sang alongside Caruso; adored by young female “Gerryflappers"; her 1908 dress account at Bendel’s reportedly ran to $80,000 per year.
Text and collage images published by DIVA Museum in 2014 in A Diva Story-Book: 26 Singers Who Surmounted All Barriers; Their Genius Made The Immortal. All content republished digitally here in 2018. ©Author and artist Kathleen McDermott, DIVA Museum. Please credit.
About DIVA Museum
Video: My artistic process and how I got started with the Divas.
Video: How Divas Changed the Cultural Dialogue About Women