Step back in time to the turn-of-the-last century and an era known as the “Golden Age of Song” when Marcella Sembrich’s star shone brightly in the world of arts and letters.
The extensive and varied collection of the Sembrich Museum is on view in her former studio where she rehearsed and taught young vocalists. The collection includes fine and decorative arts, as well as personal mementos from a time when a prima donna of the opera stage was regarded as royalty in her day. Silver and gold tribute wreaths and colorful floral banners chronicle Madame Sembrich’s travels from opera house and concert hall to cities and towns ranging from St. Petersburg, Russia to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Facsimile autographs and letters (including a witty exchange with Mark Twain) recount the high esteem in which her colleagues, everyone from Giuseppe Verdi to Thomas Edison, held this “supreme artist.” Historic photographs relate the “rags to riches” story of a child prodigy from rural Poland and the career, which blossomed following her American debut at age twenty five in the newly-opened Metropolitan Opera. A stunning collection of silver loving cups from the likes of Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti recall a gala farewell to that career and the countless ovations that echoed through that grand opera house exactly a century ago.
Marcella Sembrich’s discerning eye for artwork and her Slavic sensibility is evidenced in the brooding landscapes of Polish artists Jan Chelminski and Joseph Brandt. Her delight in works by painters from her adopted country can be seen in American impressionist works, including a mystical watercolor by Arthur B. Davies. The great singer’s own likeness is captured in numerous paintings and pastels displayed throughout the collection, from a grand 1890 Paul Meyerheim portrait to exquisite, miniature paintings on ivory by I. C. Mackeown depicting the soprano in various operatic roles. Fine collectibles from a lifetime of travel, from Czechoslovak porcelain to silks from Japan, are on display; as are delicate fans, sparkling stage jewelry, medals bestowed on the singer by heads of state, even a tiny notebook once owned by “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind.
To accompany visitors on their journey into the past is the singing voice of Marcella Sembrich herself, captured on historic cylinders and early Victor discs, newly re-mastered onto CD. Or if, your visit coincides with a rehearsal for an upcoming concert, thrill to the strains of Chopin or Rachmaninoff performed on Sembrich’s own 1905 grand piano, recently restored to the exacting standards of Steinway & Sons.
The Sembrich Museum’s costume collection includes some twenty complete costumes and numerous accessories that were once worn by Marcella Sembrich during her distinguished operatic career. According to Robert Tuggle, Director of Archives at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Sembrich’s collection is “perhaps the finest surviving examples of the grandeur of opera in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.” This magnificent collection has been miraculously preserved, and together with photographs and recordings, sheds light on an early period of opera that has all but vanished. In 1983 the Metropolitan Opera selected Sembrich’s enchanting “Queen of the Night” costume for display in the Met lobby to mark the company’s centennial season.
Due to the fragile nature of the collection, costumes are selectively displayed and rotated from season to season. Visitors with a specific interest in viewing the costumes are advised to contact the Sembrich Museum in advance for updated information on the current season’s display.
Left: Aimee Dupont, Marcella Sembrich as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, circa 1900