Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Ema Destinová

Ema Destinová  is considered to be one of the greatest soprano opera singers of all time.  She was born Emilie Pavlina Věnceslava Kittlová on 26 February 1878, in Prague when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

She grew up in Milešov, about 50 km (31 miles) south of Prague.  At 14, she was sent to a German boarding school in Prague to learn German.  From the age of 13, her voice teacher had been Marie von Dreger Löwe-Destinn, and Ema eventually took her surname, Destinová, as an homage.

She had a short engagement at the Dresden Opera and in 1897 she was rejected by the Prague National Theatre.  However, in 1898 she debuted at the Berlin Court Opera where she won over the public.  She remained in Berlin until 1909 where she sang in 54 operas, including 12 premieres. 

In 1904, she debuted in London and appeared in several operas over the following two seasons.  In 1908, she debuted in New York at the Metropolitan.  In 1914, she returned to home after the start of WWI.  Due to her links with the Czech resistance, Austria-Hungary revoked her passport and she was under house arrest until the end of the war.  She returned to New York in 1919 but her voice had become rusty but she continued singing at the Met until 1921.

After returning to Czechoslovakia, which was now a new country, she married Joseph Halsbach, an officer in the Czechoslovak Air Force in 1923.  She retired in 1926 but her final concert performance was in London in 1928.  She passed away from a stroke in České Budějovice on 28 January 1930, a month before her 52nd birthday.

There's no doubt that she was talented.  She could play both the piano and the violin.  She was also fluent in Czech, German, Italian, French, and English which allowed her to sing in multiple languages.  She sang the first Carmen to be recorded.  

Here's a short video I found on YouTube so you can hear her voice.


A film, Božská Ema, "The Divine Emma" was released in 1979.  Although it was submitted as an entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 54th Academy Awards it wasn't nominated.

Ema Destinová is featured on the 2000 Kč banknote.

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