Young Destinn

From reviews:

"Mme. Destinn, the new dramatic soprano from Berlin ... has a voice of great power, body, and vibrant quality, dramatic in expression, flexible and wholly subservient to her intentions which are those of a singer of keen musical feeling and intelligence."
Richard Aldrich of the New York Times, November 17, 1908.

Mit Emmy Destinn verließ und eine der größten Sängerinnen und der schönsten Stimmen dieses Jahrhunderts.
Richard Strauss, 1930

Destinn's greatest triumph however came as Cio-cio-san in the first performance of Madama Butterfly on 10 July (1905), which became a public favourite right from very beginning. Queen Alexandra attended the first three performances. "The weight of the evening was upon Miss Destinn's shoulders, and hers was the chief triumph. Puccini might have written this music for this artist, so aptly did it suit her voice and so brilliantly did she deliver it," wrote the Telegraph.
Harold Rosenthal: Two Centuries of Opera at Covent Garden, London 1958, p. 310.

Ich habe die Salome innerlich nie anders gehört, als von ihrer freundlichsten, farbigen Stimme, ich habe in allen ihren Rollen längst die Salome versteckt gesehn. Nun ist sie heraus, nun ist das Wunder geschehen. Was sind alle Edelsteine, die ihr Herodes anbietet, gegen diese Topase und Opale, Chrysopase und Achats, gegen diese Pflanzengärten und Königreiche in einem solchen Organ. Technisch nimmt sie es spielend, ihr Instinkt gibt ihr im Augenblick den Vortrag, die Dynamik, den Akzent. Und Störme farbiger Gluten fließen rot in ihr Forte, blaßblau in ihr Piano, tiefviolett in die Register des dunklen Geheimnisses ihrer Liebe.
Oscar Bie, Börsen Courier, Berlin ad 5. 12. 1906

Mlle Destinn achieved a veritable triumph through her superb impersonation of Aida. The beauty of her singing and the intense pathos she infused into her acting combined to make her interpretation one of quite extraordinary excellence. This wonderfully gifted artist is able to put tears into her voice and to identify herself completely with the character she is enacting. She has proved this several times during the present season by her unforgettable performances of "Madama Butterfly", Nedda in "Pagliacci" and Senta in "Der Fliegende Holländer". Aida is certainly one of her greatest parts.
Morning Post, London 16. 7. 1907

The great triumph of the production was Frl. Destinn as Armide - she looked magnificent, and sang and acted as if she had never breathed any atmosphere save that of chivalric romance. Surely an artist who can be in the course of a few days an ideal Aida, an unapproachable Senta, and a regal Armide - and might justly claim to be called a great artist if she did only one of these things - is a phenomenon almost unique in operatic history.
Word, London, 8. 6. 1908

    Emmy Destinn (1878 - 1930)

    Emmy Destinn was one of the greatest dramatic sopranos of the twentieth century and one of the most sought-after singers before WWI thanks to a voice of exceptional richness, power, and control. She sang with Enrico Caruso and other superb opera singers in the most prestigeous opera houses, such as Bayreuth, Berlin's Hofoper, London's Covent Garden and New York's Metropolitan. Destinn's passion for music led to many remarkable achievements in her career and was a great inspiration to her colleagues. She holds a prominent place in the history of opera.

    Life Chronology

    1878-1997 Early Years

    Emmy Destinn, née Emilie Paulina Venceslava Kittlova, was born on February 26, 1878 in an old Prague family as the oldest of five children. She was a child prodigy whose early interest in music was encouraged by her parents, both enthusiastic supporters of arts.

    Emmy first studied violin with Ferdinand Lachner and acting with Otylie Sklenarova-Mala. From 1892 to 1897 she studied voice with mezzosoprano Marie von Dreger-Loewe who was known under her artistic pseudonym Destinn which Emmy later adopted as a tribute to her beloved teacher.

    1898-1909 Berlin

    Emmy Destinn's entrance onto the operatic stage was far from smooth, however. She was rejected by three opera houses (Prague's National Theatre, Dresden's Semper Opera and Berlin's Theater des Westens) before she finally debuted in Berlin's Hofoper in 1898. Her very first performance of Santuzza on 19.7.1898 was an immediate success.

    For the next decade Destinn enjoyed success after success in Berlin. She sang in 43 roles, most often as Santuzza, Carmen a Mignon, and made 706 stage appearances at the Hofoper. The triumph of Destinn's Berlin’s engagement was her stunning performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome, first performed on 5.12.1906, with the composer conducting the orchestra.

    1901-1902 Bayreuth

    At Bayreuth, where she was invited by Wagner’s widow Cosima, Destinn was given an enthusiastic reception as Baureth’s very first Senta. Her artistic achievements during the two guest seasons at Bayreuth opened doors to major European opera houses, including London’s Covent Garden.

    1904-1919 London

    For twelve spring seasons between 1904 and 1919 Destinn performed in London, making 225 appearances in 18 operas on Covent Garden’s stage. One of her most acclaimed performances at Covent Garden was the London premiere of Madama Butterfly on 18.7.1905, with Enrico Caruso as her partner. Caruso and Destinn performed together at 47 occasions in London, in a succession of operas including Cavalleria Rusticana, Aida, Les Huguenots, Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly, Andrea Chenier, Tosca, and Un Ballo in Maschera.

    1908-1916 New York

    Destinn debuted at the Metropolitan Opera on 16.11.1908 in Aida. Enrico Carusso was her partner and Arturo Toscannini conducted the Metropolitan's orchestra. Destinn performed eight full seasons at the Met where she made 249 stage appearances in 21 roles. Her most acclaimed role at the Metropolitan was Minnie, with Carusso and Toscanini, in the world premiere of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

    Her return from the midst of the New York season of 1915-1916 to war-torn Europe had a fateful consequences for Destinn's career. Her links with the patriotic resistance movement at home resulted in her confinement by the authorities to her summer residence at Straz nad Nezarkou in South Bohemia. Her unvoluntary two-year absence from the Met had meanwhile opened doors for a new generation of singers.

    1918-1923 Prague

    As the war drew to its end, Destinn was allowed to sing at least at Prague's National Theatre. She made 82 appearances on its stage, most frequently as Milada (13 times), Marenka (12) and Libuse (9). She also performed in theatres in Pilsen, Brno, and several other venues. The audiences everywhere greeted her with enthusiastic manifestations of support for her patriotism which was central to Destinn's character.

    1919-1923 European Tours

    During her entire career Emmy Destinn promoted Czech Opera. She was instrumental in staging The Bartered Bride in New York on February 19, 1909, where it was performed under the baton of Gustav Mahler. She also made possible a performance of Dalibor in Berlin on October 10, 1909. She had popularised arias and scenes from Libuse, The Devil's Wall, The Secret, The Kiss, Rusalka, The Jacobin, and Jenufa. She also presented an exclusively Czech repertoire during her first post-war tour with the Czech Quartet, violinist Jaroslav Kocian and a choral ensemble, touring London, Paris, Geneva, Berne and Zürich. Twenty-five years after her début, in the 1922/1923 season, she bid farewell to regular artistic activity with her concert tour to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo and guest appearances on home stages in Pilsen, Bratislava, Ostrava, Brno, and at Sarka and Vysehrad in Prague, where she sang to thousands in Madama Butterfly and in Coronation of Libuse, composed by Rudolf Zamrzla to her own libretto.

    Emmy Destinn died unexpectedly of a stroke, while visiting her doctor in Ceske Budejovice, on January 28, 1930.

    Gilly and Destinn
    Baritone Dinh Gilly and Soprano Emmy Destinn in Smetana's opera Libuse

    Dennis, James: Emmy Destinn Discography. In: The Record Collector 20, nos. 1 & 2 (1971): 29-45.
    Harvey, Hugh H.: List of Records. In: The Gramophone, March 1939, 447-451.
    Kralik, Jan: Discography of Emmy Destinn. Jindrichuv Hradec: Emmy Destinn Club, 1998.
    Meadmore, W. & H. Little: Gramophone Celebrities XXV - Emmy Destinn. In: The Gramophone, April 1930, 491-494.
    Pospisil, Miloslav: Diskografie. In: M. Pospisil: Velike srdce - Ema Destinnova. Praha: Supraphon, 1974. Pp. 158-171. (2nd ed. 1980, pp. 234-248).
    Rektorys, Artus: Gramofonove desky. In: A. Rektorys: Ema Destinnova. Praha: Otto Girgal, 1936, 181-182.
    Schubert, Antonin: Prehled gramofonovych nahravek Emy Destinnove. (A List of Gramophone Records of Emmy Destinn) In: Ema Destinnova. By V. Holzknecht et al. Praha: Panton, 1972 (1974, 1981), 283-297.
    Sova, Jiri: Kompletni seznam gramofonovych desek nazpivanych Emou Destinnovou (The Complete List of Recordings of Emmy Destinn, released on record). In: Kralovna zpevu Ema Destinnova. by E. Hartman. Prague: Orbis, 1995, 193-201.
    The Complete Destinn. 12 CDs. Prague: Supraphon (Ultraphon Edition), 1994.

    LP Reeditions
    Belcantodisc (England): Emmy Destinn. Eb 29; 4 items
    Discophilia (Germany): Carmen /Complete/. KS-1/3; 19 items
    Discophilia (Germany): Faust /Complete/. KS-4/6; 16 items
    O.A.S.I. (USA): Emmy Destinn. 603; 13 items
    Olympus (England): Emmy Destinn. ORL 228; 12 items
    Preiser (Austria): Emmy Destinn. Court Opera Classics CO 307; 14 items
    Preiser (Austria): Emmy Destinn II. Court Opera Classics CO 364; 14 items
    Rococo (Canada): Emmy Destinn. Cantilena 6202; 16 items
    Scala (USA): Emmy Destinn Sings. 804; 11 items
    Supraphon (Czechoslovakia, 1959): Ema Destinnova. DV 5558; 7 items
    Supraphon (Czechoslovakia, 1976): Ema Destinnova. 0 12 1835; 14 items
    Supraphon (Czechoslovakia, 1986): Ema Destinnova - Czech Repertoire. 1116-4131/32; 33 items
    Supraphon (Czechoslovakia, 1989): Ema Destinnova - German Repertoire. 11 0319/20; 29 items
    Supraphon (Czechoslovakia, 1989): Ema Destinnova - Wagnerian Repertoire. 11 0120/21; 29 items
    Single items on LPs of labels: Edison Foundation, RCA-Victor, Club 99, Design, T.A.P., Gala, SUA, Odeon, Heritage.

    CD Reeditions
    Marston (2000): Carmen - The First Complete Recording. 52022; 45 items.
    Pearl-Koch (1996): Emmy Destinn - A selection of her very finest recordings. 9172; 21 items.
    Romophone (USA, 1993): Emmy Destinn - The Complete Victor Recordings 1914-21. 81002-2 A/B; 37 items
    Supraphon (Czech Republic, 1999): The Complete Destinn. 12 CD. 11 2136-2 600; 214 items
    Ultraphon (Czech Republic, 1993): Emmy Destinn - Soprano. 11 1337; 20 items
    Ultraphon (Czech Republic, 1994): The Complete Destinn. 12 CD. 11 2136; 214 items
    Vocal Archives (Italy, 1995): Emmy Destinn - Her Berliner´s Records and G&T Recordings. VA 1108; 25 items
    Nimbus Records: Emmy Destinn. Prima Voce Series. NI 7910; 21 items

    Literary works

    Krouzek ceskych zen. Comedy in verses (1896)
    Nastoleni Libusino. Libretto
    Sturm und Ruhe. Poetry (1902)
    Der galante Abbe. Poem
    Rahel. Drama (1908)
    Tune. Drama
    U cile. Theatre play
    Pod praporem umeni. Theatre play
    Dvoji hrich. Theatre play
    Pan doktor Casanova. Novel (1915)
    Ve stinu modre ruze. Novel (1924)


    A cycle of twelve songs Zahrada srdce (1919). Text by Adolf Wenig. Recorded and released on CD by Nibiru (2012).


    Bajerova, Marie: O Eme Destinnove. Praha: Vysehrad, 1979 (1980).
    Bilgora, Adam. Emy Destinn (1878-1930). Booklet notes. Nimbus Records, 2003.
    Destinn, Emmy: Sturm und Ruhe. Berlin: Carl Duncker, 1902.
    Destinnova, Ema: Zahrada srdce. A cycle of 12 songs. Text by Adolf Wenig. Leipzig: Mojmir Urbanek, 1919.
    Destinnova, Ema: Basne. Translated from German by Jan Kralik. Lyra Pragensis: Prague 1988.
    Destinnova, Ema: "Basne a dopisy priteli." (Poems and letters to a friend.) Edited by Ludek Hartl. Literarni archiv Nos. 13–15 (1982).
    Destinnova, Ema: Boure a klid. Poems. Czech translation Jan Kralik. Jindrichuv Hradec: Emmy Destinn Club, 1995.
    Destinnova, Ema: Pan doktor Casanova. Translation Vaclav Smejkal. Praha: Vysehrad, 1988.
    Destinnova, Ema: Ve stinu modre ruze. Novel. Trebon: Druzstvotisk, 1924-1925.
    Hartman, Emil: Kralovna zpevu Ema Destinnova. Praha: Orbis, 1995.
    Holzknecht, Vaclav et al.: Ema Destinnova. Praha: Panton, 1972 (1974, 1981).
    Hradska, Viktorie: Commedia finita. Praha: Dilia, 1984.
    Kralik, Jan: "Emmy Destinn - Life and Art." In: The Complete Destinn, Prague: Ultraphon, 1994.
    Kralik, Jan: Emmy Destinn. Exhibition Catalogue. Prague: National Muzeum, 1998.
    Mares, Vladislav: "Po premiere." In: Amor a slavici. Praha: Dar Ibn Rushd, 1994. Pp. 128-227.
    Martinkova, Marie: Strazska cerna pani - zivot Emy Destinnove. Plzen: Kosnar, 1940.
    Martinkova, Marie: Zivot Emy Destinnove. Plzen: Kosnar, 1946.
    Plevka, Bohumil: Z poslednich dopisu Emy Destinnove. Teplice: Dum kultury, 1987.
    Plevka, Bohumil: Zivot a umeni Emy Destinnove. Praha: AZ Servis, 1994.
    Pospisil, Miloslav: Ema Destinnova, ceska pevecka legenda. Praha: Brana, 2008.
    Pospisil, Miloslav: Velke srdce - Ema Destinnova. Praha: Supraphon, 1974 (1980).
    Rektorys, Artus: Ema Destinnova. Praha: Otto Girgal, 1936.
    Rektorys, Artus: "Ema Destinova." Translation George Nyklicek. In: The Record Collector, 20, Nos. 1, 2 (1971): 6-28.
    Stach, Adolf: Velka rybarka Ema. Vimperk: Carpio, 1994.


    Film Documents and Documentaries, Movies
    Destinn at the horse races (Prague, 1908)
    Destinn at the coronation of the King George V. (London, 1911)
    Destinn and Enrico Caruso in Les Huguenots on the stage of the Metropolitan (New York, 1912-1915)
    Destinn and her friends on the steps of her mansion (Straz nad Nezarkou, 1917)
    Macht des Gesangs oder Die Loewenbraut (The Power of Singing or The Lion´s Bride). With Emmy Destinn. Produced by Hans Ewers, Berlin 1912/1913. [lost]
    Bozska Ema. With Bozidara Turzonovova as Emmy Destinn. Produced by Jiri Krejcik, Praha 1979, Czechoslovakia, 110 min. (VHS Barrandov 1997).
    Samota duse me. Documentary film about the life of Emmy Destinn. Theme: Frantisek Laudat. Script writer / Director: Petr Skala. Prague 2003, Czech Republic, 59 min.

    Collections and permanent exhibitions:
    Photographs and theatre programs in the archives of Prague's National Theatre, Berlin's Hofoper, London's Covent Garden, New York's Metropolitan etc.
    Destinn's correspondence and theatre programs in the archives of the National Museum of Prague, Czech Republic.
    Emmy Destinn's Room. Museum of the Town of Jindrichuv Hradec, South Bohemia, Czech Republic.
    Emmy Destinn Exhibition in the Straz nad Nezarkou castle, South Bohemia, Czech Republic.

    ElisabettaMiladaMinnieMignonSalomeCarmenmp3 sampleLibuseSarkaMadama ButterflyToscaValentineAida

    Based on a text by Jan Kralik (1998). This English version © The Kapralova Society, 1999-2019. The Emmy Destinn page is part of our internet project dedicated to women in music.