15 November 2009

Anna Case is Made

When the curtain rose at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on the evening of November 15, 1909, it is a fair bet that many in the audience were not there to see Carl Burrian in the title role of Tannhauser, or superstar diva Johanna Gadski as Elizabeth, but rather to see Anna Case, the blacksmith's daughter from the little village of South Branch, New Jersey, in the first of her 154 appearances with the Metropolitan Opera.





Anna's road from shooing flies in her father's shop to the grand opera stage was a steady climb - from singing in the local church choir, to becoming choir director and organist at the Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church, to being the featured soloist at the First Presbyterian Church in Plainfield - a gig that paid her $24 a month, just barely enough to rent a room at 225 East Fifth Street.



During this time she was also taking lessons from Madame Augusta Ohrstrom Renard - who secured her an even better paying job singing at a church in Brooklyn. Although she would later protest that she was never "discovered" - that it had been her own hard work all along that led to her success - Anna's big break came when she attended a reception for outgoing New Jersey governor Edward Stokes in Sea Girt. When she was invited to the stage to sing, the governor was apparently knocked out. He secured an engagement for Anna at Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford Hotel where she would sing weekdays from four to six p.m. - accompanying herself on piano.





It was during this engagement that she was first heard by members of the Metropolitan Opera, Johanna Gadski and manager Andreas Dippel among them. Mr. Dippel arranged for an audition at a hotel in Manhattan. With opera star Geraldine Farrar playing her accompaniment, Anna wowed the Met management and was promptly signed to a contract.



In her own words. "I really didn't appreciate all it meant until I told my singing teacher. She said, 'You are made.' I said, 'I am not so sure, you really can't tell from a beginning.' She replied, 'This beginning is the end; it is all up to you from now on.'


No sooner had the ink dried on Anna's first contract than the publicity machine was out in full force. Stories about Anna's humble beginnings began appearing in local newspapers across the country six months before she had sung a note.


South Branch played the central role in the myth-making that was to come, and that continued for the next 20 years and beyond. Throughout the rest of her distinguished opera, concert, recording, and radio career, she was always known as the blacksmith's daughter from that little New Jersey village.

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