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Clara Louise Kellogg (1842 – 1916)
by Stephen E. Busch
In years gone by, some famous divas had a special food treat named after them. So George Auguste Escoffier made the Peach Melba for Dame Nellie Melba, the Australian opera star. Did Clara Louise Kellogg have an original dessert created in her name by some chef? She certainly had the recognition in America and abroad to have been so honored. Most writers state that she was the first American-born woman to be internationally acclaimed as an operatic star.
Like so many famous musicians, she exhibited facility on a number of instruments while a young child, especially piano, and it was discovered that she possessed what is called perfect pitch. She played the piano all her life, and even accompanied herself when singing encores in her concerts, an example of which she describes in her Memoirs of an American Prima Donna: "One night when I was singing a concert in Washington, I caught sight of him [Gen. Wm. T. Sherman] sitting quietly in the audience. He did not even know that I had seen him. Presently the audience wanted an encore and, as was my custom in concerts, I went to the piano to play my own accompaniment." She played and sang "The Little Log Cabin in the Lane," a song that she knew was a favorite of the general. They were good friends.
Clara Louise was born in Sumterville, SC, but apparently within a few months the family moved to Pine Meadow, CT, close by New Hartford where the family had historic roots. When she was fifteen the family moved to New York City and shortly she began serious voice training. Her teachers included Achille Errani and Emanuele Muzio, a well-travelled and experienced musician reputed to be a good friend of Verdi. It was Muzio who really guided her early career. In 1860 Muzio included Clara in a small opera group for a short tour beginning in Pittsburgh. She described herself as a "utility singer" appearing with the Belgian-born Pauline Colson and three Italians: Gaetano Ferri, baritone; Augustino Susini, basso; and Pasquale Brignoli, tenor, whom she described as "the first great tenor I ever heard." With Muzio conducting, it was an excellent group.
Her New York debut was as Gilda in Rigoletto at the Academy of Music on February 27, 1861. She was nineteen and a member of Muzio's group called The Associated Artists who were near the end of their season. Kellogg's Gilda was termed acceptable, but she scored her first real triumph in Donizetti's Linda de Chamounix on March 7, 1861, still at the Academy, again with Muzio conducting. The cast was the same as the 1860 Pittsburgh appearance. The group then left for Boston and a few more weeks of touring. Both her voice and her confidence were developing quickly. A great career was assured when she received accolades for her role as Marguerite in the New York premier of Gounod's Faust on November 25, 1863, again at the Academy of Music. An American operatic star was born during the Civil War!
For about twenty-six years, 1863-1889, Kellogg toured, interspersing opera performances with concerts that always included some operatic excerpts. She was a strong force for opera in English as the title of her company indicates: The Kellogg English Opera Company. Her tour managers were experienced and well known: Maurice Grau, C.D. Hess, Col. Henry Mapleson, Henry (the younger) Mapleson, Max Maretsek, Emanuuele Muzio, Major Pond, Maurice Strakosch, Max Strakosch, and Carl Strakosch whom she married in 1887.
Her European debut was in London on Nov. 2, 1867 at Her Majesty's Theatre, again using the role of Marguerite for a premier. The reserved English gave laudatory reviews. She performed frequently in London and European capitals, and was involved with performances in Buckingham Palace. Her European reputation was established. She even sang in the Petersburg Opera House, opening with La Traviata. Kellogg relates that "the subscribers were divided into three classes and a popular singer was demanded by all the subscribers for each of the three nights, and it was a novel sensation to conquer an entirely new audience each night."
Clara Louise claims to have crossed the Atlantic "fifty or sixty times," most with her ever-present mother, and she apparently did not suffer sea sickness as so many people did in those years of the relatively narrow-beamed ships.
Almost all professional performers, including musicians, must travel, and between 1860 and the late 1880's, the time span of Kellogg's public performances, her American tours had to use the railroads. Life on the road was not easy. She writes: "All tours were hard in those days. Traveling accommodations were limited and uncomfortable, and most of the hotels were very bad. Trains were slow, and connections uncertain, and of course there was no such thing as a pullman, or much less, a dining car. Sometimes we had to sit up all night and were not able to get anything to eat, not infrequently arriving too late for the meal hour of the hotel where we were to stop. The journeys were so long and difficult."
It is not surprising that all singers on all tours had one or more performances cancelled because of sickness or exhaustion, and this included Kellogg who prided herself on her work ethic and healthy habits. Nevertheless, she occasionally was ill and could not sing. When lead singers were incapacitated by illness, occasionally an ill singer's role could be sung by someone else, as with double casting done by some of the larger companies. Other times, and more frequently, the opera for that night was changed for another; or certain arias and ensembles that included the ill person were simply eliminated from the performance. All audiences were familiar with the changes caused by ill cast members; sometimes they complained, but they understood.
The following is an incomplete list of Kellogg's illnesses during tours in the 1873-1876 seasons as reported in some newspapers:
• Nov. 16, 17, 1873 in Cincinnati Kellogg was "too indisposed" to sing. [No further information.]
• Nov. 28, 29, 1873 Clara "had a severe cold" but sang.
• Early March, 1875 in Boston, Kellogg "was hoarse and had to be replaced."
• Nov. 8, 9, 1875 in Providence, she had "an ulcerated sore throat" and could not sing. "This gave general dissatisfaction" to the audiences.
• Feb. 21, 1876 in Baltimore, Kellogg "was taken ill" on Monday and Annie Montague subbed for her. Clara didn't sing until the Saturday night performance. Then Montague was ill!
However, compliments on Clara's singing were far more numerous than comments reported when she was "indisposed." On January 4, 1875 in Baltimore when Kellogg and Company performed Mignon: "Miss Kellogg was never in better voice and by her faultless singing added one more triumph to her already long list."
All of the dozens of touring opera companies of this period had a tour manager who with the star attraction set the time limit of the tour, performance sites, supporting cast, conductor, etc. Most tours began sometime in the fall and ended sometime in the spring. Many factors, personal and otherwise, determined the time span and the tour route. As her prestige grew, her influence grew on decisions of personnel, repertoire, and tour routes. She claimed to have toured throughout the country, but she rarely toured west of the Mississippi.
For the four seasons of 1873-1874 thru 1876-1877 Kellogg was under contract with the indefatigable C.D. Hess as her manager. Sources, largely from newspapers, provide the following sketch of the 1874-1875 tour of the Kellogg English Opera Company:
Tour Schedule (the following information is reasonably accurate):
Principal Cast Members
Soprano: Clara Louise Kellogg, Jennie Van Zandt
Contralto: Annie Beaumont, Addie Randall, Zelda Seguin [to Jan. 18]
Tenor: William Castle, Joseph Maas, W.Stanley
Baritone: G. C. Campbell [to about Jan. 25], William Carleton
Bass: George Conley [began about Feb. 15], Frank Howard, Henry Peakes, Edward Seguin [to Jan. 18]
Before the season began, A. Pedigram was announced as conductor, but apparently S. Behrens conducted for most of the season. In newspaper reviews the conductor was rarely named.
*This is about twice as many operas as most touring companies offered in one season. Max Strakosch once said "she knows forty operas and she knows them well."
After the tour was over, Kellogg continued to give concerts. On April 26 the entire company gave a benefit concert for their conductor, S. Behrens, in Philadelphia which may have been Kellogg's favorite performance site after Boston.
For the 1877-78 season Max Strakosch and Henry (the younger) Mapleson formed a Triple-Star-Tour featuring Kellogg, Annie Louise Cary and Marie Roze who was so popular in England. Roze was now married to Mapleson and there were times when she did not sing. When the group appeared in San Francisco the press reviews available to this writer did not mention the Triple-Star-Tour but named only the Kellogg-Cary Opera Company. No Roze. They began performances September 19 at Baldwin's Theatre and may have been there almost a month. On November 19 the Kellogg-Cary Company appeared at Turner Hall in Denver, apparently Kellogg's only time in Denver. The review made no mention of Roze or the Triple-Star name. As in San Francisco the cast included tenors Tom Karl and J. Graff, baritone Verdi (not the Verdi) and bass George Conly.
Kellogg and Cary presented some arias from Mignon and Don Carlos and then sang songs familiar to everyone, songs that were "heart warming," the reviewer wrote. After singing the polonaise from the fourth act of Mignon which showed "Miss Kellogg's splendid voice," the encore was "the plaintive little ballad ‘Janet's Choice,' which was sweet as summer roses kissed with dew, and gave a pleasant foretaste of what was in store later on, when ‘Annie Laurie' was reached and brought a double encore. To the first the response was ‘Beware,' sung to her own accompaniment. For the second she sang that ever new old song ‘The Last Rose of Summer' and in royal style… She looked and sang and smiled divinely and fully earned the applause and floral tributes showered upon her."
What of Cary's aria? "Miss Cary's greatest success, perhaps, was in ‘Old Folks at Home,' in response to a recall after the aria from Don Carlos." [What aria?] "Cary, being a heart-singer, finds her fullest expression in some sweet melody that reaches responsive chords in every heart like any touch of nature that makes the whole world kin." And later: "Twice she was called out, favoring the audience first with ‘Comin' Thru the Rye' and finally with ‘Fishes in the Sea.' Perhaps the song ‘Let Me Dream Again' was her best effort." Other arias and duets were from Don Giovani, La Traviata, Les Huguenots, The Magic Flute, and something from Martha. The concert closed with the quintet from the second act of Lucia di Lammermoor with Kellogg as Lucia. The reviewer commented only that "there was a trifle too much baritone in some passages."
All of the above were in the concert on November 19. On the 20th Miss Cary was ill and that would cause numerous changes in the program but they were not described in any review. Some of these same songs were used as encores in the larger eastern cities, but reviewers there did not rhapsodize over simple encores like the above Denver writer.
Kellogg's Memoirs was published in 1913, long after her final concert. Her likes and dislikes of numerous fellow singers are plainly described. Her comments about Emma Abbott are especially interesting when juxtaposed to the frequent assertion by writers that it was Kellogg who helped and encouraged Abbott in her early professional training. Kellogg does acknowledge that Abbott "would have got on, whether I had done anything for her or not. Of course, she was never particularly grateful to me. In the little ways that count she never actually evinced the least appreciation. Whenever we were in any way pitted against each other, she showed herself jealous and ungenerous. She made enemies in general by her lack of tact… Emma Abbott did appalling things with her art… Another thing that I never liked about her was the manner in which she puffed her own successes." But Kellogg did write that Abbott "was a very fine business woman."
Clara Louise had an extremely protective mother who certainly controlled much of her life. She accompanied Clara on most of her tours, both in America and Europe. "Perhaps I reaped certain benefits from my mother's close chaperonage. But I very much question its ultimate advantage to me, and I confess freely that one of the things I most regret is the innocent, normal coquetry which is the birthright of every happy girl and which I entirely missed and which I should have been better off for having. My mother could hardly let me hold a friendly conversation with a man, much less a flirtation."
Concluding a Career
Kellogg and Company appeared at Philadelphia on April 10, 12 and 14, 1882. On the 14th they gave Faust, which had been Clara's first great operatic success, and advertised this performance as her "Farewell to the Stage." Other cities on the tour also had the "Farewell to the Stage" routine. But it was not so. In 1884 Major Pond managed Kellogg's only Pacific northwest tour, and there were numerous other tours and concerts for at least the next five years. In 1889 she was still touring to the big cities and to Lawrence, Kansas and Des Moines, Iowa.
Her Memoirs seems to place her final concert at Oshkosh, WI, on the west shore of Lake Winnebago. She performed in the Grand Opera House that had opened in 1883 with The Bohemian Girl produced by the C.D. Hess Grand Opera Company, the same Hess that had managed Kellogg during 1873-1877. (The Grand was renovated during the 1980s and it is a delightful concert venue.) She writes: "At the close of the concert I remarked that having sung at Oshkosh, I was now indeed ready to leave the stage!" She gives no date for this concert. (The New Grove Dictionary of Music, 1992, states "she retired in 1877." Perhaps the date should be no earlier than 1889.)
Among her reasons for retiring was her mother's poor health. "More than once, when I went to the theatre, I had the feeling that she might not be alive when I returned home; and this was a nervous strain to me that, combined with a severe attack of bronchitis, brought about a physical condition which might have serious lasting results."
Apparently Clara's marriage to Carl Strakosch in 1887 was a happy one. They managed to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary at their home named Elpstone in New Hartford, CT. She died there May 13, 1916 after a year's illness from cancer. In an extensive article announcing her death, the New York Times mentioned the 25th anniversary celebration at Elpstone when after dinner "Mrs. Strakosch sat down at the piano and sang one of Godard's songs."
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