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Emma Juch

by Stephen E. Busch

Emma Juch (1863-1939) grew up in a family of modest wealth. Her father was Justin Juch, an Austrian by birth, and her mother, Augusta Hahn Juch, was of "French-Hanoverian" birth, both naturalized Americans at Emma's birth on July 4, 1863, in Vienna. Unlike the early life of Emma Abbott, Emma Juch's story is not one of rags-to-riches but, perhaps, comfort to riches.

Her father, described as a "musician, artist and inventor" in one source and a "music professor" in another, at first did not want her to pursue a professional singer's life. From about 14 to 16 years of age she studied voice with Madam Murio-Celli without her father's knowledge. But he did attend what has been called her debut performance in 1879 in Chickering Hall, New York, in a Pupil's Concert. Her father, supposedly sitting in the front row, was amazed at her singing and from then on encouraged her musical studies.

Emma JuchWhen but 18 years old (1881) Col. Henry Mapleson, an indefatigable opera impresario, engaged her for his operatic season at Her Majesty's Theatre in London. There she made her operatic debut as Filina in Thomas' Mignon and sang there for three years (seasons) with Mapleson, appearing as Leonora in Il Trovatore, Marguerite in Faust, Gilda in Rigoletto, Valentine in Les Huguenots, Queen of the Night and Pamina in The Magic Flute, Isabella in Robert le Diable, Violetta in La Traviata, and the title roles of Martha and Aida. She received accolades from the British audiences, and Mapleson knew that he had a winner.

In Mapleson's off-season in London, Juch returned to America and made her operatic debut at the old Academy of Music, 14th Street and Irving Place, on October 21, 1881, again singing Filina, and again receiving great ovations. Oscar Thompson, in his The American Singer, relates: "Miss Juch's voice was one of unusually lovely quality and extraordinary purity. Mistress of four languages, her singing in English was much commended for its clarity. When Walter Damrosch appeared at the Metropolitan in March, 1935, to celebrate his fiftieth anniversary as a conductor and presented the final act of Die Meistersinger, translated by himself [into English], Miss Juch wrote to congratulate him upon the excellence of his translation, Dr. Damrosch replied that no one was better fitted to judge, as she had employed the purest English diction in her singing that he had ever heard."

At the end of her third year with Mapleson, Juch declined to renew her contract with him, but in 1885 opted to sign on with the American Opera Company, Theodore Thomas as conductor. William Steinway had introduced her to Thomas. At the same time, Leopold Damrosch was seeking her for the Metropolitan Opera Company, but with Thomas she got to share lead roles with Nilsson and Materna, long established stars. In three years with Thomas, which included singing alternate nights with Nilsson as Elsa in Lohengrin, she sang a total of 164 performances that included Magic Flute, Lohengrin, The Flying Dutchman, Orpheus, Rubinstein's Nero and Faust.

By the age of 25 Emma was an experienced opera performer and was convinced that singing opera in English was the future of opera in America. Besides her opera performances, she sang many concerts with orchestras in different cities and with large choral societies throughout the country. All her singing was in English.

In late June, 1888, she sailed for Europe on the Umbria "to enjoy a well-earned season of rest and recreation." She told a reporter: "I shall return in September and my time is fully taken with concerts to the first of the year, and includes a trip in the fall to the Pacific coast. I enjoy singing in opera, and the audiences have seemed pleased . . ."

Juch traveled the rails considerably before she formed her own opera company. She did perform on the west coast as she had told reporters she would before her trip to Europe in 1888; she was the head-liner in a concert that included Jessie Bartlett-Davies and Mathilda Phillips, both nationally known. This concert group probably gave programs in Salt Lake City and Cheyenne, too, but this writer has no record to that effect. Both cities, or at least one of them, were frequently booked for concerts by performers traveling through the west to provide a quiet rest from the long train ride and some income to cover expenses.

Juch as MarguritePerhaps when she was in Europe Emma made the decision to form her own opera company. The New York Times (September 1, 1889) told of her company's organization, giving singers' names and naming the operas in its repertoire. Less than two months later the Emma Juch Grand English Opera Company gave its premiere performance at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on October 20, presenting Faust with a relatively young cast but which, nonetheless, had considerable operatic experience. Many of them would become famous singers including Charles Hedmondt, Alonzo Stoddard, Franz Vetta and Clara Jaeger. The Times reviewer mentioned Hedmondt, Stoddard and Vetta as "artists of exceptional strength." That writer also noted that "for the first time in the history of opera in this country, a company [has been formed] nearly all of whom are American born."

The reviewer had nothing but praise for Juch: "The performance of Miss Juch was of a kind to recall the greatest artists who have essayed Marguerite. In addition to a lovely voice of very even register, the young lady now has reached a maturity of musical and dramatic conception which places her in the very first rank of artists."

The orchestra was led by Adolph Neuendorff, a native of Hamburg, Germany, who came to New York with his parents in 1854. He was a violinist, pianist and organist and had studied music theory and composition before he began a career as a choral and orchestra conductor. He had 27 years of conducting experience, including much opera, before leading Juch's orchestra in her Philadelphia premiere. He continued as her conductor for the company's approximately four-year existence. Emma made excellent choices for her musical colleagues.

Her company's first Denver appearance was a one-week run at the new Metropolitan Theatre in late March, 1890 and was noted for its "very brilliant cast." The month before Denver opera lovers had heard Patti, Albani and Nordica, three world class singers, also at the Metropolitan, so the "very brilliant cast" appears to be especially praiseworthy.

The following August Juch was back in Denver, again heading east after west coast appearances. This time she opened the new Broadway Theatre with a matinee performance of Carmen. The two-week run also included Tannhauser, Lohengrin, The Flying Dutchman, Il Trovatore and Faust (apparently her favorite), all sung-- as usual-- in English. Obviously some operas were heard more than once: Faust was given three times.  Reviews were always laudatory for the entire cast, and for individuals words such as "exceedingly high merit," "sings the role more than well," "rich contralto voice of excellent quality...." Of Juch singing Marguerite in Faust: "Her singing of the jewel song captured the audience." In both Denver appearances Neuendorff conducted, and the orchestra was enlarged by local talent: "The work of the Juch orchestra during the past week [the week in March] at the Broadway theater was extremely satisfactory, and the able direction of conductor Neuendorff was a marked feature. It should not be forgotten that the Juch company's orchestra were assisted by that of the theater... nearly all the members are soloists of merit...."

Wherever it performed the Juch Grand English Opera Company received fine reviews. This writer has not read a negative one. Nevertheless, Juch apparently tired of the hassles of extensive travels with her large company. She had Charles E. Locke who handled most non-musical responsibilities on tour while Emma made the musical decisions; this was a common arrangement with the traveling opera companies.

In May of 1894 the New York Times announced that Emma Juch was engaged to Francis L. Wellman, an Assistant District Attorney in New York City. She and Wellman had met on her way back from Europe in the summer of 1893. This apparently was Emma's first big romance, and the couple was to be married June 26. In late May Emma told the press: "After a brief stay in town [New York], I shall go home for a time [Stamford, Conn.].  I am to sing on June 15, 16, 17 at the music festival in Toronto. On June 23 I sing at the Saengerfest in Madison Square Garden, and three days later I am to be married. I shall never again sing in opera. Perhaps no more in concert, but sometimes I may appear in oratorio." But her final public appearance was at the New York Saengerfest on June 23. Perhaps Emma was recalling some of her chaotic traveling experiences as when in March of 1890 she was scheduled for an 8:00 p.m. performance of Faust in Cheyenne. Earlier that day a collision of two other trains west of Green River, Wyoming delayed Juch's special train which was coming east from Utah. She and her company arrived in Cheyenne at 9:30 p.m. and started the opera at 10:30 before an audience "greatly reduced." Nonetheless, "the Union Pacific Band turned out and honored the company with a splendid musical greeting in front of the opera house." The following year Juch had another train travel delay, this time stopped by a snow slide when traveling from Idaho to an Ogden, Utah performance. A special train was sent to pick up the opera company on the other side of the snow block, and according to a newspaper account it "ran 70 miles per hour for 250 miles, arriving at 10:00 p.m. Miss Juch carried out her engagement to a packed house. The run from Idaho here [Ogden] was the fastest ever made in the west. The plucky little diva insisted on the throttle being pulled wide open. A number of chorus girls fainted during the trip." This copy made scintillating reading for the newspapers of the day, but it is a factual reminder of a romantic though sometimes hazardous mode of travel once so essential to our earlier operatic companies. Such experiences within a year might give anyone pause to consider the strain of transcontinental rail tours!

The wedding on June 26, 1894, was a huge social affair. Both the church, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Stamford, and her home on Glenbrook Avenue were lavishly decorated with flowers. "The bride entered the church with Col. Albert A. Pope of Boston, who gave her away. Mr. Pope is an old friend of Miss Juch's family. A choir of forty boys met the bridal procession and escorted it to the chancel, singing the Bridal Song in Lohengrin. Between the betrothal and wedding, the same choir of youthful voices sang "The Voice that Came O'er Eden" and the recess hymn "Perfect Love." Among the many guests were William Steinway and Miss Amy Fay, pianist and author of the soon-to-be-published Music Studies in Germany.

The marriage did not last. Emma and Francis were divorced in 1911; she was his second wife. Juch died March 6, 1939, nearly forty years after her last public performance. She had moved to New York City, 151 East 80th Street, where she died of cerebral hemorrhage. There were no immediate survivors. In 1894 when Emma ended her career because of marriage, the eminent New York Times music critic William J. Henderson had written: "Emma Juch was for something more than a dozen years one of the best known and most popular sopranos in the United States."

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