Opera soprano Sharlow was the acclaimed ND-born first performing artist
I believe Myrna Sharlow, an opera soprano, was the first internationally renowned performing artist to be born in North Dakota.
Sharlow, who was born in Jamestown, began her professional opera career with the Boston Opera Company in 1912, and in 1913 she was declared “the youngest prima donna in the world”. In 1914, she made her first concert tour in Europe, where she received rave reviews for her performances in Paris and London.
Myrna Docia Sharlow was born on July 19, 1893 to David and Almira “Myra” (Smith) Sharlow. David was a teacher in Stutsman County and Myra was the niece of Milton H. Smith, president of the Nashville Railroad Co. In 1897, the Sharlows moved to St. Louis, where David was employed as a police officer.
Very young, Myrna displayed remarkable musical aptitude, but due to David’s modest salary, he could not afford an excellent musical education for his daughter. One of the people who observed Myrna’s talent was Marcus Epstein, a renowned pianist and co-founder of the Beethoven Conservatory of Music in St. Louis.
He gave Myrna free piano lessons and also provided her with “free singing lessons. Her first vocal teacher was Ferdinand Jaeger, son of Aurelia Jaeger,” the principal of the Metropolitan Opera School in New York.
In 1909, Myrna obtained an engagement with a prominent company which gave performances in Saint-Louis and Louisville. It was around this time that her mother’s uncle, Milton Smith, learned of Myrna’s incredible musical gifts and agreed to provide her with financial assistance.
Myrna received training in opera music at the Beethoven Conservatory, training in dramatic arts at the Perry School of Oratory and Dramatic Art and training in foreign languages ââat the Berlitz School of Languages. After graduating from high school and completing her specialist courses, Myrna moved to New York to study under the tutelage of Frederick Bristol, who was a good friend of Ferdinand and Aurelia Jaeger.
Bristol had helped shape the lyrical careers of some of the country’s best singers, including Olive Fremstad, Alice Nielsen and Marie Sundelius, all of whom were sopranos for the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Myrna studied under Bristol for two years, and during this time she was featured in local productions of “Kismet”. Bristol arranged an audition for her with Otto H. Kahn, president of the New York Metropolitan Opera Company, who showed genuine interest in signing her.
Before he could do so, Henry Russell, the founder of the Boston Opera Company (BOC), persuaded Myrna to join his company in October 1912. Later that year she made her opera debut. with the BOC as “pretty and flirtatious” Musetta. in Puccini’s classic “La BohÃ¨me”.
Even though Myrna played a supporting role, critics noted that she was a new talent with limitless potential. After a few supporting roles, Myrna, on April 2, 1913, was entrusted with the leading female role of Marguerite in the opera “Faust”, which made her the youngest prima donna of a large American opera company. After a few additional roles, Myrna took advantage of a wonderful break that she obtained on March 7, 1914.
Opera fans in Boston were excited because world famous soprano Nellie Melba was about to give a commissioned performance with the BOC, playing the lead role of Mimi in “La BohÃ¨me”. Less than an hour before the start of the show, Melba informed Mr. Russell that she was too ill to take the stage. In haste, he contacted Myrna to replace Melba, and her performance was so spectacular that she received nine callbacks.
At the end of the lyrical season, Myrna joined the BOC for a series of concerts in Paris. After the concert tour ended and the other members returned home, Myrna was summoned to London to appear in Zandonai’s first opera, “Francesca de Rimini”.
After returning home and performing in a few operas, Myrna gave concerts across the United States. On May 11, 1915, the BOC went bankrupt and it was soon signed by Cleofonte Campanini, the conductor of the Chicago Grand Opera Company. From 1915 to 1920, Myrna “became one of Chicago’s most active sopranos” and then took a three-year leave to tour.
From March to early May 1921, she gave concerts in London, and from late May to early July, performed in numerous concerts in Paris. Myrna then traveled to Naples, Italy, where she married Edward “Ted” Hitchcock, “a journalist and author.”
Myrna returned to Chicago in 1923 to resume her work with the Chicago Opera Association and also joined the faculty of the Millikin Conservatory of Music to teach voice. With the exception of a few opera tours in Italy in 1924 and 1926, it maintained its base of operations in Chicago.
In 1930 she moved to New York and became a member of the Metropolitan Opera cast, and in 1935 she moved to Boston, where she sang often with the Boston Pops Orchestra.
Myrna Sharlow remained in Massachusetts until her death on August 14, 1952.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections or column suggestions to Eriksmoens at [email protected]