Opera soprano Sharlow was the first acclaimed performing artist born in ND – InForum
I believe Myrna Sharlow, an operatic soprano, was the first internationally acclaimed performer born in North Dakota.
Sharlow, who was born in Jamestown, began her professional operatic career with the Boston Opera Company in 1912, and in 1913 she was declared “the world’s youngest prima donna.” In 1914, she made her first concert tour of 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 Stutsman County teacher, 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 policeman.
Early on, Myrna demonstrated 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 vocal instruction. Her first voice teacher was Ferdinand Jaeger, son of Aurelia Jaeger”, the principal of the Metropolitan Opera School in New York.
In 1909 Myrna secured an engagement with a prominent company which gave performances in St. 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 financial assistance.
Myrna received opera music lessons at the Beethoven Conservatory, dramatic arts training at the Perry School of Oratory and Dramatic Art, and foreign language lessons at the Berlitz School of Languages. After graduating from high school and completing her specialist courses, Myrna left for New York to study under the tutelage of Frederick Bristol, who was a good friend of both Ferdinand and Aurelia Jaeger.
Bristol had helped shape the operatic careers of some of the country’s finest singers, including Olive Fremstad, Alice Nielsen and Marie Sundelius, all of whom were sopranos for the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Myrna studied in Bristol for two years, during which 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 operatic debut with the BOC as “pretty and flirtatious” Musetta. in Puccini’s classic “La Bohème”.
Even though Myrna played a supporting role, critics noted that she was a fresh new talent with unlimited potential. After a few more supporting roles, Myrna, on April 2, 1913, was given the female lead role of Marguerite in the opera “Faust”, which made her the youngest prima donna of a major opera company. American. After a few more roles, Myrna enjoyed a tremendous break which she received on March 7, 1914.
Boston opera fans were excited because world-renowned soprano Nellie Melba was set to give a commissioned performance with the BOC, playing the lead role of Mimi in “La Boheme.” Less than an hour before the start of the show, Melba informed Mr. Russell that she was too ill to go on stage. Hastily, he contacted Myrna to replace Melba, and her performance was so spectacular that she received nine call-backs.
At the end of the opera season, Myrna joined the BOC for a series of concerts in Paris. When the concert tour ended and the other members returned home, Myrna was summoned to London to appear in Zandonai’s first opera, “Francesca of Rimini”.
After returning home and performing in a few operas, Myrna performs concerts across the United States. On May 11, 1915, the BOC went bankrupt and she was quickly 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 she 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, gave several 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, she maintained her base of operation in Chicago.
In 1930 she moved to New York and became a cast member of the Metropolitan Opera, and in 1935 moved to Boston, where she often sang 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 Fargo’s Jan Eriksmoen. Send your comments, corrections or column suggestions to Eriksmoens at [email protected]