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Felice Lyne
by Charles A. Hooey

Early in 1912, this singer gleefully wrote home to her father in the United States to report that, after a season in London with famed impresario Oscar Hammerstein, a clipping bureau had supplied more notices from London newspapers about her than any other prima donna had ever received, a total in excess of 3,000![1] She might have added that several pundits in London were already ranking her with Patti, Melba and Tetrazzini. And she was just in her mid-twenties!

Felice Lyne was the only child of Sanford T. Lyne and Francis A. ‘Frankie’ Lyne née Purdom. Frankie had been born and raised in Macon, a town in northeast Missouri. There she married Sanford on 28 October 1885, but they were in Slater, a few miles to the south when Frankie gave birth to the little dynamo of the future on 28 March 1887 [2]. Next they moved to Allentown, PA (near New York City). But, as Felice’s grandmother, Dr. Theodosia F. Purdom and her two aunts, Drs. Zudie and Hezzie Purdom were all osteopathic physicians in Kansas City, Sanford became eager to join their ranks. Thus, in 1897 he enrolled at the National School of Osteopathy in that city and did the bulk of his studies there. But when the school closed in 1900, he and his friends packed their bags and headed to Kirksville, just north of Macon, in February 1901 to finish up at the American School of Osteopathy. With his small family close by, Sanford graduated in June. They stayed in Kirksville until about 1903, when they decamped to Kansas City where Dr. Lyne set up an office in the Bank of Commerce Building.

As for public schooling, Felice began studying in Allenton in 1893, then in Kirksville and finally in Kansas City at the Lathrop School, Emerson School and Central High School. “I have always been musically inclined and at the age of about five I had my first musical instruction in the form of piano lessons from an aunt, herself a splendid pianist. But I must admit that I was not very serious in my work and only awaited the time to eat an apple which was usually cut up into halves and quarters to explain half and quarter notes, and such. However, even at that early age, my aunt remarked upon the unusual truth of intonation displayed by my small voice. From this time on, I have never ceased the study of music in some form, in addition to taking up the study of languages as soon as I started my schoolwork. Between the ages of seven and nine, I occasionally sang little ballads, and can remember being sometimes called in from play, much to my disgust, to sing ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ for the proud family.” [3]

Her grandfather on her mother’s side, Colonel Hezekiah Purdom, was a veteran Missouri newspaper publisher, who had begun his career in a newspaper office in Hannibal with Mark Twain. When the latter heard the sweet tones of Felice at an early session, he urged the Lynes to let the girl study singing seriously. She had a voice, they agreed, for when she was just a child, she had pleaded to let her voice be cultivated. So they permitted her to study with Frank S. Hardman in Allentown, then with Mrs. Jennie Schultz and Mrs. Louise Reiger after the family moved to Kansas City. Everyone thought she had enormous potential, so the Lynes decided to send her abroad for advanced study. Mrs. Lyne agreed to take her daughter to Paris if her heart was truly set on it. It was, so in August 1907, Felice and Mama sailed away, leaving Papa to attend to his patients’ needs. By 1910, Dr. Lyne was holding forth at an office at 612 Shukert Building in Kansas City but, according to the American Osteopathic Association Directory for 1911-1912, by then he had returned to Allentown, and there he would stay, periodically to be joined by his wife and daughter.

There is no doubt Felice held her vocal teachers in high regard. “Madame Mathilde Marchesi has been, and is one of the greatest musicians of the age, and she taught me many things in a technical and musical sense that I could never have learned from anyone else, but at this period in my studies certain difficulties arose in my actual voice work which made me finally realize that if I was to attain my aim and ambition to sing in grand opera I must seek something still further in respect to voice production. I was confronted with what was to me a desperate state of affairs and it was then that my greatest struggles began for I had no idea where to turn, and finally I was without any teacher at all for several months.” Through all this trying time, her mother provided constant care and encouragement. “Fortune was kind to me, and almost by accident I came to study with Lloyd d’Aubigné, an ex-patriot American from Virginia. For eight months I had a lesson every day from him, sometimes two or three, and at the end of that time my difficulties had vanished and I at last felt satisfied to take my first few steps alone - in a word, I was ready and knew it.” [4]

Mrs. Schultz, one of her early teachers, having heard Felice sing in Paris, later recalled how the French marveled at her use of their language. She had a flair for languages and spoke French with a curiously perfect accent although she had received her training in an American high school. [5]

As can be imagined, her official debut must have been quite special. It came in the spring of 1910 during a short engagement in the Grand Casino at San Sebastian, Spain, where the King and Queen noticed her and praised her voice. M. Strakosch, Adelina Patti’s nephew, had procured the engagement after becoming intrigued with the promise in the young singer’s voice. Felice thus was about to emerge on the operatic scene, a pert and tiny coloratura soprano, anxious to display her startling, dark-hued instrument. “The four hard years in France and Spain were forgotten in the four glad years that followed...” [6]

“I had studied just exactly three years when I accepted an engagement with Mr. Hammerstein, then in New York, and I returned to America in August, 1910. Mr. Hammerstein, however, was not the first director for whom I had sung. In fact, I was on the point of signing an engagement for grand opera in Germany when I met him. In May of my first year in Paris I chanced to be heard by the representative of a famous opera house on the Continent, and, had I felt myself prepared, could have made my début then. But I knew there was yet much to be done before I could take and hold my place in the rank I had set for myself.” [7]

Signing with Oscar Hammerstein, however, did not happen easily. During a visit to London in July 1910 he heard her sing. At the time he had just withdrawn from grand opera in New York and no one as yet knew of his plans for London. So, when he tried to get Felice to sign a contract she refused as she had no intention of devoting herself for any length of time to light opera. It was to be grand opera or nothing. The impresario was unwilling to let her slip away as he had convinced himself thoroughly of her worth, so he finally offered her a five-year contract at a hefty salary. This she also refused! A frantic Hammerstein almost doubled his offer but she persisted in her refusal to go into light opera... until he finally revealed his ambitious plans for London. Then, even though it meant a year in New York in an operetta Hans, the Flute Player, she agreed.

“With her great, dark, lustrous eyes and soft, waving hair, she possessed a great deal of personal charm and magnetism - and determination as will be seen. Few pictures do her complete justice. It is not possible for the camera to record all the piquancy of her charm, and especially when she smiles (which is frequently) is the young singer most alluring. That smiles so often illumine her countenance is quite in keeping with her name Felice, which, if she were Italian would be pronounced ‘Feli-che’ and would mean ‘happy’” [8]. In reality, Miss Lyne’s first name originally was not Felice, but Felicie. She left out the second “i” when she signed her contract with Hammerstein, because, she said, no one seemed able to pronounce the name as it was. It was easier to say “Fayleece.” To complicate matters, publicists and critics persisted in calling her Felicia!

In July, Hammerstein announced his new thrust, revealing he had found another Tetrazzini, but he kept Felice’s identity secret for the time being, instead choosing to test her mettle. He added her to the cast of “Hans, the Flute Player,” to act as an alternate for Sophie Brandt in the leading feminine role of Lisbeth - George Chudal sang the title role and Alice Gentle the shrewish wife - until she took Miss Brandt’s place permanently shortly before the Company left New York to go on the road. Understandably cast members took to calling her “the osteopathic prima donna.” Hans, the Flute Player ended its run a few weeks later and the contented singer hustled back to Paris to continue her studies.

She let it be known that “My eight weeks’ experience in New York and Philadelphia in Mr. Hammerstein’s operetta served to accustom me to the theatre and taught me that the audience, part of the great, big public, is not some goblin, ready to swallow one up, but is made up of very human people, ready and anxious to be kind if one does good work.” [9]

In 1911 when she visited her father in Allentown, she caused a sensation among the city’s fans of classical music and opera with a concert at the Lyric (later Symphony) Hall. She set a new high for receipts for that time.

Later that year she went to England where, true to his word, Hammerstein began his momentous London venture at the London Opera House [Later the Stoll Theatre] in Kingsway. He took the wraps off his soprano discovery, announcing that Felice would sing Gilda in an upcoming production of Rigoletto. When she arrived in October 1911, HMV asked her to record a test piece and six operatic arias but for some reason none were issued.
As for Rigoletto, “The opera actually had been hurried onto the bill at a late moment because Norma had not proved altogether attractive to London audiences. Indeed, it had not been a very happy week for Hammerstein; and when the curtain went up on Rigoletto on 25 November 1911 the house was not exactly packed to its standing room. There was no flourish of trumpets to herald Miss Lyne’s début; indeed, even if Hammerstein had wanted to enjoy the effects of his surprise to the full, there had been no time to make any preliminary talk about the new Gilda. So it was to an almost indifferent audience that she appeared, but by her very first appearance she earned a good mark in her favor. Here at least was a Gilda in keeping with one’s conception of the part - a really girlish Gilda, whom one could understand anyone wanting to abduct [11]. (For reaction by The Times, see the Appendix.) 

And then the wonderful thing happened, Miss Lyne began to sing and all over the house people stirred in their seats in amazement. They had come prepared to be kind to a young and unknown artist, and they found themselves listening to an operatic star of the first magnitude. Clear and unrestrained, Gilda’s voice floated - floated is the only word - out into the great house. She seemed to be singing without effort, without any consciousness of the audience whose verdict was already assured; indeed she reminded one, more than anything else, of a child singing for her own amusement.” [12]

“I am sure that no one ever had more kindness shown to her by fellow artists on the stage than I had the night of my recent debut in London. First came my scene and duet with M. Maurice Renaud, the Rigoletto. This marvelous artist was wonderfully kind and gave me words of encouragement from time to time. And when he left me on stage, a whispered ‘Bravo!’ under cover of the applause encouraged me to begin my duet with the Duke of the opera, Orville Harrold. As we finished our scene together and our high D flat brought forth torrents of applause, Harrold bowed himself to the door in the wall, murmuring: ‘You’re doing splendidly. Keep it up!’

With these words in my ear, I turned to begin ‘Caro nome’, and I shall always feel that my great triumph at the end of this aria was made easier of accomplishment by the immense goodwill and encouragement of my comrades on the stage that night.

I suffered from no extreme nervousness on the night of my début, but as the hour approached for my second performance I found myself limp with dread and anxiety, lest I do something not so well as my first performance and thereby disappoint the kind people who had bought up every seat in the house to hear the brand new prima donna. It was a most trying performance for me, and to make matters worse, a real London fog descended upon us at about seven p.m., and did not lift all evening! It was the first London fog I had experienced, and when I went down to the stage from my dressing room I almost fled back, for the fog had penetrated into the theatre and the stage was cloudy with the thick atmosphere. I was aghast, and felt sure that I could not sing, for even as I stood waiting for my entrance my eyes began to smart with the irritating fog. However, I soon found that that it was not affecting my voice, and none of us on the stage suffered any serious inconvenience until the last act, when the continued breathing of the smoke-laden atmosphere made us begin to cough occasionally when off-stage. But we got through with comparatively little annoyance, and I was happy again when I read in the papers next morning that I had repeated my first night’s success.

In the thirteen weeks which followed my début at the London Opera House, I sang exactly forty times - thirty-six times in opera and four times in concerts. Out of seventy-one operatic performances which were given during the season, I sang thirty-six, comprising five different roles: Gilda, Lucia, Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann, Marguerite and Rosina. I sang Marguerite for the first time the ninth of February, and just eight days later gave my first performance of Rosina. I have never heard Lucia di Lammermoor except when I have appeared in it myself. Neither have I ever heard The Tales of Hoffmann from before the curtain.

Last Christmas week I sang five operatic performances in five days, including two performances of Lucia, two of The Tales of Hoffmann and one of Rigoletto. One Saturday (10th January) I sang Rigoletto in the afternoon and Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann in the evening. On numerous occasions I have sung performances two days in succession, such as Faust one night and The Barber of Seville the next. On 2 March, I sang in the afternoon in the Albert Hall at a concert, and in the evening appeared in the Mad Scene from Lucia at the gala performance which marked the close of the winter season.” [13]

One of the roles most frequently sung by Miss Lyne was that of the Doll in The Tales of Hoffman, and yet it was a part for which she had little affection, although her mignonne personality ideally fits her for the role. ‘I like a part in which I have to work - the Doll isn’t work, it comes too easy. I always feel that the people don’t come to hear me in this part, they want to see me with my little white socks (I make it a baby doll, not a young lady doll.)’ [14]

During the interval between the two Hammerstein seasons, Felice embarked on a month-long concert tour across the British Isles that included an Easter concert at the Winter Garden in Blackpool, a resort town in the north of England. Then after her return to London, on the evening of 22 April, 1912, she sang Juliette in Romeo and Juliette for the first time, in the opening performance of the spring season at the London Opera House. Again the cast was American, Orville Harrold singing Romeo and Henry Weldon as Friar Laurence. To The Times next day, “Miss Lyne captivated her audience at once by her graceful, ingénue movements, her charm of manner, and her refined and well-finished singing, which was nowhere better shown than in the famous valse of the first act. There were, indeed, moments when she aimed at a stronger kind of expression in the balcony and bedroom scenes, and did so at the expense of the purity of tone and intonation which is the salient feature of her style. But there were not many.

She continues: “On Monday afternoon, April twenty-ninth, the three of us appeared together in the Garden Scene from Faust in a gala performance which was given for charity at the London Opera House by a number of English Society leaders. King George, Queen Mary and Prince Albert were present in the royal box. At the conclusion of the scene, the Queen sent for me and I went to the royal box in my costume and make-up. I was presented first to His Serene Highness, Prince Alexander of Teck, Her Majesty’s brother, who in turn presented me to the Queen. Her Majesty was most charming to me, shaking hands with me and complimenting me upon my voice and work, and asking a number of questions about myself. At the conclusion of the interview, she once more shook hands with me cordially and expressed a desire to hear me again.” [15]

For his second season in London, Hammerstein was busy preparing two new operas as special entertainment: 'Theon and Tera' by the Duke of Argyll and 'The Children of Don,' the first opera in composer Joseph Holbrooke's quasi-Wagnerian trilogy, 'The Cauldron of Annwn.' For this, T. E. Ellis (Lord Howard de Walden), the second richest young peer in England, had supplied a text based on an ancient Welsh legend, The Mabinogion. All three men had ardently supported Hammerstein since the start of his enterprise. "The singing of Miss Lyne proved an inspiration to them ... she in turn entered into the mastering of these roles with the same enthusiasm which she exhibited in her début and is eager to show the world a triumph of grand opera in English." [16]

Despite all this, 'The Children of Don' received its première under the direction of Artur Nikisch without Felice's name on the list of singers involved. So what happened? Perhaps she sang in a later performance but no evidence has been found to show this was the case. Nor is the fate of the Duke of Argyll's opera known. Felice, however, did sing Violetta in La Traviata, Mimi in La Bohème and Lakmé as well as creating principal parts in the English premières of Massenet's Don Quichotte and Le Jongleur de Notre Dame.

And yet as the season neared its end there occurred a furious contretemps. After all they had meant to each other, Felice had a falling out with Hammerstein apparently over her fee, and displayed her fiery temperament by flinging at him “the first thing handy which happened to be a heavy score of Faust, which we were rehearsing. Any lady would have done the same if she had been provoked as I was.” Hammerstein saw it differently: “Miss Lyne was rehearsing and her mother was in the theatre with her. I wished to rehearse something else, and so I told the conductor to stop his work with Miss Lyne. Surely, I, as Director, had the right to have my wishes observed. But Miss Lyne’s mother was furious. She came to me and protested and was very angry. But I did not see Miss Lyne and she never struck me. I do not know where she was, but I think she was downstairs. The whole story is untrue.” But he was particularly annoyed at the words “grossly insulted me” and launched a $100,000 libel suit against his prima donna. Subsequently he sought to prevent her from singing in America under any other management. Both suits were decided in the singer’s favour. [17]

She soldiered on, appearing on 28 November at the New York Evening Mail’s concert in co-operation with the Symphony Society at the Seventy First Regiment Armory with Pasquale Amato and pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch with conductor Walter Damrosch. Looking radiantly attractive, she aroused the audience with her coloratura facility and mellow tone in the Shadow Song from Dinorah and made a distinctly favorable impression, which was maintained by her singing with Amato in the Rigoletto duet. [18]

Then it was on to Kirksville, Missouri for a great homecoming. She sang at a record-breaking concert on 6 December with 650 persons attending at the Normal School (now Truman State University). It was held to raise funds for a new library building and planned by a local committee headed by Dr. C.E Still who put up his personal guarantee of $500, so confident was he that Felice would attract a crowd. Half came from Kirksville, the balance from Macon, Edina, Unionville and other neighboring towns. Assisted by Mrs. Ethel Jackson Gebhart, pianist, and Miss Louise M. Jones, violinist, she opened with “Caro nome” from Rigoletto, followed by the Shadow Song from Meyerbeer’s Dinorah, then three songs: “The Dove” by Landon Ronald, “The Wood Pigeon” by Liza Lehmann and “Bird of Love Divine” by Haydn Wood, and finished with Dell’Acqua’s “Villanelle.” [19]

“ Her trill is all that could be desired. Her tone quality has a warmth not found in another voice singing before the public today. She has a depth of soul and magnetism of personality that enfolds and enthralls everyone within her hearing.” Afterwards a man was heard to remark, “Hammerstein could never expect to win any litigation against her if the little singer appears before a judge or jury and if they would permit her to try her voice in court, she would win the decision every time.”[20] How right he was! The committee realized between $500 and $600, enough to launch their building program.  

For her next venture she opted in 1913 to join Irish impresario Thomas Quinlan on his second world tour. After traversing the English provinces, appearing in Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool and Dublin, the company set out aboard a chartered steamer, the Nestor, bound for South Africa. Along the way there were difficulties. 500 miles from the African coast a fire broke out in the coal burners. It burned merrily away for two days until its exact location was discovered and it was finally extinguished. One of the tenors found humor in the situation, remarking, “If we stay aboard we’ll all be burned to death; if we go ashore we’ll be eaten by cannibals, so we’re bound to be roasted whatever happens.” More trouble occurred when they played in Johannesburg during the famous strike riots as the railroad station and Star office were burned and the singers could plainly smell smoke. [21]

Arriving down under aboard the Aeneas, they landed in Melbourne, where Lyne was hailed as "the most remarkable opera star of the day." In Rigoletto with William Samuell and Maurice d'Oisly, Felice largely lived up to her advance notices. Her voice was described as not over-powerful, but fresh and clear, with a tendency towards a nasal or metallic quality that was found not unpleasing. The Argus admired her artless Gilda, refreshingly free from any pose, "which might have been due to inexperience" but might also have been "a carefully worked-out conception." In another report she was criticized for coming back down the stairs after "Caro nome" to bask centre-stage in the applause "thus starting upon the evil courses of the ‘finished’ prima donna quite early in her career."

In The Tales of Hoffmann she sang Olympia with Edna Thornton and Alice Prowse, again achieving a great success, acting the doll most realistically. At a later performance, Melbourne's own Eda Bennie appeared as Olympia. She and Felice had both studied with Marchesi at the same time. Spencer Thomas, who sang Hoffmann, also appeared in Faust with Felice as Marguérite. But the production of The Marriage of Figaro was rather coolly received. The Argus thought that Lyne’s “vocal talents” were to some extent wasted as Susanna. The Bulletin described her costumes as being “exactly like an American fashion-plate of 1913 - slim, short frocks showing plenty of ankle, no waist and a straight line from armpit to skirt-hem.” Graham Marr was a strong Count but Alice Prowse was judged to have fallen short of the Countess's vocal requirements. Then they moved on to Sydney.

Owing to smallpox, they were held up while the ship’s company was vaccinated. There was much consternation among the singers. ”Fortunately,” Miss Lyne explained, ”my vaccination did not take so I had no trouble.” [23]

At last able to land, Quinlan’s modern dress La Traviata was not particularly well received, though The Age hailed it as a triumph for Felice Lyne. The Argus admired the youthfulness of her Violetta and approved in her characterization everything that contradicted the sense of the libretto - “Hers was a heroine without a past: It was, in short, ‘a pretty picture of innocence pretending to be vicious, and somewhat pleasingly failing in the effort.”

She was also heard as Nedda in Pagliacci of which The Mail complained she emphasized an already "too youthful an appearance by wearing child's attire, with her hair down her back, thus looking about twelve years old," and "almost restrained herself from acting. The chief drawback in Miss Lyne's production is that she relies for success on her lovely voice and charm of youth. She moves up and down the stage with the natural ease of Miss Felice Lyne, and does not even attempt to act, treating the histrionic part as a very secondary matter." In the Tales of Hoffmann she presented in Sydney her would-be lover was Maurice d'Oisly . She also sang Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia and was “again a huge success” with Samuell as Figaro, d'Oisly as Almaviva.

In The Marriage of Figaro in Sydney, the Herald’s Gerald Thompson was not in accord with his Melbourne counterpart; he reported that Felice’s costumes were replicas of pictures of those worn when Mozart conducted the opera in Vienna - unless she was allowed to do her own thing regardless of the general style.

She continued, “On this tour of many lands the opera-goers of South Africa and Australia realized emphatically that the United States can produce a coloratura soprano of the first rank, when they heard Miss Lyne in the brilliant roles of her Italian and French repertoire. She also entered a new field that of the Wagnerian works, by singing Eva in Die Meistersinger for the first time. I had been brought up in the French and Italian schools,” she related, “and when I started the study of Eva I wanted to sing the melody all the time, but this is principally in the orchestra and I coveted the music of the first violins. When I finally learned the role, however, I also learned to love it. The Wagner operas have never been done in these countries, you know, and Lohengrin and Tannhäuser were among the biggest drawing cards of the company’s tour … and opera in English, don’t forget.” [24]

Labor strife caused cancellation of a planned New Zealand visit as well as delays and difficulties in every port of call.

When they left Honolulu for Vancouver a storm blew in, tossing the Makura about. In her stateroom, Felice’s tiny 5’ 1” and 98 lb. frame was sent flying, her collarbone shattering in the process. “I arrived one morning,” she chronicled, “and went on to sing that night. People in Vancouver had read about my accident and were almost as excited about my collarbone as they were about the performance, especially when I appeared bandaged with surgeon’s plaster. [25]

Reaching Vancouver in mid-January 1914, Quinlan set about to pack nine operas into the next five days. Felice was scheduled to sing Gilda in Rigoletto on the 13th and indeed she did with Samuell, d’Oisly and Edith Clegg, but on Thursday, the 15th, she decided at 6 p.m., she was too ill to sing Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia that evening. With no replacement, scenery was shifted and La Bohème was presented, though somewhat late. After the series ended on Saturday, the troupe packed up their goods and entrained for points eastwards. [26]

In Winnipeg, after opening on 2 February in the Walker Theatre with Aida, Felice took centre stage during the matinée on Wednesday the 4th, to sing Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann with Spencer Thomas as Hoffmann, Edna Thornton as Giulietta, Alice Prowse as Antonia, William Samuell as Dapertutto and Charles Magrath as both Coppélius and Mirakel. In Rigoletto on Tuesday the 10th, she and Samuell teamed to score a veritable triumph, she with exquisitely beautiful singing, he by his magnificent impersonation as the ill-fated jester. “Miss Lyne's delightfully fresh, sweet, and clear voice is of the naturally high, flexible coloratura type, and her management of it is not far from perfect...and she can sing a trill that is a real trill, not merely a shake. Even the brilliant High E with which she concluded her vocal flight in Act 2 seemed to be taken with ease, and held unwaveringly to the pitch." Others taking part were Maurice d'Oisly as the Duke, Edith Clegg as Maddalena and Robert Veevers as Sparafucile. Tullio Voghera conducted. In addition to the above critique by the Free Press, the Tribune declared that in Rigoletto the young prima donna “completed her conquest” and that “she reached dizzy vocal heights seemingly out of all proportion to her slight stature, soaring up to E above the staff line and sustaining it with brilliant power and true intonation that fairly brought the crowd in the auditorium to her feet. Her trills were like the notes of a nightingale, exquisite in their naturalness.”

Pressed into action with the same cast the next afternoon, she sang Mimi in La Bohème, her acting ability coming as a surprise. "Delightful she was as Gilda, but could she enact the consumptive character of Mimi?... She did so with a fine sense of its possibilities and delved deeper than that, right down into the heart of the role." On Thursday, 12 February Richard Eckhold led a second Hoffmann with Felice presumably again as Olympia. [27]

Another perplexing situation was met at the time of the Company’s departure from Winnipeg. ”We had arisen rather early,” related Miss Lyne, “and had said leisurely good-byes to the people at the hotel. When we arrived at the station there were about a dozen members of the company and the train - gone! Some of us might have fancied that the company couldn’t get along without us, but it got away without us, at any rate.” [28]

They managed to catch up and after appearing in Toronto, the Company travelled to Montreal as winter was ending. When Miss Lyne alighted from the train, she was amazed “to find sleighs running on bare ground, a phenomenon explained by the fact that snowfalls were so frequent that it was not worthwhile to switch back to wheels during the brief intervals when the snow temporarily disappeared.” [29]

Soon she was in action, according to The Montreal Star. “She is like Sembrich in the infinite pains she takes to make even every phrase symmetrical, to polish an ordinary run, to account musically for the embellishment she can fling out so brilliantly.“ After a shortened season in that city the tour ended.

Most believed Quinlan had erred in offering opera in English in the predominately French-speaking Quebec City, thus discouraging potential customers. Miss Lyne begged to differ. “The Company did not disband. It’s not bad business. Easter time is fine for opera companies in the provinces of England, and Mr. Quinlan simply put it up to the singers if they wouldn’t rather go back for this season in England where they were sure to do good business.” [30]

At this time Columbia records invited her to record her great aria “Caro nome” from Rigoletto and other titles, four of which were released. 

In her native land, Miss Lyne’s public appearances had been confined to two or three concerts (notably one in Kansas City, which attracted a record-breaking house who paid twelve thousand dollars). Consequently, great interest was attached to her operatic début. It occurred in Boston on 20 March 1914 when a special performance of Rigoletto was arranged during the last week of the season. To no one’s surprise, Felice received a stupendous ovation but Henry Russell was hardly prepared for this astonishing success. He lost no time, however, in placing her under contract for twenty performances with the Company in the coming season that would extend from 1 January to end of March 1915.

But first he had work for her in Europe. In Paris on 13 June at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, she added another triumph to an already lengthy list by appearing as Rosina in The Barber of Seville, winning an ovation in a cast that included McCormack, Amato and Marcoux. This success she soon repeated.

Then, on 17 June, she shared a special performance of Verdi’s 1859 Un Ballo in Maschera, as the court page Oscar. Fittingly, the opera, set in eighteenth-century Boston, was in aid of the Mansion House Fund [32]. “The house was crowded with a brilliant audience, including the American, German and British ambassadors and representatives of French President Raymond Poincaré, who had originally planned to attend. Felice “had asked permission to take part in the performance, to celebrate her good fortune; originally booked on the fateful Empress voyage, Miss Lyne had taken an earlier boat to Europe following an urgent cable summons.” [33] Next she appeared in the Second Act of the Barber at a Gala performance on 19 June to close the Paris season. Then, she packed up and dashed to London to give a concert in the Royal Albert Hall two days later.

“ War times and the fact that concertizing in London as on the continent is practically at a standstill will not prevent Felice from appearing in Albert Hall on 3 October. The American prima donna, who is immensely popular in England, was engaged last spring for this concert, which is under the Boosey auspices, and it was assumed that the concert would be cancelled, as have the majority of other concerts announced. Management decided, however, that Miss Lyne’s hold on London was sufficient to warrant the venture, and the concert will be one of the very few musical affairs of the season.” Miss Lyne then sailed for America on 8 October in ample time to be on hand for her American concerts under the management of Loudon Charlton of New York. [34]

In May, Charlton announced a three-month-long concert series to begin that autumn, trumpeting the fact that Miss Lyne, “the young American soprano who attained such prominence in Oscar Hammerstein’s London Opera House,” was his newest acquisition. On the roster, too, were four pianists and two violinists, bass Edmund Burke, baritones Oscar Seagle and Francis Rogers, soprano Caroline Hudson-Alexander and contralto Marie Morrissey. The prima donna’s first appearance was to be in Allentown, her family home, on 8 November, where preparations were underway to welcome the singer in an event that promised to be of unusual local importance. Naturally, she was presented as well in Kansas City at the Convention Hall, twice in fact. [35]

During a visit to Honolulu in April 1915, she performed before Liliuokalani, the former Queen of Hawaii. She and the ex-queen, a composer and songwriter, became friends. Lyne later recalled how the pair sang “Aloha Oe!” (Farewell to Thee), the well known song of the islands that Liliuokalani wrote. [36]

Then it was back to the U.S.A for further appearances with the Boston Opera, now newly-formed as a touring entity managed by Max Rabinoff. Felice was engaged to sing seventeen roles, not only standard operas of the florid school, but such parts as Mimi in La Bohème, Nedda in Pagliacci, Eva in Meistersinger, Gretel, Philine in Mignon and Massenet’s Manon. But, as it was common practice for singers to sign up for a number of roles (meaning they were ‘available’) but then sing just a few, how many did Felice actually sing?

They opened in the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago on 4 October 1915 with Auber's La Muette di Portici, given in English as “The Dumb Girl of Portici.” The performance received due appreciation, meeting with unquestionable success. After the first act there were nine recalls for Pavlova, the ballerina, Giovanni Zenatello, Felice Lyne, Georgi Michailoff, Thomas Chalmers and Paolo Ananian. This combined opera/ballet production was specially revived for Pavlova who danced the dumb heroine Fenella. When the production moved on to the Manhattan Opera House on 23 October, a critic dealt harshly with both opera and star: “Felice Lyne filled the colorless role of Elvira and did nothing to mitigate its commonplaceness. Miss Lyne has a naturally pretty voice with some pure upper tones and a certain amount of agility, yet her emission, particularly in pure cantabile, is so defective as to more than offset whatever charms the voice in itself possesses. They were more kindly disposed in Philadelphia where on 10 November, the participants, except Michailoff, received glowing praise. Rabinoff’s forces presented the opera in most of thirty-two cities they visited.

In Boston Felice appeared in the ‘Dumb Girl’ on 23 November and again on 3 December. Then, “An astonishingly interesting performance of Faust” occurred on 1 December with Georges Baklanov, Giovanni Zenatello, Thomas Chalmers and Felice Lyne as Marguerite...” She preserved with rare skill the illusion of girlhood and innocence even after the fall. She triumphed by simplicity and a careful adjustment of values, the sure attainment of climax.” Another performance took place on the 9th. On Saturday, 4 December, Felice appeared in a matinee performance as Gilda in Rigoletto, with Luca Botta as the Duke and Baklanov as the hunchback. A week later, during another matinee, she sang Nedda in Pagliacci for the first time with the Company, with Giuseppe Gaudenzi as Canio, Chalmers as Tonio and Romeo Boscacci, a tenor, as Silvio. Alexander Smallens conducted. In Buffalo Zenatello was her, with a ballet to round out the evening. Next in Toronto, on 25 January 1916, Felice was heard in Pagliacci coupled with the Coppelia ballet. More Neddas followed in Pittsburgh and Toledo. After the Company opened in Seattle on 2 March, Felice appeared the following evening as Mimi in La Bohème with Bianca Sarroya as Musetta, Giuseppe Gaudenzi as Rodolfo, Thomas Chalmers as Marcello, José Mardones as Colline and Sergio Puliti as Schaunard.

After a stop in Boise, the Company rolled into Kansas City, where most of the attention was centered on two local songbirds made good. Felice sang Mimi in La Bohème while Olivet Marcel performed Musetta. In Omaha on 18 April, Rabinoff’s troupers prepared to conclude their season with a final performance of Pagliacci on Sunday afternoon. “Miss Lyne’s Nedda is one of her most engaging performances. It perhaps was more worthy vocally than dramatically but it was favorably received and the bird song was especially well sung.”

In 1916 Felice helped out at home. “That August, local National Guardsmen were being sent to the Mexican border so Allentown’s mayor, Al Reichenbach, was trying to raise money for the soldiers’ fund, to help support families while Guard members were away. But the fund was short and there was concern about how the rest of the money, $2,600, would be raised. Lyne, who was spending the summer in Allentown with her parents, agreed to appear at a benefit concert to help raise the money. The location was the auditorium of Allentown High School, now Allen High School. The school’s new building had just been completed and the auditorium was air-conditioned, one of the few places that were in 1916. On the night of August 22 a capacity crowd gathered to hear the Allentown Band and Lyne. Her appearance drew more than 1,500 people to the concert. The auditorium had been decorated with red, white and blue bunting. When Lyne walked on stage, audience members waved little American flags. The music included selections from Verdi, Wagner and Puccini. Lyne was small in stature but there was apparently no problem hearing her. With two such star attractions as Miss Lyne and the Allentown Band, the reader may well appreciate the treat enjoyed by the audience. Lyne finished with ‘Aloha Oe,’ in honor of the departing troops. The money was raised and a few days later Lyne and her mother found themselves on an ocean liner in the submarine infested waters of the North Atlantic heading towards a concert tour of England.” [37]

Her travels in 1919 drew considerable attention. Back in England, in Brighton she gave a second concert in that city on the West Pier on 7 June “Selecting as her first contribution the aria ‘Ah fors è lui’ from Verdi’s La Traviata, she delivered the number with a purity of intonation and perfect expression which thrilled all present. Few will forget the apparent ease with which she compassed that tremendous top note, which is one of the outstanding features of the air. Her second song was Arthur Klein’s dainty, ‘The Dream Rose,’ which was accompanied by the composer. Miss Lyne’s rendering was marked by much tenderness. Alvarez’s ‘Cançion Espanola,’ a characteristic Spanish melody, was apparently entirely to her liking, and it made a fine impression. She was again successful in Mendelssohn’s ‘On Wings of Song I’ll Take Thee,’ but the most popular of all her contributions was the ‘Laughing Song’ from Auber’s Manon Lescaut. The inflections of the voice and clear, crisp intonation were admirable. There was tremendous applause after each number, and Miss Felice Lyne, who seemed to appreciate the enthusiasm of the audience, conceded three encores.” [38]

When she visited London she was no stranger to the Albert Hall, having first appeared twice in 1912, on 4 February and 2 March. Back in this hallowed hall in 1919, now the ‘Royal’ Albert Hall, she sang in a series of Sunday Concerts with other top line singers and instrumentalists under Landon Ronald. Then they continued with concerts at Queen's Hall with Sir Henry J. Wood. 

In the 1920 Census, she listed her marital status as ‘single’. Supposedly this meant she was far too busy with her own life to make room for anyone else. 

At this point her career begins to resemble that of an American movie idol. Once the bloom of youth started to fade, interest seems to have waned. After earning oceans of ink during her early career, pens now began to run dry, though it was reported that she divided her time between London and Paris. A notable event occurred when she re-united with ballet great Anna Pavlova to tour major U.S. cities with the Ballets Russes. In April of 1929, she gave concerts in Italy, including a concert in Milan. Later that year her Aunts Zudie and Hezzie came home to Kansas City after visiting with Felice. They reported she is “living in Paris this winter and singing in opera her three favorite roles, in Rigoletto, Lucia and Romeo and Juliet at the Paris Opera house. Miss Lyne and her mother have a charming apartment in the Hotel Lafayette. Their drawing room has become one of the brilliant intellectual salons of Paris. After Christmas, Miss Lyne has signed a contract with a French company to do opera for the movies. The French call them ‘chante’ or ‘singies’ instead of talkies. The operas will be registered in three different languages: English, French and Italian. Miss Lyne has the French accent of the Parisians and Italian is almost a native language to her. Already she has had the practical experience of making experimental singies and the results were so effective that she was offered a very large contract, although many other European singers competed. She will make the three versions of each opera.”[39] It is not known if these films materialized; they could have become casualties of the stock market crash.

On May 7, 1932, Felice was still in Paris, about to begin an engagement at the Paris Opera but the assassination that day of French President Paul Doumier led to riots and the performance was cancelled. Tired and feeling ill, Felice returned to America and to Allentown where her illness grew worse. Despite the best medical help her parents could offer, it was not enough. Felice died on 1 September 1935 at her parents’ home at 735 Hamilton Street in Allentown and was buried in Grandview Cemetery. A few weeks later on 20 November, her remains were exhumed and re-interred in Kansas City in a plot at Forest Hill Cemetery where eventually both of her parents were laid to rest.

Dr. Sanford Lyne, then in San Bernardino, California and having recently lost his wife, decided on 24 September 1941 to donate his daughter’s memorabilia to the Kansas City Public Library. The collection contained four scrapbooks, 410 pieces of sheet music, collected during Miss Lyne’s career spanning from 1910 to 1932, boots she wore in Rigoletto and 54 copies of her concert and operatic scores...the distinctive boots ‘walked away’ at some point. A large and splendid collection of Lyne material also resides in the main New York library.

Finally, after that Royal Gala in London on April 29, 1912, Queen Mary had asked Felice, “I understand that you are half an American.” She replied with earnestness: “No, your Majesty, I am all American.” She was indeed.

Photos are drawn from the Missouri Valley Special Collections web site.
The article appeared originally in The Record Collector, Volume 54, No. 4, December, 2009  

After her debut at Covent Garden an unnamed critic of The Times was impressed:

But, above all, there was the Gilda of Miss Felice Lyne, a young singer from the States who was making her début in grand opera and who must be congratulated upon an extraordinary success. With a voice beautifully pure in quality and perfectly even throughout its entire range, she sang everything with a simplicity and natural grace which was immediately captivating. There were very few signs of inexperience, just enough to warrant the assumption that she will become better still a little later on. In the famous exit after ‘Caro Nome’’, for example, there was a slight uncertainty in reaching the high E, and in the duet with M. Renaud of the next act she was a little out of touch with the orchestra for a moment. But these details were mere feather weights in the balance as opposed to the fact that, throughout the big scene of the second act, everything she did was touched with a sense of musical beauty, and that she never for one moment gave the impression that she was parading her vocal technique or seeking anything but the appropriate expression of the melody, whether ornate or simple. There was also the additional pleasure of seeing the part played by a slight sand graceful girl.  

I am most grateful to Michael Bott in Bermuda and to Bill Russell in Springfield, Virginia for their assistance. Michael visited the New York Main Library to obtain pertinent detail from their extensive Lyne file. He also supplied the references in Bishop’s Boston Opera book. Bill Russell supplied information from the Kansas City Public Library. Later Sherrie Kline Smith of that library kindly elaborated on several points. Subsequently I received useful information from Elaine M. Doak at the Truman State University Library in Kirksville, and from Debra Summers and Christina Harris at The Still National Osteopathic Museum, also in Kirksville. Jeannie Williams in New York assisted with news re: Hammerstein’s libel suit.

For Quinlan’s Canadian tour, I checked reviews in the Winnipeg newspapers, the Free Press & Tribune, while Courtney Waverick did like research in Vancouver. I’d also like to thank Norman Willey and his son Ray here in Winnipeg for applying their computer expertise to the text.

Apropos the fuzzy nature of the Lyne birth data, Ms Doak has advised that the State of Missouri did not require birth certificates until 1910, so Felice would not have had one. Because of events in the singer’s early years, I have based this report on the 1887 date as listed in Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (Seventh Edition) edited by Nicolas Slonimsky, 1984. I wish to thank Graham Oakes in Wales for supplying this reference. 

1. Letter quoted in “American Girl to Champion Opera in the English Tongue” Toledo Times, Mar. 24, 1912
2.Singers sometimes advanced their birthdays to lengthen their careers. Felice was reported as being born in 1890, 1891, 1892, 1894 and 1895.
3. McCall’s Magazine, October 1912
4. “My Trials and Triumphs in Grand Opera,” McCall’s Magazine, October 1912
5. Kansas City Times, September 2, 1935
6. “St. Louis Another City that Enthusiastically Welcomes Felice Lyne” Musical America, Dec. 11, 1915
7. “My Trials and Triumphs in Grand Opera” by Felice Lyne, McCall’s Magazine, October 1912
8. “Felice Lyne Shows Four Continents American Girl’s Eminence in Song” by Kenneth S. Clark, Musical America, May 2, 1914
9. “My Trials and Triumphs in Grand Opera” by Felice Lyne, McCall’s Magazine, October, 1912
10. Noted in the Allentown Morning Call in 1935 (Online)
11. “Introducing the Happiest Girl in all Grand Opera” - Kenneth Kinninmont, Musical America, Dec. 16, 1912
12. ”Introducing the Happiest Girl in All Grand Opera” - Kenneth Kinninmont, Musical America, Dec, 16, 1912 .
13. “My Trials and Triumphs in Grand Opera” by Felice Lyne, McCall’s Magazine, October 1912
14. “Felice Lyne shows Four Continents American Girl’s Eminence in Song”, Kenneth S. Clark, Musical America, May 2, 1914
15. “My Trials and Triumphs in Grand Opera” by Felice Lyne, McCall’s Magazine, October, 1912.
16. Toledo Times, March 24, 1912
17. As reported in the New York Times, September 12 & 24, October 6 and November 16 & 17, 1912.
18. “Three-Star Magnet Draws Huge Throng” K.S.C (News report)
19. “‘Caro nome’ is Miss Lyne’s First Number Tonight”, Kirksville Daily Express, December 6, 1912
20. Miss Lyne Wins Kirksville with Marvelous Voice, Kirksville Daily Express, December 7, 1912.
21. “Felice Lyne’s Vicissitudes” Musical America, August 8, 1914.
22. Data/quotations: “Opera for the Antipodes” by A. Gyger, Currency Press, 1990.
23. “Felice Lyne’s Vicissitudes”, Musical America, August 8, 1914.
24. “Felice Lyne Shows Four Continents American Girl’s Eminence in Song” Musical America, May 2, 1914.
25. “Felice Lyne Shows Four Continents American Girl’s Eminence in Song” Musical America, May 2, 1914)
26. Reports in the Vancouver Sun.
27. Reports/quotations from the Manitoba Free Press/Winnipeg Tribune Feb. 1914.
28. “Felice Lyne Shows Four Continents American Girl’s Eminence in Song” by Kenneth S. Clark, Musical America, May 2, 1914.
29. “Felice Lyne’s Vicissitudes”, Musical America, August 8, 1914.
30. “Felice Lyne Shows Four Continents American Girl’s Eminence in Song” by Kenneth S. Clark, Musical America, May 2, 1914
31. Data/quotations: The Boston National Opera Company and Boston Theatre Opera Company by Cardell Bishop, published by the author, Santa Monica 1981, p.8-24
32. The fund was set up on 29 May by Sir T. Vansittart Bowater, Lord Mayor of London, to aid families of victims of the sinking of RMS Empress of Ireland.
33. The New York Times & Forgotten Empress by David Zeni.
34. “War Doesn’t Matter,” Toledo Times, Sept. 24, 1914
35. A report in The New York Times.
36. “Notable Opera Singer had Strong Ties to City”, The Morning Call, Allentown, Pennsylvania (Online).
37. Notable Opera Singer Had Strong Ties to City: The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa (Online).
38. The Sussex Daily News, Monday, 9 June, 1919
39. The Kansas City Star, December 22, 1929.



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