Diva Alert! New episode tells the story of how Fred Gaisberg recorded of one of opera’s greatest characters, Emma Calvé

Emma Calve 1880 as Carmen

Diva alert! In episode four, Holley and Hall tell the story of the recording of one of opera’s greatest characters, Emma Calvé. Basking in the glory of having captured the voice of the mighty Enrico Caruso in Milan (as outlined in Series One of The Sound of the Hound), Fred goes on something of a recording spree back in London. But he gets more than he bargained for with Calvé, who proves to be something of a handful.

Calvé, who is today seen as one of the greatest opera singers of the Belle Epoque era, had made her name playing the lead role in Carmen when Fred records her (indeed, her interpretation of the role is still widely used today). But Fred and his team discover that the character’s feistiness is not confined to the stage when they try to coax Calvé into their Covent Garden studio. Holley and Hall tell the tale of this complex French diva, and play some of her famous – or as Fred would no doubt have it – infamous recordings. Her dissatisfaction with one of her tracks was caught on disc, and we play it here.

We are joined in this episode for the first time by our new regular guest Michael Volpe, the founder and former general director of Opera Holland Park. Michael brilliantly dissects Calvé’s voice and gives us an insight into her career. He also tells us if, to put it bluntly, she was really any good.

Michael Volpe

Michael Volpe first entered the opera world in 1989 and 7 years later established the now-prestigious Opera Holland Park in London. He is currently embarked on a new project to create a new kind of opera company in the South West of England as Executive Director of Iford Arts.


Volpe’s approach to opera for thirty years has been to popularise and demystify. He has a distinct penchant for late Italian rarities in the ‘stab and sob’ repertoire. He has made several successful and startling films showing the impact of opera on individuals, from teenagers in south London to Chelsea fans.   

Volpe is the author of the acclaimed autobiography, ‘Noisy at the Wrong Times’, which tells the tale of his upbringing and attendance at Woolverstone Hall, an experimental boarding school. It was named on the Sunday Times ‘100 Biographies to Love’ list.

Music in this episode:

  1. Habanera from Carmen by Georges Bizet (1907)
  2. Seguidilla from Carmen by Georges Bizet (1902)

Photos of Emma:

This episode was edited by Andy Hetherington.

The Sound Of The Hound is powered by EMI Archives Trust.

You can subscribe to the podcast on all good podcast platforms including Spotify  Apple and Acast.

We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them!

One thought on “Diva Alert! New episode tells the story of how Fred Gaisberg recorded of one of opera’s greatest characters, Emma Calvé

  1. Very interesting – the description of Calve’s visit to Maiden Lane creates an extraordinary picture. You have inspired me to replay my Pearl CD of her recordings and a couple of 78s I have. When her voice was captured live at the Met by Lionel Mapleson, the cylinder machine was probably some distance from the stage and she wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of it (though she might well have listened to the playback later). So it seems the Maiden Lane session really was her first encounter with the recording horn. I was mentally comparing her with Melba, whose first discs in 1904 are also quite primitive recordings. Sopranos did not record well in the early acoustic years! But with Melba, we also have some later electrical recordings – with a far greater dynamic range – on which we hear so much more of her vocal timbre and personality. These make it easier to understand why she created such a sensation in earlier years. I digress. Thanks for the Calve episode.

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