Amelita Galli-Curci
Papers, 1922-1933

SC23363

Quantity: 1 box (0.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Gift; Janet Braga, Clarksville, N.Y., March 2016
Processed By: Fred Bassett, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts and Special Collections, March 2016

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Biographical Note:

Amelita Galli-Curci, née Amelita Galli was born November 18, 1882, in Milan, Italy. She studied piano and composition at the Royal Conservatory of Milan, from which she graduated in 1903. As a singer she was entirely self-taught. She made her operatic debut as Gilda in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto in Trani, Italy, in 1909 and, later that year, appeared in Rome in Georges Bizet's Don Procopio. Over the next several years she toured Egypt, Russia, Spain, and South America with various opera companies. In 1910 she married Luigi Curci, Marchese of Simeri, and she used the name Galli-Curci thereafter.

Her American debut occurred in Chicago in November 1916, when she appeared in Rigoletto at the Auditorium Theatre to great acclaim. She remained with the Chicago Opera Association until 1921, making her New York City debut in the title role of Giacomo Meyerbeer's Dinorah in January 1918. In November 1920 she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera of New York, in Verdi's La Traviata. In 1921, having divorced her husband, she married her accompanist, Homer Samuels and, thereby, became an American citizen.

In 1921 she commissioned architect Harrie T. Lindeberg, to design and build a summer house in the Catskill Mountain region of New York State.  Completed the following year, the estate known as "Sur Monte," was located near the hamlet of Highmount (Delaware County), New York. She summered there from 1922 until she sold it in 1937. 

From 1921 to 1930 Galli-Curci sang regularly at the Met. Among her more acclaimed roles were those in Madama Butterfly, Der Rosenkavalier, Lakmé, Roméo et Juliette, Lucia di Lammermoor, and I puritani. She "possessed a florid coloratura soprano of unsurpassed beauty," and was a popular recording artist; her "Caro nome" from Rigoletto, recorded about 1919, is considered one of the greatest operatic recordings ever made. Her last performance at the Met was in Il barbiere di siviglia in January 1930.

Weary of opera house politics and convinced that opera was a dying art form, Galli-Curci retired from the operatic stage in January 1930 to concentrate on concert performances. Throat problems and the uncertain pitching of top notes had plagued her for several years and she underwent surgery in 1935 for the removal of a thyroid goiter. Great care was taken during her surgery, which was performed under local anesthesia; however, her voice suffered following the surgery. A nerve to her larynx, the external branch of the superior laryngeal nerve, is thought to have been damaged, resulting in the loss of her ability to sing high notes. This nerve has since become known as the "nerve of Galli-Curci."

On November 24, 1936, Galli-Curci, aged 54, made an ill-advised return to opera, appearing as Mimi in La Bohème in Chicago. It was painfully clear that her singing days were behind her and, after another year of recitals, she went into complete retirement, living in California. She taught singing privately until shortly before her death from emphysema in La Jolla, California, on November 26, 1963, at the age of 81. Among her students was soprano Jean Fenn.

Scope and Content Note:

The papers consist chiefly of autograph signed letters from Italian opera singer Amelita Galli-Curci to Marie Christiansen Mengers (1905-1965), who apparently was a fan and aspiring singer. The letters, mostly written at Galli-Curci's country estate "Sul Monte" in Highmount, New York, generally acknowledge having received letters from Mengers, offer pleasantries, and occasionally give advice to Mengers regarding her singing aspirations. 

The papers also include a detailed narrative written by Marie Mengers shortly after meeting backstage with Galli-Curci following a vocal recital in Lincoln, Nebraska, May 23, 1922; a copy of the printed program for this performance, annotated by Mengers; and a typescript copy of a poem she had written about Galli-Curci. 

Box and Folder List:


Box Folder Description
1 1 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci to Marie C. Mengers, [Lincoln, Neb.], [May 23, 1923]; letter written on Eppley Hotel Company stationery and accompanied by an envelope containing a calling card from Mengers
1 2 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, July 22, 1925
1 3 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Lincoln, Neb., September 9, 1925
1 4 Letter (note): Amelita Galli-Curci, The Ambassador [hotel], New York, [N.Y.], to Marie C. Mengers, Lincoln, Neb., [January 14, 1926]
1 5 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass., August 22, 1929
1 6 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, [New York], N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass., March 29, 1930
1 7 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass., June 2, 1930
1 8 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass., July 8, 1930
1 9 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass., September 22, 1930
1 10 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Paris, France, October 14, 1931
1 11 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass., [June 14, 1933]
1 12 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass., December [11, 1933]
1 13 Letter: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass., December 29, 1933
1 14 Telegram: Amelita Galli-Curci, Fleischmann, N.Y., to Marie C. Mengers, Str. De Grasse, August 26, 1931
1 15 Christmas Card: Amelita Galli-Curci (not signed), to Marie C. Mengers, December 1930 (with envelope postmarked Grand Central Annex, N.Y., December 18, 1930);
1 16 Christmas Card: Amelita Galli-Curci, Sul Monte, Highmount, N.Y.,  to Marie C. Mengers, Boston, Mass. (with envelope postmarked at Highmont, N.Y., December, 18, 1933)
1 17 Printed program: Song recital of Amelita Galli-Curci, Lincoln, Neb. May 23, 1922 (annotated by Marie C. Mengers)
1 18 Personal narrative of Marie Christiansen Mengers, Lincoln, Nebraska, May 30, 1922; details her meeting backstage with Amelita Galli-Curci on May 23, 1922
1 19 Poem (typescript); "To Mme Amelita Galli-Curci" by Marie C. Mengers, Lincoln, Neb., ca. 1922
1 20 Song / Poem: "Jongleuse," annotated, n.d.
Last Updated: September 27, 2017