March 14, 1907
Harry C. Carr, future author of â€œLos Angeles: City of Dreams,â€Â visits Fely Dereyne, who is starring in the San Carlo Opera Companyâ€™s touring production of â€œCarmen.â€Â
Accompanied by Times artist Harold R. Coffman, who sketched the singer, Carr conducted a backstage interview with Dereyne with the help of two opera company members who served as translators. As an interview, it is disjointed, poorly organized and frustratingly incomplete; the early work of a green but talented writer who is somewhat smitten with his subject. And yet it is fresh and immediate.
â€œDereyne dutifully remarked that she didnâ€™t study Carmenâ€Â as a character, Carr says.
â€œJust natural,â€Â she said in French. â€œI am just like that myself.â€Â
â€œGee,â€Â said the artist, uneasily, â€œhave you really got a temper like that?â€Â
â€œSometimes,â€Â she said, with dancing eyes.
â€œWell, then, I hope you like this picture.â€Â
â€œOh,â€Â she said airily. â€œSometimes I am verâ€”how do you call it? Verâ€™ nice.â€Â
â€œLike the little girl that had the little curl?â€Â
Dereyne looked troubled. â€œI donâ€™ know zee ladee; who is she, please?â€Â
â€œThis was a great moment in Dereyneâ€™s career,â€Â Carr wrote. â€œShe was about to learn the tragedy of the little girl who had a little curl. It took two newspapermen, an opera manager and a second tenor to do it.â€Â
Dereyne, an incredibly obscure figure today, was described in The Times as â€œone of the best Carmens who has ever been seen upon the local stage, for with her vigor and vivacity she never loses sight of the vocal demands of the role. At all times she sings. Her stage work and byplay are constantly assertive.â€Â
She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in November 1907 as Musetta in a performance of â€œLa Bohemeâ€Â with Geraldine Farrar and Enrico Caruso. Her last Met performance was in 1908 as Nedda in â€œPagliacci.â€Â After that she seems to have vanished from the stage.
And there you have it; a moment backstage in a theater (Philharmonic Auditorium) that is gone with people who are, except for Carr, entirely forgotten. Thatâ€™s what I love about research.
E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com