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Classical Notes

Quake 100

Posted at 8:44 PM on April 17, 2006 by John Zech
Filed under: The blog

Tuesday (April 18) is the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake.

It's pretty common knowledge that Enrico Caruso was performing in Bizet's Carmen the night before the quake hit, and the following morning he fled the shaking Palace Hotel in his jammies vowing never to return again.

Many have forgotten, however, that the woman singing the title role of Carmen that night was St. Peter, Minnesota's own Olive Fremstad, who would become the leading Wagnerian soprano of her day--and quite a colorful figure in her own right (she visited a New York City morgue so she could hold a severed head in her hands to prepare for the title role in premiere of Richard Strauss's opera Salome.

Caruso never came back, but within a few weeks San Franciscans were attending all kinds of entertainments to keep their spirits up while they rebuilt their city. You can read more about what they did in this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Olive Fremstad was a good friend of Willa Cather, and the inspiration for her story The Song of the Lark, which you can download here. If you want to pay your own tribute to Olive Fremstad, you can visit her gravesite in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, a little over an hour's drive north of the cities (I-35 north, Take the MN-70 exit..EXIT 165...toward ROCK CREEK / GRANTSBURG).