March 14, 1907
Harry C. Carr, future author of “Los Angeles: City of Dreams,” visits Fely Dereyne, who is starring in the San Carlo Opera Company’s touring production of “Carmen.”
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.
“Dereyne dutifully remarked that she didn’t study Carmen” as a character, Carr says.
“Just natural,” she said in French. “I am just like that myself.”
“Gee,” said the artist, uneasily, “have you really got a temper like that?”
“Sometimes,” she said, with dancing eyes.
“Well, then, I hope you like this picture.”
“Oh,” she said airily. “Sometimes I am ver—how do you call it? Ver’ nice.”
“Like the little girl that had the little curl?”
Dereyne looked troubled. “I don’ know zee ladee; who is she, please?”
“This was a great moment in Dereyne’s career,” Carr wrote. “She 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.”
Dereyne, an incredibly obscure figure today, was described in The Times as “one 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.”
She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in November 1907 as Musetta in a performance of “La Boheme” with Geraldine Farrar and Enrico Caruso. Her last Met performance was in 1908 as Nedda in “Pagliacci.” 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. That’s what I love about research.
E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com