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Kellogg, Clara Louisefree

(09 July 1842–13 May 1916)
  • Katherine K. Preston

Kellogg, Clara Louise (09 July 1842–13 May 1916), soprano and operatic impresario, was born in Sumterville (now Sumter), South Carolina, the daughter of George Kellogg and Jane Elizabeth Crosby, teachers. Both of her parents were from well-established Connecticut families, and shortly after her birth the family returned north, to Birmingham (now Derby), Connecticut. Clara Louise’s father worked as an inventor and manufacturer, but his business failed around 1855; as a result the Kellogg family moved to New York City.

Kellogg first learned music from her parents, who were musical amateurs. She began studying the piano at the age of five. She attended the Ashland Seminary and Musical Institute in the Catskills and in the late 1850s studied with several New York voice teachers, including Achille Errani and Emanuele Muzio. After a modest concert tour in 1860 Kellogg made her New York debut as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Academy of Music on 27 February 1861. She then accompanied the operatic company (managed by Maurice Grau) to Boston for a season, where she sang in Bellini’s La sonnambula and Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix before the season was prematurely terminated because of the outbreak of the Civil War. During the war Kellogg continued to perform, appearing in some dozen roles in cities from Boston to Chicago; she also gave operatic concerts. Her first triumph occurred when she sang Marguerite in the New York premiere performance of Gounod’s Faust at the Academy of Music on 25 November 1863. This was fortuitous, for over the next thirty years Faust (which was almost always sung in Italian) was one of the most popular operas in the United States, and for much of that time Kellogg was closely identified with Marguerite. Kellogg made her London debut, also as Marguerite, at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 2 November 1867. Over the course of her career she sang more than forty roles in Italian, French, and English operas. She reportedly preferred playing Aida and Carmen, but it was as Marguerite that she was most successful. Her close public identification with this role is somewhat ironic, for Kellogg admitted in her memoirs that it was not a role she admired. “Musically, I loved the part of Marguerite,” she wrote. “Dramatically, I confess to some impatience over the imbecility of the girl. From the first I summarily apostrophised her to myself as ‘a little fool!’ ” (p. 80).

From 1868 through 1873 Kellogg sang regularly in concert and in operatic performances. She performed during the Handel Festival of 1868 in London and subsequently made concert tours of both Europe and the United States. In 1872 she sang with soprano Pauline Lucca in an opera company managed by Max Maretzek, and in 1873 she organized a troupe of her own, the Clara Kellogg English Opera Company, with which she hoped to popularize in the United States the performance of Italian and French opera sung in English. Kellogg hired C. D. Hess to serve as business manager; she reserved for herself not only the role of prima donna but also the position of artistic manager. In her latter role she selected the repertory, made decisions about costumes and stage settings, hired and coached both principal singers and chorus members, and oversaw rehearsals. During the first year Kellogg herself translated into English the foreign-language works used by the company and adapted them to the American stage. The repertory included many operas that were American favorites, including Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl, Auber’s Fra Diavolo, Verdi’s Il trovatore, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and Flotow’s Martha. In addition, the company performed works relatively new to Americans, including Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, Thomas’s Mignon, Balfe’s Il talismano, and Julius Benedict’s Lily of Killarney. During the troupe’s second season (1874–1875) Kellogg sang in no fewer than 125 performances; although this level of stamina is unthinkable today, it was not particularly extraordinary at the time. One of the goals of Kellogg’s company was to firmly establish opera sung in English in the United States; the troupe frequently used the slogan “opera for the people” on its playbills and in its advertising. As such, the Kellogg English Opera Company represents a continuation of a movement that began in the United States in the late 1840s and early 1850s, when Italian opera first started to become identified as an “aristocratic” social endeavor. The company’s attempt was also an extension of a similar “English opera” campaign in England. Kellogg’s company, however, was only moderately successful, possibly because of competition from the Euphrosyne Parepa-Rosa, Caroline Richings, and other English opera companies; it disbanded after 1876.

During the late 1870s and early 1880s Kellogg resumed opera and concert appearances both in the United States and Europe (London, Paris, Vienna, and St. Petersburg); she also formed a number of short-lived concert troupes that traveled widely throughout the United States. In 1887 she married her manager, Carl Strakosch, the nephew of prominent operatic and concert impresarios Maurice Strakosch and Max Strakosch (the latter had at one time been her manager). The couple adopted a child. After she was married Kellogg performed less frequently in public, and she eventually retired to the family estate “Elpstone” in New Hartford, Connecticut, where she died.

Kellogg had a pure, sweet soprano voice of large range and penetrating quality, and she was praised as a good actress. After her London debut, for example, a critic described her voice as “a soprano of pure and even quality, sufficiently brilliant in its upper portion, and intensely sympathetic in its middle and lower range.” Kellogg, he continued, “has perfect command over a compass of two octaves… . her bravura-singing in florid ornamental passages has that distinctness and completeness of style so seldom realized; while her shake is irreproachable in closeness, evenness, and intonation.” About her histrionic abilities the critic concluded, “Miss Kellogg is an excellent actress,—with an intelligent and expressive face, a graceful figure, and that propriety of gesture, action, and by-play, which denote that the study of acting, apart from singing, has occupied more of her attention than is usual with vocalists” (quoted in Winter, p. 466). Despite these abilities Kellogg never reached the status of contemporaries such as sopranos Adelina Patti and Lillian Nordica, perhaps because she lacked the undefinable charisma or stage presence typical of performers of the first rank. She was both ambitious and generous and had a deserved reputation as someone willing to encourage and assist struggling young artists (her generous pecuniary support to the impoverished young American soprano Emma Abbott, for example, was public knowledge during Kellogg’s lifetime). Although she was not the first American-born prima donna, Kellogg was the first American singer to achieve a solid professional reputation in Europe. She was also indefatigable in her efforts to advance the cause of opera in English in the United States.

Bibliography

There are several manuscript collections that contain materials related to Kellogg’s life and career, but there is apparently no known collection of her papers. Scattered materials related to Kellogg are in the Bryant and Godwin papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the New York Public Library and in the Albert Davis–Messmore Kendall Holographic File Collection of the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas in Austin. Scrapbooks related to Kellogg are in the Metropolitan Opera Archives in New York, and correspondence is located in the Music Division of the New York Public Library. Kellogg’s autobiography, Memoirs of an American Prima Donna (1913), remains the only book-length treatment of her life and career. It is, however, anecdotal and self-serving in nature and as such is of limited use to scholars. There is also useful but limited information in contemporary biographical compilations; particularly helpful are entries by Harriet Prescott Spofford in Our Famous Women (1884), William Winter in Eminent Women of the Age (1869), F. O. Jones in the Handbook of American Music and Musicians (1886), Phebe A. Hanaford in Women of the Century (1877), and Charles Lahee in Famous Singers of Today and Yesterday (1898). Timothy Hopkins, The Kelloggs in the Old World and the New (1903), is a good source for biographical material. An article titled “Miss Kellogg and English Opera” in the New York Times, 20 Feb. 1874, provides some insight into Kellogg’s role as a proponent of English opera in the United States. Hobart H. Burr discusses Kellogg in the context of Americans’ pride in women musicians in “American Women Musicians,” Cosmopolitan, Aug. 1901. Obituaries are in Musical America, 20 May 1916, Musical Courier, 18 May 1916, and the New York Times, 17 May 1916.