The Forrest Gump of Opera
March 14, 2012 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Whilst searching for more images of La Milo (mentioned in this post), I stumbled across the David Elliot theatrical postcard collection. In it were some pictures of Blanche Arral.

Arral led an extraordinary life:
Born in Belgium as Clara Lardinois, the youngest of 17 children, Blanche Arral was destined for a life wilder than fiction. During her travels, Arral befriended such legendary figures as Sarah Bernhardt, Mata Hari, Harry Houdini, Victor Hugo, Franz Liszt, Camille Saint-Saens and Jack London, who based a character on her in his book Smoke Bellew. In Russia she met Rasputin, and in Turkey, the sultan Abdulhamid II. She describes her recording sessions with Thomas Edison and her run-ins with the difficult Nellie Melba.

After becoming an opera star despite her family’s better intentions, she married a Russian Prince, held court in St. Petersburg, and lost her husband in a mysterious manner in the early stages of the Russian Revolution. While searching for him in Constantinople she was imprisoned by the Sultan and literally had to escape from the seraglio (does this sound familiar? Keep reading). Having resumed her career on the international opera circuit she was rescued from opera - loving rebels in Latin America, stole Melba’s concert audiences in Melbourne by virtue of superior marketing and escaped a tsunami in Thailand by clinging to a Louis Quinze chimney piece. She eventually found haven in the USA where, while singing Carmen, she was literally stabbed by her leading man who used a real knife instead of the one with the collapsible blade. After her hair was burned off in a freak accident she made some of Edison’s first voice recordings and took to wearing the loaf-like wig in which she concluded her "extraordinary" life in New Jersey. [source]
You can listen to some of her performances on YouTube | Bird Imitation Waltz | Air des Bijoux | Je suis Titania - and here's an interview with her on a 1933 radio broadcast. It seems that when she became the wife of a New Jersey dentist in the 1940s she took to breeding Royal Sacred Siamese cats [scroll down] from a pair that were presented to her by Royal King Chulalongkorn I of Siam after having sung a recital before him.
More pictures of Arral from her triumphant New Zealand tour.

Oh! and here are the pictures of La Milo.
posted by unliteral (5 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I propose this series of awesome fractal post making be called a daisy chain.
posted by The Whelk at 8:08 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

that or a Blue Braid. I'm flexible.
posted by The Whelk at 8:09 PM on March 14, 2012

Love it. These ladies all seem to have lived stranger-than-fiction lives!

Also, the background art on those postcards of Arral is gorgeous. Love the swoopy frame-y thingies.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:48 AM on March 15, 2012

I love this! I agree with Sidhedevil about the Art Nouveau swoops and swirls.

Whenever I think my musical life is tough, I'm going to look to Arral for kickass inspiration.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:43 PM on March 15, 2012

Seeing as how this thread has bombed comment-wise, I'll just stick a few of my picks from the collection here:
  • A poster advertising Annette Kellerman 'the Perfect Woman' in "Neptune's Daughter". It has a chart that compares her measurements with Venus de Milo and Diana [see Wikipedia link below]. They have some rare footage on YouTube of course! The herd of mermaids look like a scene from an ancient David Attenborough nature documentary. I would suggest that Annette Kellerman is interesting enough to deserve her own post.
  • A little man with a big sword - George Lauri. A successful, but troubled, musical comedian:
    "I hate it. I’d rather be a blacksmith than the stage funny man, for my life of jokes and other people’s laughter, my sham merriment when I don’t feel like it. The tone of hilarity and joyousness all around me produced by myself, with people screeching themselves hoarse and twisting themselves like caterpillars, with me the suffering victim and the cause of it. Ugh! it’s horrible- I would much rather have been brought up to a trade, or put onto a farm or anywhere than go through the nightly agony of being funny when I don’t feel like it a bit. Of course I don’t want to growl, for the game pays me very well, but the innermost truth of the case is …the truth, I repeat is that stage joke-making is the reverse of whistling. When a man whistles he is as a rule the only person who enjoys it;  when a man stage-jokes successfully he is, generally speaking the only who does not enjoy it. In my case I positively suffer and have done so for years."
    On the morning of January 5th 1909, George was sitting on the verandah overlooking the sea, whilst Marietta was inside the house. Around 11.45 am Marietta heard a cry from outside, running out she saw George with his throat cut, a bloody razor on the ground beside him. George mumbled, "I have done it. I am tired of life." [source]
  • Ever of Thee - I'm assuming this is a man in drag and not an ugly woman. A humorous take on the song by George Linley
  • I don't know quite what to make of this one - 5 young ladies on roller skates dressed head to toe in grass (including a fetching grass dunce cap, joined together with a ribbon, with the frontmost pair holding a 'Keep off the grass' sign. They also have small accessory watering cans tied to their waists.
  • The way to play: Start off with "singles", thats the plan, then make it "doubles" if you can. Tennis double entrendre with a racy orange cap and tie.
  • Cyril Maude as the handsome Captain Barley, a real ladies man. Strangely, there is no footage of the 1914 film adaption (which also featured Maude as Captain Barley) available on YouTube. What's going on?
  • Ada Cerito with a pair of cherries hanging from her lips. She is described by the Sydney Mail in 1921 as "an English impersonator of broad low comedy types".
  • No comment.
posted by unliteral at 5:15 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

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