San Francisco

As you dig into your holiday turkey leftovers, get to know Luisa Tetrazzini—beloved Italian opera star

Sunset, Volume 26, (California: Passenger Dept., So. Pacific Company, 1911) - CREDIT: Google eBooks

Sunset, Volume 26, (California: Passenger Dept., So. Pacific Company, 1911) – CREDIT: Google eBooks

Turkey and chicken leftovers often find themselves chopped up and tossed in recipes ending in ‘à la King‘ and ‘Tetrazzini‘. Just last weekend, I pulled out Emeril Lagasses’s recipe for Chicken à la King to use up some turkey leftovers, and I have Ree Drummond’s Turkey Tetrazzini recipe on standby for Christmas.

Historically the two dishes appeared within less than two decades of each other—‘à la King’ in the early 1890s was the invention of Chef William King of the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia*, and ‘Tetrazzini’ was lovingly assembled in 1908-1910 by Chef Ernest Arbogast of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California*, a city adored by Italian opera star Luisa Tertrazzini (1871-1940) and the site of her 1905 US debut. I confess that until recently, I’d never heard of Luisa nor did I know the origins of the culinary creation that bears her name. Discovering her has been a wonderful surprise.

Luisa was a huge phenomenon in her day, and it would be a shame if current generations did not get to know who she was and the cultural contributions she made to her adopted country, particularly to her beloved San Francisco, victim of a devastating earthquake in 1906.

After her San Francisco debut, Luisa headed to New York where she was a huge sensation and worked for the great Oscar Hammerstein. Some legal disputes erupted at one point that were preventing her from performing in New York. The feisty Luisa called a press conference and made her famous pronouncement: “I will sing in San Francisco if I have to sing there in the streets, for I know the streets of San Francisco are free.” And that is exactly what Luisa did after winning her legal battles.

Luisa Tetrazzini - Photo from 1909 book Heart Songs - Wikimedia

Luisa Tetrazzini – Photo from 1909 book Heart Songs – Wikimedia

On Christmas Eve 1910, she demonstrated her affection for the City by the Bay with a live evening performance before an audience estimated at up to 300,000 people. In the heart of the city, near the famed ‘Lotta’s Fountain‘, accompanied by Steindorff’s Orchestra and choristers from the Good Samaritan Mission and the Church of St. John the Baptist, Madame Luisa Tetrazzini, age 39, sang her heart out. As one newspaper described it: “It was a Christmas party at which San Francisco ‘hung up’ its ears instead of its stockings and filled them with the gold and silver of Tetrazzini’s music.” **

Visit YouTube today, and you can have the privilege of listening to this amazing star yourself. There are dozens of links to choose from, all accompanied by some image of the Italian diva.

Much was written about that Christmas Eve performance so many years ago, and I’m posting a few of the articles I’ve found here, just so you can get a sense of how utterly phenomenal Luisa was and why she truly deserves to be remembered for generations to come.

Suffice it to say that from now on, whenever I reach for my recipe for Chicken/Turkey Tetrazzini or think of San Francisco, I will remember this portly little lady with the heavenly voice who was adored by millions of our ancestors and brought so much joy to the lives of so many.

(CLICK IMAGES BELOW FOR LEGIBLE VIEWS)

Sunset, Volume 26, (California: Passenger Dept., So. Pacific Company, 1911) - CREDIT: Google eBooks

“Madame Tetrazzini singing in the streets of San Francisco, Christmas Eve. On the platform built for her among the people, surrounded by orchestra and choristers, radiant in a jeweled dress under a multitude of calciums***, the great diva sang to a gathering from all classes and all climes. There was such stillness in the crowded square that the upper tones of her song were clearly heard on the roofs of buildings four blocks away.” Sunset, Volume 26, (California: Passenger Dept., So. Pacific Company, 1911) – CREDIT: Google eBooks

Sunset, Volume 26, (California: Passenger Dept., So. Pacific Company, 1911) - CREDIT: Google eBooks

Sunset, Volume 26, (California: Passenger Dept., So. Pacific Company, 1911) – CREDIT: Google eBooks

Sunset, Volume 26, (California: Passenger Dept., So. Pacific Company, 1911) - CREDIT: Google eBooks

Sunset, Volume 26, (California: Passenger Dept., So. Pacific Company, 1911) – CREDIT: Google eBooks

San Francisco Call, Volume 109, Number 25, 25 December 1910; This and next 3 images courtesy of: California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, <http://cdnc.ucr.edu>. All newspapers published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain and therefore have no restrictions on use.

San Francisco’s The Call, Volume 109, Number 25, 25 December 1910; California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, <http://cdnc.ucr.edu&gt;. All newspapers published before January 1, 1923 are in the public domain and therefore have no restrictions on use.

San Francisco Call, Volume 109, Number 25, 25 December 1910 _p2

San Francisco Call, Volume 109, Number 25, 25 December 1910 _p3

San Francisco Call, Volume 109, Number 25, 25 December 1910 _p4

***Christmas Eve Concert – commemorative plaque unveiled – March 1912***

San Francisco Call, Volume 111, Number 116, 25 March 1912 _p1

Credit this and below image: San Francisco’s The Call, Volume 111, Number 116, 25 March 1912

San Francisco Call, Volume 111, Number 116, 25 March 1912_p2

*****************************************************************************************************************************
*Wikipedia

**San Francisco’s The Call, Sunday, December 25, 1910, pp. 29-36.

***calciums = calcium lights that produce light effects

Categories: Arts & Culture, California, Food: Family Recipes & Favorites, Luisa Tetrazzini, Miscellaneous, San Francisco | 10 Comments

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