Czech museum scores with unique opera diva collection

Ema Destinnová, photo: Public Domain

The Czech Museum of Music is set to receive a unique collection of letters written by the legendary Czech opera singer Ema Destinnová and her close friend Hilda Schueler. The collection, containing other memorabilia belonging to the great singer was donated to the Czech Republic by Ms Schueller’s grandchildren. It will be handed over to Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka at the Czech Embassy in Sweden on Thursday.

Ema Destinnová,  photo: Public Domain
Ema Destinnová, or Emmy Destinn, as she became known abroad, was one of the greatest sopranos of the twentieth century and one of the most sought-after singers before WWI, performing in leading opera houses in Europe and the United States along such stars as Enrico Caruso.

The two women reportedly met backstage at the opera house in Berlin, when Ms Schueler came to ask Emmy Destinn for her autograph. They grew fond of each other and stayed in touch until Emmy Destinn’s death in 1930, confiding their most intimate feelings and thoughts in their correspondence. Emanuele Gadaleta is the head of the Czech Museum of Music:

“According to what we know the two women were old friends and Ms Schueler kept all the letters in which they conveyed to each other their most intimate feelings, worries, and commented on the situation in the Czech lands before and after the war. In some of the letters, Ema Destinnová expressed her gratitude to Ms Scheuler for her friendship.”

In August, Ms Hilda Schueler’s grandsons contacted the Czech Ambassador in Sweden, Jiří Šitler, with an offer to donate all their grandmother’s personal belongings relating to Ema Destinnová to the Czech Republic. Among the items that will become part of the Czech Museum of Music are not only letters, but other memorabilia connected to the great Czech singer:

“There are 37 letters, two telegrams, a number of photos of Ema Destinnová, four postcards with her portraits, 15 concert programs, two posters from Berlin and Prague, 31 newspaper clippings about her performances and collection of 16 records with the recording of Ema Destinnová’s voice.”

Some of the circumstances surrounding the collection still remain a mystery, for instance how Ms Schueler managed to get them to Sweden in the first place. According to the daily Lidové noviny, as a Jew she was forced to flee Germany in 1942 to Switzerland, leaving all her personal belongings behind.

Emanuele Gadaleta of the Czech Museum of Music says these questions will be the subject of further research.

After the collection arrives in the Czech Republic, all of the items will be entered into the museum’s catalogue and will become part of an on-line database, which is accessible to the public. At some point in the future, the Czech Museum of Music also hopes to show Ema Destinnová’s letters in a special exhibition.