Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 3)

In part one of Ursula’s travelogue, we learned about Ursula’s voyage to the south of France to study with famous opera singer Emma Calvé. In part two, she told us tales of life at Madame Calvé’s castle, Château Cabrières. In part three, Ursula and the other young “song birds” have a glorious summer exploring Europe with Mme. Calvé.

Ursula Cheshire and Emma Calve

Ursula at far right, next to her teacher, famous opera singer Emma Calvé (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

[Part three]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

“July was spent in a villa by the sea, at Biarritz, a summer resort of the Bay of Biscay. The coast there was beautiful—rugged with small coves and beaches—and the promenades are shaded and hedged with the tamaris tree, so dear to France. Here we had our lessons as usual, but we also found time for a few swims in these lovely surroundings.

Spanish_Bullfight_PostcardLeaving Biarritz we went through Spain on our way back to the château. Spain seemed a land of romance, for the poorest little house had its balcony and flower garden. At Saint Sebastian we saw a bull fight. It was a glorious sight to see the arena filled with enthusiastic Spaniards and to see the Grand Entrance procession of the toreadors in their gorgeous costumes, but when it came to the actual fight, and the killing of the bull—it was terrible. We hid our faces behind our fans most of the time, but even with what we did see we left with a very unpleasant feeling.

NiceAfter another month or so of study at Cabrières we left for the French Riviera, a land of sunshine and flowers, bordering on the great Mediterranean sea. Nice, the center of the Riviera, is a beautiful city, visited in the winter by people from all over the world, and on its famous Promenade des Anglais at the water’s edge, one hears all languages spoken.

Monte Carlo is another interesting place, well known for its Casino. Here I played once (ten francs worth) and lost. The Casino is open every day from nine in the morning until midnight and is visited daily by some persons who play the game as a profession.

Leaving Nice, we motored over the Grande Corniche road and through the Maritime Alps which overlook the Mediterranean. From one high point we could look back over the French coast to Marseille or further, and also a great distance down the Italian coast. I shall never forget this picture. The shores were washed with water of azure blue, while the hills were studded with gaily colored villas. Also, from this same point we could look down on the French-Italian border, and soon we found ourselves at the line showing our passports, first to the French authorities to get out of France, and then to the Italian Riviera with its Santa Margherita and Portofino.

PisaAs we moved on toward Rome, our destination, we passed through Genoa, the birthplace of our dauntless Columbus, and where it seemed to me the church bells rang all night long. We also stopped at Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, Cathedrale, Baptistere, and Camp-Sano. Such a lovely group! The tower is so impressive and fills you with awe and wonder as you look up into the air at this huge stone structure toujours penché (always leaning).

Now we are in Rome—‘The Eternal City’ with all its wonders—St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Vatican and many other places too numberable to mention. And so I am beginning to realize what riches and splendor the old world holds for us!

French Landscape

Smoothness like thick crushed velvet sweeps toward the distant hill;
Up from the quiet river the lombardies climb to the sky.
Mellowness broods like an anthem over a golden world;
A magpie swings toward the sunset, and God seems very near.

Margaret P. Fisher, AB.”

Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 2)

Ursula Cheshire at Chateau Cabrieres

Ursula on the Grand Front Terrace at Château Cabrières, France (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

Last week, I posted part one of Ursula’s European adventure—written by Ursula, herself! Here’s part two, a richly detailed account of studying and living at famous opera singer Emma Calvé’s castle in southern France. Ursula’s travelogue was originally published in her sorority’s quarterly journal, Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha, in March 1925.

[Part two]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

“Château de Cabrières, the home of Mme. Calvé, is in the southern part of France, on one of the highest peaks of the Cevene mountains, miles away from any real city. The castle is old Roman style with large round towers, and dates back to the year 1050 A.D. Huge iron gates are at the entrance of the grounds, which are surrounded by thick stone walls, while at the entrance of the château there are two ancient iron bolted doors, one leading into an open court and the other into the hallway.

Château Cabrières

Château Cabrières

The rooms of the château are all exquisitely furnished with things from all parts of the globe. Three rooms appealed to me particularly. First the ancient guard room (now used for the dining room) with its original stone floor, ceiling and fireplace; next the salon with its large carved furniture, and then the Louis XIV bedroom with its heavily handcarved Louis XIV bed.

The castle was an ideal place to study. There was nothing near to bother us. There was nothing near to hear us. We could sing to the many mountain peaks on all sides, with only the sheep on the hillside, or the oxen in the valley, to hear the echoes of our voices.

Jean Henri Fabre

French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre

Yet sometimes this tranquility was broken, for we had guests from near and far—musicians, artists and even reporters. When from our heights we would see an auto turn off the main highway below and start to climb the mountain road, that was our signal to prepare for company. Also at different times we would give concerts in the near-by towns, which necessitated short trips, and again our studies would be put aside for a while. One very interesting program was given at Rodez, the capitol of the department of Aveyron, to raise funds for a monument to the great French naturalist, Henri Fabre.

bon_bonsI will never forget my first soirée at the château. Guests came from all around to give us a fête, bringing with them pastries, bonbons, wine and champagne, and a grand feast was spread. The evening was spent in dancing and singing and I had a rather interesting time trying to converse with our guests with my then small French vocabulary.”

To be continued…


Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 1)

Among the many reasons I love working on this blog is the rush of excitement that comes when I discover a hidden “gem” that I know will enrich the treasure box that is Ursula’s story.

Ursula Cheshire at Chateau Cabrieres

Ursula on the Grand Front Terrace at Château Cabrières, France (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

I experienced such a moment after finishing my May 19 post on Ursula’s time studying at opera star Emma Calvé’s castle in southern France.

At that time, I decided to cast one more line of inquiry into the “intergoogle,” not expecting much in return. I was curious to see if there were any written accounts by one of Madame Calvé’s other “young songbirds” of that period—perhaps in the memoirs of someone who found later fame.

Lo and behold, my search returned a result that indicated Ursula, herself, had written a report of studying with Madame Calvé and traveling abroad! It was published in her sorority’s quarterly journal, Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha. I couldn’t believe my luck!

I clicked on the link, but was frustrated to find that I couldn’t access the journal online. I dug around a little more and found that there was one available copy of the journal—in a library storage facility located at the University of Michigan. So, I contacted my local public library and arranged to receive a digital copy of the report via interlibrary loan.

A couple days later and voilà!—a digital scan of the article appeared in my e-mail inbox. My heartbeat quickened as I clicked on the PDF. And then there they were: Ursula’s own words, painting a vivid portrait of her glorious time in France and beyond. I was elated, and felt almost like I was being reunited with a long-lost friend.

Studying and Traveling Abroad, By Ursula Cheshire

Ursula’s account of her European travels appeared in the March 1925 issue of “Themis,” Zeta Tau Alpha’s quarterly journal

I will post Ursula’s story in three parts, with part one (below) covering her departure from the United States and arrival in France, and her experience of Paris before journeying south; part two (next Tuesday—special edition of Mystery Dancer!) describing her time studying at Château Cabrières; and part three (another special edition, on June 30), covering her European travels with Mme. Calvé and the other “songbirds.” Enjoy!

[Part one]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

 “Last May, after the closing of college at Berkeley, I left California, accompanied by my mother, to study with Mme. Emma Calvé in her castle in France.

Zeta sisters and friends bid us bon voyage as our train left the Oakland station and after a very enjoyable trip across the continent and a two weeks visit in New York, we found ourselves sailing out of New York harbor. As our steamer passed the Statue of Liberty my thoughts began to wander, and I wondered what my new life in the old world held for me.

Cherbourg, where we disembarked, was the first little French city to come before my eyes, and I remember how quaint I thought it was. There is a high stone wall at the waterfront with a straight line of French shops rising behind it, while the harbor was filled with small sailboats. Sitting on the wall or leaning over it were any number of French lads watching our steamer come in, and the streets were filled with two-wheeled carts, pulled by the horse, the oxen or the peasant.

After a long ride on the small French train with its many compartments, through the beautiful open country of Normandy with its fields of wheat and red poppies, we arrived at Paris to the ‘toots’ of taxi horns—and I thought ‘so this is Paris,’ as many others have thought before me. The buildings are not high like our American skyscrapers but what they lack in height they make up for in beauty, for they are all decorated.

The Parisian life is very gay and the shops and cafés hold much interest for the visitor, while even more alluring are such places as the Louvre with its galleries of art, Notre Dame with its rose windows, Eiffel Tower, the Triumphal Arch, and the Champ Elyseés. I loved Paris, its beauty and its life, and I hated to leave it, but it was necessary to go to Cabrières to study.”

To be continued…

Life at Madame Calvé’s Castle

Emma Calvé

A young Emma Calvé, legendary French opera singer and Ursula’s teacher

When we left off, Ursula was about to set sail for France to study with the famous operatic soprano Madame Emma Calvé. In her 1922 memoir My Life, published just two years before Ursula’s arrival, Mme. Calvé described the summers she spent teaching young women at her castle, “Château Cabrières,” in Cévennes, a mountainous region in the South of France.

Mme. Calvé aimed to help the young ladies, who hailed from around the world, acquire “a knowledge of the difficult arts of singing and of living.” Their days were filled with song, discourse, drawing, literature, poetry, swimming, hiking, “motoring” trips in the surrounding countryside, and excursions to art galleries and museums in nearby towns, and sometimes even to Italy.

Mme. Calvé paints a vivid picture of day-to-day life for the women at her château in a chapter called “A Nest of Young Song Birds,” an excerpt of which appears below. It gives us a good idea of what Ursula’s time there would have been like. What an exciting and lovely way for Ursula to have spent her summer—that heady time between graduating from college and starting life in the “real” world.

Excerpt from My Life, by Emma Calvé:
“…Every summer during recent years I have filled my castle on the hill top with different groups of young girls who have come to study with me. It is a joy to me to have these young people about, to hear their fresh voices, to try to help them a little in acquiring a knowledge of the difficult arts of singing and of living.

Chateau Cabrieres

Château Cabrières, opera star Emma Calvé’s French castle, where Ursula studied after graduating from U.C. Berkeley

“Both at Cabrières and in Paris, where I teach during part of the year, I have had pupils from every quarter of the globe: Russians…Italians…English…French…; and, of course, my dear Americans, with their cordial, spontaneous friendliness, their splendid physical equipment, beautiful voices and simple, unsophisticated outlook…

The parlor at Château Cabrières

The parlor at Château Cabrières

“Whenever it is possible, I take these young girls into my own home at Cabrières. What happy, busy summers we pass among my beautiful mountains, in the high solitude of my well-beloved country!…

“My young girls benefit greatly by their summer in the country—a real cure d’air for those who come from cities or from damp, low regions. I can take care of a number of pupils in my little castle, and they share with me the comfortable, wholesome country life that I love so much.

view from Château Cabrières

The view from Château Cabrières in southern France

“Our daily routine is simplicity itself. We rise early and dispatch our small domestic duties, for here at Cabrières we live upon a democratic plane. Rich or poor, luxuriously nurtured or hard working—all are alike under this roof. At ten o’clock we assemble for lessons and work hard until lunch time. In the afternoon we take our pleasure. Some go swimming in the river nearby; others take long walks among the hills. On fête days, or when the spirit of adventure seizes us, we go off for long excursions into the surrounding countryside in the automobile. Motoring is a delight in this part of the world, for the roads are so built that one can reach a fairly great altitude without strain. In the evening, we have our books, letters to write, long talks by the fireside, an impromptu lesson or two. Indeed, the whole day is full of movement and song, for I and my little troupe are happy at Cabrières, and we sing as easily as we walk or talk!…

Emma Calvé

Emma Calvé closer to the age she would have been when teaching Ursula and the other young women at her country home in France

“When we are finally tired of singing and talking, we have lessons in “deportment” and stage bearing. We make experiments in the gentle art of walking across a stage…

“Singing, study, exercise, fill the days at Cabrières. Nor do we neglect the sister arts. The eye must be trained as well as the ear. A sensitiveness to line and colour should be cultivated as well as an appreciation of literature and poetry. I never fail to take my pupils on one or two excursions to such neighbouring towns and cities as can boast art galleries or museums. We go to Montpellier, to Arles, sometimes as far as Italy, whose rich heritage of art is a never-ending source of pleasure and stimulation. It is a keen delight to me to share the fresh enthusiasm of these young girls, to see again through their eyes the marvels of painting and of sculpture, the wonders and delights of the Italian Renaissance.”