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Helen Culver.png

Cabinet Photograph
J. Ruby - Photographer
Brückenstr., 76, Trier, Germany
c. 1900s

Little remembered today amongst the 19th and early 20th Century operatic greats, American-born Helen Culver did find herself mentioned regularly in major newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune.

Helen A. Culver was born in Iowa in November 1867 to Edward Culver, a confectioner, and Sarah E. Culver. She was educated at Iowa Wesleyan College and graduated with a degree in music in 1883.

Although details on her musical career are fragmentary at best she seems to have performed much in the United States as well as touring Europe. Culver was in Paris as early as 1897 as reported in the November 21 edition of the Chicago Tribune. In the article Mme. Gounod and Mme. Vaidort of Paris was quoted as being quite taken with Culver’s vocal qualities: “You have a rare contralto voice without a vulgar tone in it.” and “Of the nine hundred American girls in Paris you are the one who will gain preeminence.”  I have found references describing Culver as both a Contralto and a Mezzo-soprano. In the June 1914 edition of The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi Culver is mentioned as having been with the Moody, Manners English Grand Opera Company of London.

She seems to have made Denver, Colorado her hometown and also taught music there and was mentioned in the 1915 Denver city directory. A mention in the February 13, 1925 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune mentions the then 58-year-old Mezzo-soprano Helen Culver performing at The Cliff Dwellers in Chicago. I have been unable to find any mention of her after this date.

The cabinet photograph of Helen Culver was taken in Trier, Germany when she performed the secondary role of the Valkyrie Waltraute, sister of the much more well-known Valkyrie Brünnhilde. The character appears in Act 3 of Wagner’s Die Walkure and Act 1 of Gotterdammerung. The photograph was dedicated to a Mr. & Mrs. Farmer in 1909.

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