Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stralia, Elsa (1881–1945)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Elsa Stralia (1881-1945), soprano, was born on 1 March 1881 in Adelaide and named Elsie Mary, daughter of Hugo Fischer, tobacconist, and his wife Annie, née Clausen. Hugo, a well-known baritone, was secretary of the Adelaide Liedertafel. In 1889 the family moved to Melbourne where Elsie was convent-educated. After the death of her parents she auditioned at Marshall-Hall's conservatorium and was awarded two annual scholarships to study with Mme Elise Wiedermann. Completing her studies, Elsie travelled with the J. C. Williamson Comic Opera Co. to Sydney where she studied with Gustave Slapoffski; he was impressed by the 'unusual breadth, power and feeling' of her singing, and presented her in 1909 at a concert of the Sydney Philharmonic Society.

On 24 December 1908 Elsie Fischer married William Mountford Moses at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. They travelled to Europe in 1910 where Elsie studied at Milan and in London. Invited to audition for the Royal Opera Company, she made her début at Covent Garden as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni on 10 July 1913. While recognizing her inexperience and nervousness, critics praised the range and power of her voice. For her operatic début, she adopted the professional name 'Elsa Stralia'.

Following a two-month contract at the Carlo Felice Opera House, Genova, she sang at Covent Garden until the outbreak of World War I. During the war years she took leading roles in Sir Thomas Beecham's opera seasons at Drury Lane Theatre, went with a concert party to South Africa, was soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Society and toured with violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, pianist Vladimir de Pachmann and with (Dame) Clara Butt. Many of her appearances raised funds for the war effort; two of her brothers were killed in action.

In 1919 Elsa Stralia was engaged for the grand opera season at Covent Garden; next year she sang with the Lamoureux Orchestra in Paris. In 1921-22 she was soloist for twelve concerts with the New York Symphony Orchestra under Walter Damrosch who wrote: 'The big voice soars and swells; her top notes can be a clarion or have the soft beauty of a woodwind'. Having toured a number of larger American cities and once sung The Star-Spangled Banner while dressed as the Statue of Liberty, she visited London to record with the Columbia Gramophone Co.

In 1925 Elsa made a successful Australasian tour. She returned to London and New York, mainly for radio work, and again toured the antipodes for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1934. Obtaining a divorce from her husband on the ground of desertion, she married Adolph Theodor Christensen on 14 November 1935 at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. They lived at Patea, New Zealand, until his death in 1943 when she moved to Melbourne. Suffering from diabetes and heart disease, she died childless at Belgrave, Victoria, on 31 August 1945 and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. Her estate, valued for probate at £3936, established a scholarship for young Australasian female singers.

Strong featured, dark and handsome, though stout in later years, Elsa Stralia looked 'every inch the prima donna'. She had a fine stage presence and 'a temperament of southern warmth'. Likened to Melba's, her voice was 'clear, pure, ringing and sweet', at her peak 'the most powerful in England'. Followers of her Australian concerts found that, despite her American accent and international success, she was still 'simple, warm-hearted and sincere'.

Select Bibliography

  • H. D. Rosenthal, Two Centuries of Opera at Covent Garden (Lond, 1958)
  • B. and F. MacKenzie, Singers of Australia (Melb, 1967)
  • Footlight Star, May 1919
  • Woman's World, 1 Mar 1925
  • Wireless Weekly, 1 June 1934
  • Australian Musical News and Musical Digest, 1 Oct 1945
  • Times (London), 11 July 1913, 3 July 1914, 6 Dec 1915, 1 Sept 1945
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Oct 1920, 6 Sept 1924, 25, 26 Mar, 11 Apr 1925, 31 Mar, 22 May 1934, 1 Sept 1945
  • Punch (Melbourne), 14 May 1925
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 Mar, 1 May 1934.

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Stralia, Elsa (1881–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stralia-elsa-8694/text15211, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fischer, Elsie Mary
  • Moses, Elsie Mary
  • Christensen, Elsie Mary
Birth

1 March 1881
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Death

31 August 1945
Belgrave, Victoria, Australia

Occupation