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Macbeth, Florence Mary (1889–1966)

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Black and white photograph of Florence Macbeth taken c.1915-1920.

Photograph of Florence Macbeth taken c.1915–1920.

Mankato-born Florence Macbeth won international acclaim as an operatic soprano during the 1910s and 1920s. Known as "the Minnesota nightingale," Macbeth made hundreds of concert and recital appearances during her career. She toured the U.S. with the Chicago Opera Company for fourteen years before retiring from singing in the 1930s.

Florence Macbeth was born in Mankato in 1889 to Charles J. Macbeth and Alice A. Monfort Macbeth. She attended elementary school in Mankato and high school at St. Mary's Hall, an Episcopalian school for girls in Faribault. She graduated in 1907. During her formative years, her singing voice developed as she studied with voice teacher and impresario Nettie Snyder.

In about 1909, Macbeth's parents took her east to enroll at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. On the way they stopped at a friend's home, where she was asked to sing. Yeatman Griffith, an eminent voice teacher who was at the gathering, heard her and asked to become her paid instructor and mentor. Macbeth's parents agreed. She studied with him in the U.S. and in 1912 she, Griffith, and her parents traveled to Europe. She made her concert debut in July 1912 in Scheveningen, the Netherlands, and her European operatic debut in 1913 in Darmstadt, Germany.

After returning to the United States, Macbeth was engaged by the Chicago Grand Opera Company. On January 14, 1914, she made her American debut as Rosina in "The Barber of Seville" by Gioachino Rossini. She sang with that company for the next fourteen years.

During that period, Macbeth traveled extensively. She made concert and recital appearances, including a month-long tour in 1920 with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. The tour took her westward across Canada and then back eastward across the northern U.S.to Minnesota. She became known as the "Minnesota Nightingale". By 1926 she had made over 1500 appearances, including many with the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois during its summer seasons.

Around 1929 Macbeth's career began to ebb. She did not renew her contract with the Chicago Opera for the 1929 season. Her star had risen at about the same time as that of a number of coloratura sopranos with whom she was unable to compete. She developed a throat infection in the early 1930s—an illness that removed her for a time from the stage. She also suffered considerable financial losses due to the 1929 stock market crash. After singing for short stints with other U.S. opera companies, she ended her career at its highest point, in the late 1930s.

Macbeth married Edward Whitwell, a British former military officer, in 1922. He died in 1942 at the couple's home in California. In 1947 Macbeth met James M. Cain, the well-known author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and other novels. In September 1947 they married and moved to Maryland, Cain's home state. They lived there quietly, making occasional short trips in connection with Cain's writing.

Macbeth died in Maryland on May 5, 1966. She is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Mankato.

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Bergerson, Roger. "At Home and Abroad, St. Paul's Own Impresario Cut a Swath-How Nettie Snyder Put the City on the Musical Map." Ramsey County History 46, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 14–26.
http://www.saukcountyhistory.org/images/RCHS_Winter_2012.Nettie_Snyder.pages.Rev.2.pp14-26.pdf

Foster, Elizabeth. "Young American Singer Must Overcome Nationality Says Florence Macbeth." Fort Worth Star Telegram, March 31, 1924.

"Great Praise for Miss Florence Macbeth." Mankato Free Press, July 4, 1913.

"'Kato Girl, Famous in Grand Opera, Comes to Sing for the Home Folks." Mankato Free Press, May 1, 1914.

"'Lucia' Sung at Century." New York Times, November 18, 1914.

MacDougall, Sarah. "'Minnesota Nightingale', Florence Macbeth, Keeps Her Heart Warm for Animal Pets, Friends of Childhood Days." St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 27, 1921.

"Mankato Soprano 'Lost' Say Chicago Newspapers-Florence Macbeth Finds Safe Refuge from Persistent Interviews." St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 11, 1914.

"'Minnesota Nightingale'Will be Soloist at Song Festival." Minneapolis Tribune, August 24, 1919.

"Miss Macbeth Fulfills Challenge-Comes Back to School as Grand Opera Singer She Long Ago Predicted She Would Become." Faribault Daily News, June 2, 1925.

"Miss Macbeth to be Soloist at Last Orchestral Concert." St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 25, 1917.

"An Opera Singer Who Longed to be a Circus Star." St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 20, 1926.

"Success for Miss Macbeth." New York Times, June 14, 1913.

"Tales of Hoffmann Sung." New York Times, November 9, 1914.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Florence Macbeth taken c.1915-1920.
Black and white photograph of Florence Macbeth taken c.1915-1920.
Black and white publicity photograph of Florence Macbeth taken on June 24, 1913.
Black and white publicity photograph of Florence Macbeth taken on June 24, 1913.
Black and white studio portrait of Florence Macbeth, 1917.
Black and white studio portrait of Florence Macbeth, 1917.
Promotional pamphlet featuring photographs of Florence Macbeth and excerpts from positive reviews of her singing performances.
Promotional pamphlet featuring photographs of Florence Macbeth and excerpts from positive reviews of her singing performances.

Turning Point

Macbeth makes her American operatic debut with the Chicago Grand Opera Company on January 14, 1914, to overwhelmingly positive reviews.

Chronology

1889

Florence Mary Macbeth is born in Mankato on January 12 to Charles J. Macbeth and Alice A. Monfort Macbeth.

1900

Eleven-year-old Macbeth, whose singing voice is beginning to show signs of quality and strength, receives initial voice training under the guidance of Nettie Snyder in Mankato.

1902

In the fall, Macbeth enters the eighth grade at St. Mary's Hall, an Episcopal Girls' school in Faribault.

1907

Macbeth graduates from St. Mary's Hall in the spring.

1909

Macbeth and her parents leave for Massachusetts, where she plans to attend at Wellesley College. Instead, she begins serious vocal training with Yeatman Griffith, an eminent voice teacher with studios in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

May 17, 1912

Macbeth is issued a U.S. passport for travel to Europe to study Italian and French.

July, 1912

Macbeth makes her public debut with the Lamoureaux Orchestra of Paris in Scheveningen, the Netherlands.

January, 1913

Macbeth makes her operatic debut in Darmstadt, Germany, singing the role of Gilda in "Rigoletto" in German before a grand duke.

June 13, 1913

Macbeth makes her debut in Britain at Queen's Hall, London, under conductor Thomas Beecham.

1914

On January 14, Macbeth sings the role of Rosina in "The Barber of Seville" with the Chicago Grand Opera in her American operatic debut.

1922

Macbeth marries Edward Whitwell, a former captain with the British military now living in the United States.

1928

On January 28, Macbeth sings her last opera with the Chicago Opera Company.

1942

Whitwell dies at the couple's home in California.

1947

Macbeth marries author James M. Cain on September 19.

1966

Macbeth dies on May 5 at age seventy-seven.