Alice Nielsen traversed the path from vaudeville to grand opera in the course of her life, beginning as a street singing girl in Kansas City, Missouri, touring the Western vaudeville circuits as a teenage warbler, until adopted and trained by the Tivoli Opera Company in San Francisco. She achieved national popularity as a lyric soprano in The Bostonians, a beloved light opera company.
Shortly before the turn of the century she formed her own troupe, commissioned Victor Herbert for scores, and became a Broadway Star with "The Serenade" and "The Fortune Teller." (Herbert's third confection, "The Singing Girl" 1899 proved less popular.) A star, she plunged fully into the world of grand opera, signing with the San Carlo Opera Company for whom she became a fixture, first in Mozartian roles, then in the 19th-century Italian repertory. She sang with most of the greats of the Golden Age: Caruso, Calve, Antonio Scotti, Nordica. She enjoyed immense popularity as a recording artist, performing sentimental songs as well as arias.
Nielsen's final appearance on Broadway would be in the role of Killy Bellairs in Rudolf Friml’s 1917 musical "Killy Darlin'." An ugly mixture of personalities doomed the produced after two weeks. At the dawn of the 20th century there was no bigger vocal talent on Broadway. But it would be the Met that would enjoy her best work. David S. Shields/ALS