Born in England, but introduced to music at a convent school in Belgium, Marie Tempest began attracting notice as an undergraduate at the Royal Academy of Music in London when she won the gold, silver, and bronze medals for vocal performance. She appeared in New York in summer of 1890 without advanced publicity, but her performance as Kitty Carroll in "The Red Hussar" at Palmer's Theatre sent shockwaves through the American vocal firmament. The critic of the New York Herald opined, "She is far and away the best, the most refined and most cultured singer I have heard on the operetta stage . . . Her voice, a small soprano of exquisite quality . . . is singularly sweet and no less true. The delight it gave the audience last night was shown by the repeated encores which greeted the singer. Miss Tempest is a revelation."
Her forte was comedy, and she delighted American audiences for three years playing standard repertoire and novelties such as "The Tyroleon," Reginal DeKoven's "The Fencing Master," and "The Algerian." She returned to England where she ruled as undisputed queen of the comic opera stage. In America Lillian Russell was a rival claimant for the title. After the turn of the 20th century, Tempest transitioned from singing to acting roles and became an expert stage comedienne, in greatly popular plays such as "The Marriage of Kitty" (1902).
Tempest's career in show business lasted fifty-five years and included participation in several noteworthy motion pictures. As she aged, her acerbic wit and graceful manner made her seem a singularly complex individual. Managers found her difficult. Lover and friends found her larger than life. David S. Shields/ALS