Author Topic: Who was the first singer to be called a diva  (Read 2500 times)

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Offline suzyq

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Who was the first singer to be called a diva
« on: December 15, 2009, 06:36:10 PM »
Does anyone know the origins of the word  "diva" and who was the first singer to be
called a diva?

Interesting trivia question.

Offline Maciek

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Re: Who was the first singer to be called a diva
« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2009, 07:59:41 AM »
Not sure who was called diva first, but according to this dictionary and this dictionary (though the latter might have cribbed from the former, so they should probably be treated as a single source) the word was first used in English in 1883.

[EDIT: this source is more vague about the dates.]
« Last Edit: December 16, 2009, 08:03:43 AM by Maciek »

Offline Novi

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Re: Who was the first singer to be called a diva
« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2009, 11:34:58 AM »
More details from the OED:

Quote
1883 BLACK in Harper's Mag. Feb. 465/2 The latest diva of the drama. 1894 Tablet 7 Apr. 531 Operatic singers of the other sex are to be engaged, but no diva.

Actually, the Harper's article is quite entertaining (I looked it up because I have nothing better to do :P). It's from an editorial (page 468 and not 465, Mr OED!), referring to Lillie Langtry:

Quote
And what but good-nature can explain the enormous receipts of Mrs. Langtry's engagement--which, from the point of view of the treasury, is the most successful in our theatrical annals. That Jenny Lind and Sontag and Gerster and Campanini and Nilsson and Patti and Fanny Kemble and Jefferson and Salvini and all the other famous artists should receive great sums of money is not strange, for they were all prime donne and masters in their art. But the latest diva of the drama is not a great artist, and the secret of her success is the good-natured desire to see a famously beautiful woman. Such a box-office account could be possible only in a country of good-humored people who make money easily and spend it generously.
[...]
It is a good-natured evidence of the American good-nature [...] that a charming woman can travel in the country with great prestige and pecuniary success as something which she is not. But if a famously charming woman chooses to call herself an actress, and a gay city chooses to pay sixty thousand dollars in four weeks to see her, the court would probably rule that it was not a case of false pretense, but of personal beauty on the one side and good-natured curiosity upon the other.
Durch alle Töne tönet
Im bunten Erdentraum
Ein leiser Ton gezogen
Für den der heimlich lauschet.

Offline Maciek

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Re: Who was the first singer to be called a diva
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2009, 04:36:05 PM »
Wow! Thanks! I love how this ties in (obliquely) with the "overpaid conductors" discussion... ;D

Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Who was the first singer to be called a diva
« Reply #4 on: December 27, 2009, 09:33:07 AM »
Top stage actresses like Sarah Bernhart were usually called "divine", the same root word for "diva".  Greta Garbo was probably one of the first and last film "divas".

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Lilas Pastia

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Re: Who was the first singer to be called a diva
« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2009, 01:30:34 PM »
Indeed, Garbo has always been referred to as La divine in the french press. The word diva has acquired a slightly negative connotation with the years.

An interesting spinoff is that we now have divos. I've never seen the term before recently, but it's been used rather regularly since a couple of years.