American soprano Emma Eames was born in Shanghai, China, where her father was a lawyer. Her mother brought her up in Portland and Bath, Maine. Emma first studied with her mother, then studied in Boston with Clara Mungen and performed with the Boston Symphony. In 1886, she went to study in Paris with Mathilde Marchesi. Her first appearance on any opera stage was as Juliette in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette at the Paris Opera on March 13, 1889, with Jean de Reszke as Romeo. She was Gounod's choice for the role and during that first season sang the opera an average of ten times each month. During her two seasons at the Paris Opera besides singing the standard repertoire, she created leading roles in Ascanio by Saint-Saëns and Zaire by De la Nux. In 1891, she conquered the London public with her Marguerite in Gounod's Faust, but her greatest triumph there came as Aida in 1901. In London, she created roles in operas by Mancinelli, De Lara, and L.E. Bach. During this period she also sang in Madrid and Monte Carlo. 1891 also marked her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Juliette. Her actual debut with that company had occurred on tour at Chicago in Wagner's Lohengrin. Although her repertoire was dominated by lyric roles in her first season, she did sing Santuzza in the first Metropolitan Opera performance of Cavalleria Rusticana. She slowly took on more and more dramatic roles while keeping the lyric roles active. Soon she was singing the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro, Charlotte in Werther, Desdemona in Otello, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, and Alice Ford in Falstaff. On the dramatic side, she sang Eva in Die Meistersinger, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, and Sieglinde in Die Walküre. Her last appearance at the Metropolitan Opera was on February 15, 1909, as Tosca. In 1911, she sang Desdemona and Tosca with the Boston Opera and after that she only appeared in concert. She retired at age forty-six while still singing very well, as reviews and recordings will attest.
Eames, like most students of Marchesi, had a very pure voice with an almost instrument character. It was a naturally very beautiful voice with a velvety timbre which allowed her to sing the lighter dramatic roles. All of her commercial recordings were made for Victor between 1905 and 1911 (Romophone 81001-2). There are several Mapleson cylinders which give some indication of the brilliance and musicianship, but the poor sound is a trial for listeners. All of her recordings are of interest, but in particular the "Letter Duet" from Le nozze di Figaro with Marcella Sembrich displays her ability to blend her voice with another. All of the arias from operas by Gounod are important since she studied these with the composer. The duet from Lakme with Louise Homer is particularly effective. In a period often called the "Golden Age of Opera," Eames was one of the most important singers to grace the opera and concert stage.