Marcella Sembrich was an internationally famous coloratura soprano around the turn of the twentieth century. Born Prakseda Marcelina Kochanska in Poland, Sembrich's father was a provincial town musician who first provided her with instruction in violin and piano starting at age four. Sembrich made her first public appearance at the age of 10 and the following year, she enrolled at the Conservatory of Lemberg (now Lvov) where her primary instructor was Wilhelm Stengel. In 1874, Stengel took Sembrich to Weimar to perform for Franz Liszt. Liszt encouraged Sembrich to develop her singing voice through training, which led to studies in Vienna and Milan. Sembrich made her operatic debut in Athens, Greece, on June 3, 1877, also on this occasion adopting Marcella Sembrich as her professional name. A month earlier, she had married Stengel and they would remain a close couple until his death in 1917.
While a member of the Dresden Court Opera in 1878 - 1880, Sembrich gained notice in the role of Lucia di Lammermoor and would subsequently use it to establish a reputation throughout Europe. It was in Lucia that Sembrich first sang at Covent Garden on June 12, 1880, and also at her New York Metropolitan Opera debut on October 24, 1883. This date was only the second night that the Met itself was open for business. Though in the 1880s and 1890s, Sembrich was in operas worldwide, it was at the Metropolitan Opera that she was most welcome. Sembrich served as a regular member of the cast from 1898 - 1900 and from 1901 - 1909. It was backstage at the Met that Sembrich first recorded, on cylinder for Lionel Mapleson, in a 45-second snatch of Johann Strauss II's Frühlingsstimmen on March 31, 1900. Marcella Sembrich was one of the most popular of all singers to appear at the Metropolitan Opera and took key roles in more important premiere productions than any singer in the history of the Met. She sang the Met's first Queen of the Night, Violetta, Lucia, Elvira in Ernani, and premiered many other top-drawer prima donna parts. When the Columbia Phonograph Company approached Sembrich to help them kick off their Grand Opera Series in 1902, she received 2,000 dollars for four sides. Sembrich continued in Grand Opera until her retirement in 1909, and from then until Stengel's death in 1917, she sang in concerts and recitals. Sembrich's popularity and name recognition kept her busy in recording studios even beyond that, through 1919. Along the way, she recorded in duets and ensembles with such artists as Emma Eames, Enrico Caruso, and Antonio Scotti.
Her later years were spent teaching at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and at the Institute of Musical Art (later Juilliard) in New York. Sembrich said she never felt comfortable making acoustical recordings, but that didn't keep her from producing them in fairly substantial numbers. She has long been considered one of the most significant of historical opera singers to record early in the twentieth century, and as in the case of Caruso, there probably hasn't been a time since she began recording in 1902 that at least one of Sembrich's titles was not in print in some form. In the CD era, they are all available, some in multiple packages. Generally speaking, Marcella Sembrich's earlier recordings better reflect her unique talent and fine coloratura singing than later ones, in particular those records made before her retirement in 1909.