de Nunzio (Edna Smith) Papers and Photographs on the San Francisco Opera
Edna Elizabeth Smith was born June 16, 1905, in San Francisco. She was the daughter of J.E. Smith of the Public Health Service and was educated at Roosevelt Junior High and graduated from the Girls' High School. From an early age, she had been interested in a singing career. When the San Francisco Opera opened for its first season in 1923, she was engaged by Gaetano Merola to sing in the chorus. During the next several seasons, she appeared in many opera productions, including the San Francisco premiere of Puccini's Turandot in 1927. By the late twenties, she had developed enough in the company to travel to Los Angeles for performances at the Shrine Auditorium.
During these years, Edna augmented her experience and exposure to the musical public by making many radio appearances and by performing in musical society recitals and concerts. In 1927, she sang the role of Inez in Trovatore and as Gilda's maid in the 1929 production of Rigoletto. Throughout the early thirties, she continued to make radio guest appearances on KGO, often with conductor Alfred Hertz of the San Francisco Opera. During the 1934 opera season, Smith sang in The Bartered Bride, Carmen, and La Rondine. She followed these performances by singing the role of Musetta in the 1935 SFO production of La Boheme.
At this time, Smith married Arthur de Nunzio, a baritone from Los Angeles, who had a wide experience in that city organizing classical music performances on the radio. In 1935, he was general manager and impresario of Corriere dell' Aria, an Italian language "newspaper of the air" in which he featured the voice of Edna Smith de Nunzio. By 1937, she was singing on a KYA radio series called Ship of Joy Cruises.
It was also in 1937 that Mme. Gina Cigna, Metropolitan Opera and La Scala star, heard de Nunzio in recital in San Francisco and agreed to assist in forwarding Edna's career. She became her benefactor and in February 1938, they sailed to Italy to study together and to promote a "promising brilliant career." In Milan, Edna de Nunzio was placed under contract to Cigna's manager, Attilio Lamponi. She gave her first public concert in Italy in Novemeber 1938, at Circolo Fascista di Milno. In April 1940, she won the Italian government's national concert audition. This enabled her to gain the artistic permit necessary to "debut" in Italy. This occured in July 1940, when she appeared as Leonora in Trovatore at the Teatro Italia in Milan. She later sang in Tosca and soon achieved a repertoire of eleven opera roles. She also sang extensively on Italian radio.
By August 1942, it was necessary for de Nunzio to return to San Francisco because of the Second World War raging in Italy. After the war, it is difficult to determine her movements and progress. She returned to Italy and renewed some of her contacts. Judging from the Italian press clippings in the collection, she achieved some of her pre-war glory. She wrote to her mother in 1949 of her frustrations, setbacks, and uncertainties. The Italian reviews reveal that she regularly changed her stage name in an effort to retain her novelty, but she did not attain the acclaim she hoped for. Among the stage names she used were Laura Vetta, Anne de Nunzio, and Nerina Ferrari.
Edna de Nunzio returned to San Francisco on an unidentified date after 1950 (the last date of her Italian reviews.) She worked for the probation department in San Francisco until declining health forced her into a rest home. Edna Smith de Nunzio died in San Francisco on May 25, 1985, less than a month before her 80th birthday.