Dame Emma Albani (November 1, 1847 - April 3, 1930), was a leading soprano of the 19th century and early 20th century, the first Canadian singer to become an international star.
She was born Marie-Louise-Emma-Cécile Lajeunesse in Chambly, Quebec, to professional musician Joseph Lajeunesse and Mélina Mignault. She began her musical studies with her father at the age of four, then was in a convent between 1858 and 1865 (her mother having died in 1856). She and her family moved to Albany, New York, where she became a popular singer, and saved enough money to study in Europe starting in 1868. She studied with Gilbert-Louis Duprez and changed her last name to "Albani".
Her operatic debut was on March 30, 1870 in Messina, playing Amina in Bellini's La Sonnambula. She was immediately invited to Malta to appear in various operas, and in the following year she signed up to a 5-year contract with Frederick Gye the manager of Covent Garden in London, making her London debut in 1872.
Tours to Russia and America soon followed. On August 6, 1878, she married Ernest Gye and they had a son Frederick-Ernest Gye the next year.
She joined the Abbey-Graw touring company in 1889, and made her official debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Gilda in Rigoletto in 1891.
Her last operatic performance was in 1896, but she continued to tour, visiting Canada in 1901, 1903, and 1906. Her last public performance was in London in 1911. She made a few recordings in the 1900s.
In 1925, Emma Albani was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire, but in the same year Ernest died and her money was lost in bad investments. Benefit concerts raised enough for her to live comfortably until she died, in 1930.
In 1980, Canada issued a postage stamp honoring her on the 50th anniversary of her death. She is depicted in a stained-glass mural in the Place-des-Arts metro station in Montreal.