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Jenny Dufau Papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Dufau

Scope and Content of the Collection

Collection consists almost entirely of letters written to Jenny Dufau by an Italian lover named Gaetano Ricciulli from September 1915, to April 1917, while Dufau was performing with the Chicago Grand Opera Company.

Most of these letters concern his family or hers, the events of his daily life, the fact of their separation due to the war, and his many moods. Ricciulli apparently was an active service army officer on disability leave at the time of these letters. He writes a few lines every evening, occasionally quoting her return letters which were written in French, though his are entirely in Italian. There are a few bits of information about Dufau’s career, for instance, that she was taking advantage of the steady work in the United States in order that she could contribute to the support of her father and sister in Europe.

The principle historical interest of the letters lies in the many passing references to the war, especially to its disruption of civilian life in Italy, and to a lesser degree in France and Switzerland. There are repeated references to censorship, and the development of censorship is traceable by evidence on the envelopes. For a brief time after the start of censorship his letters become more circumspect, but they return to the passionate tone of the earlier ones fairly quickly. One letter speculates on the possibility that America may enter the war on the side of the Italian-French-English alliance. Except in a very general way, there is no information here on the progress of the war itself or of civilian morale, as these topics undoubtedly would have been censored.

Besides these love letters, there are several letters between Dufau and the French Consul at New York which make it clear that she wished to return to Europe in early 1916 to see her father in Lausanne, and to perform in London and Milan. Also, a note from a New York opera company and three photographs of a singer and a conductor.


  • Creation: 1913-1917



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Jenny Dufau Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Jenny Dufau Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Jenny Dufau

French opera singer.

Jenny Dufau, a leading French soprano with the Chicago Grand Opera Company beginning in 1911, was described as the “smallest soprano” of the opera company. By 1912 she was singing important roles in Die Walkyrie in German, The Barber of Seville and The Jewels of the Madonna in Italian, and The Tales of Hoffmann in English. A native of Alsace-Lorraine, Dufau had arrived on the Chicago musical scene in 1910 following studies in Berlin, and almost immediately was successful with audiences. After 1916 she concentrated on a concert career, appearing at Ravinia and in Hamilton Park concert series, in Orchestra Hall and in Boston, among other places. In May, 1916, she sang with the silent film The Law Decides, which was one of the latest of entertainments called “Cinema Concerts.” In a 1917 recital at Orchestra Hall she sang La Marseillaise as apparently was the custom, followed by “an eclectic program” of Russian, Swedish and French songs, along with new songs written for her by Frank LaForge.

Dufau’s name no longer appears in the Chicago papers after 1917, so presumably she returned to Europe at the end of the war.


0.2 Linear Feet (1 box)


Love letters written during World War I from an Italian in Florence, Italy, to French opera singer Jenny Dufau living in Chicago. Also, brief correspondence concerning Dufau’s passport, a note from a New York opera company, and three photographs of musicians.


Arranged with the Ricciulli letters to Dufau in chronological order, followed by letters from the Boston National Grand Opera Co., the correspondence between Dufau and the French Consul, and then the photographs of singer Phil Stein and conductor Attilio Parelli.

Collection Stack Location

1 14 5


Removed from Theater Program Collection, Newberry Library, 2006

Processed by

Virginia Hay Smith, 2006.

Inventory of the Jenny Dufau Papers, 1913-1917
Virginia Hay Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 08/18/2011: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States