The model for the Phantom of the Opera’s girl

It is now generally accepted that the Swedish diva Christine Nillson, afterwards Duchess de la Miranda ( 1843 – 1921), was the model for the Phantom’s lover, Christine Daee in Gaston Laroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera (1910). Both figures have biographical facts in common—both were Swedish blondes with blue eyes, both sang at country fairs in Sweden to provide money for their parents and both trained in Paris.

During her brilliant career touring Europe as one of the greatest sopranos of her age—a direct rival of the Italian Adeleina Patti — Nillson must have sung before Laroux in Paris at least once, and the novelist, like so many other men of the time, was doubtless in thrall to her wonderful bel canto voice and Nordic physical beauty.

In 1887 Nillson married her second husband (Count Casa Miranda) and soon afterwards retired, to become one of the best known celebs in Europe. The undated, rather effusive letter to ‘Mrs Kennard’-- probably the now forgotten ‘horsey’ novelist ( a sort of late Victorian Jilly Cooper )--Mrs Edward Kennard ( 1850 - 1936 ) post-dates 1895, when the Hotel Metropole in Brussels opened its doors. As the singer mentions having recently stayed at this ultra exclusive resort of the rich and famous (both then and now), and as she was writing  to Kennard from the swanky Grand Hotel in Menton on the French Riveira, it seems likely that  post- retirement, she was still a very wealthy woman. [RH]

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