Marcella (Sarah Marcia) Craft

In 1915, Marcella Craft, shown in this photo by the cross, performed “The Holy City” instead of Gustav Hilverkus

As a young girl in Riverside, Marcella Craft could not have dreamed she would have an international career in opera. She arrived in Riverside with her parents during the boom of 1887, and she graduated from Riverside High School in 1893 where the Reverend George Deere presented he diploma saying, “May your life be a song so sweet and true that it shall join at last with the angels above.”

Frank Augustus Miller heard her voice and sponsored Marcia’s early studies in Boston. From Boston, she and her mother went on to Italy thanks to another benefactor. It was in Italy she learned opera and her Italian friends christened her Marcella, the diminutive form of her name Marcia.

In Germany, at Munich’s Royal Opera House, Marcella’s career blossomed with leading roles. She sang Madame Butterfly with the great tenor Enrico Caruso and the composer Richard Strauss chose her to sing his famed Salome. In 1915, home temporarily from Europe, she sang The Holy City, a favorite of Frank Miller’s, at the Easter sunrise service on Mount Rubidoux

World War I eventually sent Marcella back to the U.S. After Woodrow Wilson’s daughter heard her sing, she was called on to perform for Wilson at the White House. She performed with the New York Philharmonic and with many opera companies in major cities throughout the U.S. She won accolades for her performance of Violetta in La Traviata with the San Carlos Opera Company.

When she retired, she returned to Riverside to form the Riverside Opera Company. Frank Miller again supported he efforts with offices in the Mission Inn Rotunda and performance space in the Music Room until the Municipal Auditorium was opened in 1928-1929. She advocated opera in English in order to build a wider audience and recruited performers through the adult education classes at Riverside College.