The Delani/Sonnabend Halls

The Life of Madelena Delani

Madelena Delani was born Systana Carvokka in New York City in January 1897, to a first generation Rumanian immigrant Jorsoff Carvokka and his young wife, Nistoffa, who had left Rumania in the eartly 1880s in order to escape religious persecution and find a better life for themselves in America. Born the youngest child and only daughter, Systana was, from birth, the darling of the family. At an early age her parents discovered her talent for voice which they encouraged in an almost self-sacrificial manner. Jorsoff and Nistoffa, however, also noticed at an early age that Systana had what came to be called a "poor memory." Systana suffered from a condition which today would probably be diagnosed as a mild form of Korsokoff syndrome. This condition, probably derived from chemical poisoning at a very early age, is an irreversible diminished capacity for short term memory.

All five of the Carvokka brothers left school early in order to work and to help support the family. Systana, on the other hand, was allowed to continue in school and in the final years of her schooling, despite problems arising from her memory difficulties, Systana received a scholarship to attend the private Effenbach Academe in New York City in order to further her musical studies.

It was at the Academe, at the age of 18, just before she was to graduate, that Systana met Rudolf Deloni, a man thirteen years her senior, who, after a short vocal career of his own, had turned to promotional aspects of New York's stage and operatic world. From the start the Carvokka family did not approve of Systana's relationship with Rudolf, who they felt was interested only in capitalizing on Systana's talent. There followed a period of increasingly strained relations between Systana and her family which culminated in Systana's marriage to Rudolf and the subsequent changing of her name to Madelana Delani. Systana's father and her five brothers did not attend the lavish wedding and the Delanis saw little of Systana's family after the marriage.

Systana's (or now Madelana Deloni's) vocal career developed rapidly after her marriage owing to Madelena's maturing instrument as well as Rudolf's promotional skills. In addition to the standard operatic repitoire, Rudolf had astutely chosen to associate Madelena's career with the Romantic lieder of Brahms and Schumann just as that style of Germanic song was on a rising tide of popularity during the early 1920's, and during these years, Madelena Deloni became known as one of the pre-eminient interpreters of the Romantic lieder. Madelena sang, not only in all of the major cities in the United States, but, during the decade of the 1920's the Delanis made four tours of the major European music halls as well.

Often described as hauntingly beautiful, Madelena Deloni's voice was said to possess a plaintive timbre which was well suited to the doleful tones of thte Romantic lieder. During the 20's there was much critical acclaim and Madelana Delani, who was, really, still just a girl, came to be beloved by many in this country anad abroad. In an article that could be said to mark the apex of Madelena's career, Sidney Soledon of the New York Times observed that Madelena Deloni's unique quality of voice which he described as being "...steeped in a sense of loss..." was perhaps a result of her condition of short term memory loss, which, although no secret in music circles had never before been publicly acknowledged.

By the early 1930's, however, the public was beginning to turn its capricious eye in a fresh direction and the frequency of Madelena Deloni's performance and recording engagements began to decline. The Delani's found themselves unprepared for the new social and financial conditions imposed by the more limited engagement schedule as well as the repercussions of Wall Street's Black Thursday which were, by 1931, being felt in even the most established environments. The strain of these conditions proved too great for the bonds of marriage and in 1932 Madelena aand Rudolf seperated.

Madelena Deloni's name, however, was still quite visible in music circles and it was only a short time before Madelena engaged a new manager, Alonso Catrill. Mr. Catrill, an Argentine, was connected in musical circles which still appreciated the richer tones and fuller cadences of the Brahms and Schumann lieder. Between the cities where the name Madelena Deloni still had an irresistable charm and the music halls of Germany, where the Romantic lieder were far from out of style, Alonso Catrill was able to establish a schedule of concert engagements which, if not equal to the golden era of Madelena Deloni's career, at least provided a stimulating environment for a talent still far from past its prime.

In 1936, Catrill set up a tour of South American music halls with concerts in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Iguassu, a small resort in Mesopotamia on the border of Paraguay and Brazil, which is centered around the famed Iguassu falls. In September of that year, spring in the Southern Hemisphere, Madelana and Alonso Catrill travelled by steamer to Sao Paulo where she sang to a small but enthusiastic audience. From Sao Paulo they travelled the 1,100 km distance by car to Buenos Aires where again Madelena was warmly received and finally, by river boat to Iguassu where, accompanied by the dull thunder of the falls, Madelena gave the final performance of her life.

After the Iguassu recital, the pair returned to Buenos Aires from where Alonso departed the same evening for New York. Madelena spent the night in Buenos Aires in anticipation of catching the ferry which crosses the Rio de la Plata to Montevideo, Uruguay, where she was to stay for two weeks recuperating from the rigors of the tour, at the home of her closest friend, the gifted pianist, Nadia Reisenberg.

Early the following morning, a Sunday, Madelena was to leave for the pier where she was to catch the only boat that day for Montevideo. Madelena typically slept well into the morning, and that morning, exhausted from the tour, Madelena overslept. The driver, in an attempt to make up the lost time, drove faster than he was accustomed. A few blocks from the pier a truck, failing to observe the right of way, pulled across the Via Fernanda. The driver of Madelena's car, unable to avoid the obstacle, struck the large vehicle broadside. Upon being struck by the auto, the truck stopped momentarily and then proceeded essentially undamaged. The driver of Madelena's car suffered facial abrasions. Madelena Deloni, riding in the front passenger seat, was killed instantly. Her remains were shipped from Buenos Aires to New York where she was buried in a small private ceremony attended only by family and a few close friends.


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