Marie Caroline Felix-Miolan was born in Marseille on December 31, 1827. Her father, Francois Felix-Miolan, was an oboist and her earliest singing lessons came from the French tenor Gilbert Duprez (1806-1896). Duprez was one of the most popular singers of the bel-canto era and had created the role of Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. She made her stage debut on December 14, 1849 singing the first act of Lucia and part of Halevy’s La Juive with her teacher. Immediately afterward, she started singing at Paris’ Opera-Comique.
In 1853, she married Leon Carvalho (1825-1897) and added his name to hers. Carvalho was an impresario and became the director of the Opera-Comique in 1876. He would later produce the premieres of operas such as Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann and Delibes’ Lakme. He also produced the 1883 revival of Bizet’s Carmen.
In 1859, Miolan-Carvalho began a long association with composer Charles Gounod. The four roles she created for him were Juliette in Romeo et Juliette, Baucis in Philemon et Baucis, Marguerite in Faust, and the title role of Mireille.
In 1859, she also appeared at London’s Covent Garden for the first time. Her interpretation of the notoriously difficult title role of Meyerbeer’s Dinorah made her a national celebrity. Her popularity in London was rivaled only by that of mezzo-soprano Pauline Garcia-Viardot, the sister of Maria Malibran. Miolan-Carvalho sang in London every year until 1864 and then returned in 1871.
Miolan-Carvalho’s voice was described as being crystal clear and her coloratura was almost unbelievably precise. Although she was most famous for her roles in French operas, she also sang many Mozart roles. During her early years in France, she successfully sang roles such as Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Pamina in The Magic Flute. During the later part of her career, she added the role of Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro to her repertoire.
After a career of nearly 46 years, Miolan-Carvalho gave her operatic farewell singing Marguerite at the Opera-Comique on June 9, 1885. After retiring, she taught young singers. One of her students was the great French contralto Marie Delna (1875-1932).
Marie Caroline Miolan-Carvalho died in France on July 10, 1895.
There is some evidence that suggests she may have been the inspiration for the character of Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera. Historically, she is considered one of the earliest and finest of France’s coloratura sopranos.