Geraldine Farrar was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, the daughter of Sidney Farrar, an infielder for the Philadelphia Quakers and Philadelphia Athletics of Major League Baseball, and his wife Henrietta, both amateur musicians.
She began studying musical instruments at age five. With a beautiful lyric soprano voice, she ultimately chose singing over playing, and made her professional debut singing at the Melrose town hall. Her parents took her to study in Europe, including in Paris and to Berlin. In 1901, aged 19, she was an immediate success when she made her operatic debut as Marguerite in "Faust" in Berlin. She sang with the Monte Carlo Opera from 1904 to 1906, and also appeared in Paris, Munich, Warsaw, and Salzburg, establishing an international reputation. Returning to the USA, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in the 1906-1907 season and ultimately sang 29 different roles, including Carmen, one of her favorites. She published an autobiography in 1916 entitled Geraldine Farrar: The Story of an American Singer, by Herself. She starred in a 1915 silent film adaptation of "Carmen" directed by Cecil B. DeMille, which became a box office hit. As her voice quality began to diminish, she went on to have a second career as film actress, appearing in 13 non-opera films until 1920. She continued to make recordings and give recitals throughout the 1920s. Her second autobiography, Such Sweet Compulsion (1938) contained alternating chapters purporting to be her own words and those of her mother.