MALIBRAN TO TITIENS
BY GEORGE T. FERRIS
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Copyright, 1881, By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.
In the preparation of this companion volume of "Great Singers," the same limitations of purpose have guided the author as in the case of the earlier book, which sketched the lives of the greatest lyric artists from Faustina Bordoni to Henrietta Sontag. It has been impossible to include any but those who stand incontestably in the front rank of the operatic profession, except so far as some account of the lesser lights is essential to the study of those artistic lives whose names make the captions of these sketches. So, too, it has been attempted to embody, in several of the articles, intelligent, if not fully adequate, notice of a few of the greatest men singers, who, if they have not aroused as deep an enthusiasm as have those of the other sex, are perhaps justly entitled to as much consideration on art grounds. It will be observed that the great living vocalists have been excluded from this book, except those who, having definitely retired from the stage, may be considered as dead to their art. This plan has been pursued, not from any undervaluation of the Pattis, the Nilssons, and the Luccas of the present musical stage, but because, in obeying that necessity imposed by limitation of space, it has seemed more desirable to exclude those whose place in art is not yet finally settled, rather than those whose names belong to history, and who may be seen in full perspective.
The material from which this little book is compiled has been drawn from a variety of sources, among which may be mentioned the three works of Henry F. Chorley, "Music and Manners in France and Germany," "Modern German Music," and "Thirty Years' Musical Kecollections"; Sutherland Edwards's "History of the Opera"; Fetis's "Biographie des Musiciens"; Ebers's "Seven Years of the King's Theatre"; Lumley's "Reminiscences"; Charles Hervey's "Theatres of Paris"; Arsene Houssaye's "Galerie de Portraits"; Countess de Merlin's "Memoires de Madame Malibran"; Ox-berry's "Dramatic Biography and Histrionic Anecdotes"; Crowest's "Musical Anecdotes" and Mrs. Clayton's "Queens of Song."
MARIA FELICIA MALIBRAN.
The Childhood of Maria Garcia.—Her Father's Sternness and Severe Discipline.—Her First Appearance as an Artist on the Operatic Stage.—Her Genius and Power evident from the Beginning.—Anecdotes of her Early Career.—Manuel Garcia's Operatic Enterprise in New York.—Maria Garcia is inveigled into marrying M. Malibran.—Failure of the Garcia Opera, and Maria's Separation from her Husband.—She makes her Debut in Paris with Great Success.—Madame Malibran's Characteristics as a Singer, a Genius, and a Woman.—Anecdotes of her Generosity and Kindness.—She sings in a Great London Engagement.—Her Eccentric and Daring Methods excite Severe Criticism.—Her Reckless Expenditure of Strength in the Pursuit of her Profession or Pleasures.—Madame Malibran's Attachment to De Beriot.—Anecdotes of her Public and Private Career.—Malibran in Italy, where she becomes the Popular Idol.—Her Last London Engagement.—Her Death at Manchester during the Great Musical Festival
Mme. Schroeder-Devrient the Daughter of a Woman of Genius.—Her Early Appearance on the Dramatic Stage in Connection with her Mother.—She studies Music and devotes herself to the Lyric Stage.—Her Operatic Debut in Mozart's "Zauberflote."—Her Appearance and Voice.—Mlle. Schroeder makes her Debut in her most Celebrated Character, Fidelio.—Her own Description of the First Performance.—A Wonderful Dramatic Conception.—Henry Chorley's Judgment of her as a Singer and Actress.—She marries Carl Devrient at Dresden.—Mme. Schroeder-Devrient makes herself celebrated as a Representative of Weber's Romantic Heroines.—Dissolution of her Marriage.—She makes Successful Appearances in Paris and London in both Italian and German Opera.—English Opinions of the German Artist.—Anecdotes of her London Engagement.—An Italian Tour and Reengagements for the Paris and London Stage.—Different Criticisms of her Artistic Style.—Retirement from the Stage, and Second Marriage.—Her Death in 1860, and the Honors paid to the Memory of her Genius
The Childhood of a Great Artist.—Giulietta Grisi's Early Musical Training.—Giuditta Grisi's Pride in the Talents of her Young Sister.—Her Italian Debut and Success.—She escapes from a Managerial Taskmaster and takes Refuge in Paris.—Impression made on French Audiences.—Production of Bellini's "Puritani."—Appearance before the London Public.—Character of Grisi's Singing and Acting.—Anecdotes of the Prima Donna.—Marriage of Mlle. Grisi.—Her Connection with Other Distinguished Singers.—Kubini, his Character as an Artist, and Incidents of his Life.—Tamburini, another Member of the First Great "Puritani" Quartet.—Lablache, the King of Operatic Bassos.—His Career as an Artist.—His Wonderful Genius as Singer and Actor.—Advent of Mario on the Stage.—His Intimate Association with Mme. Grisi as Woman and Artist.—Incidents of Mario's Life and Character as an Artist.—Grisi's Long Hold on the Stage for more than a Quarter-century.—Her American Tour.—Final Retirement from her Profession.—The Elements of her Greatness as a Goddess of Song
Vicissitudes of the Garcia Family.—Pauline Viardot's Early Training.—Indications of her Musical Genius.—She becomes a Pupil of Liszt on the Piano.—Pauline Garcia practically self-trained as a Vocalist.—Her Remarkable Accomplishments.—Her First Appearance before the Public with De Beriot in Concert.—She makes her Debut in London as Desdemona.—Contemporary Opinions of her Powers.—Description of Pauline Garcia's Voice and the Character of her Art.—The Originality of her Genius.—Pauline Garcia marries M. Viardot, a Well-known Litterateur.—A Tour through Southern Europe.—She creates a Distinct Place for herself in the Musical Art.—Great Enthusiasm in Germany over her Singing.—The Richness of her Art Resources.—Sketches of the Tenors, Nourrit and Duprez, and of the Great Barytone, Ronconi.—Mme. Viardot and the Music of Meyerbeer.—Her Creation of the Part of Fides in "Le Prophete," the Crowning Work of a Great Career.—Retirement from the Stage.—High Position in Private Life.—Connection with the French Conservatoire
The Tenor Singer Tacchinardi.—An Exquisite Voice and Deformed Physique.—Early Talent shown by his Daughter Fanny.—His Aversion to her entering on the Stage Life.—Her Marriage to M. Persiani.—The Incident which launched Fanny Persiani on the Stage.—Rapid Success as a Singer.—Donizetti writes one of his Great Operas for her.—Personnel, Voice, and Artistic Style of Mme. Persiani.—One of the Greatest Executants who ever lived.—Anecdotes of her Italian Tours.—First Appearance in Paris and London.—A Tour through Belgium with Ru-bini.—Anecdote of Prince Metternich.—Further Studies of Persiani's Characteristics as a Singer.—Donizetti composes Another Opera for her.—Her Prosperous Career and retirement from the Stage.—Last Appearance in Paris for Mario's Benefit
The Greatest of Contraltos.—Marietta Alboni's Early Surroundings.—Rossini's Interest in her Career.—First Appearance on the Operatic Stage.—Excitement produced in Germany by her Singing.—Her Independence of Character.—Her Great Success in London.—Description of her Voice and Person.—Concerts in Paris.—The Verdicts of the Great French Critics.—Hector Berlioz on Alboni's Singing.—She appears in Opera in Paris.—Strange Indifference of the Audience quickly turned to Enthusiasm.—She competes favorably in London with Grisi, Persiani, and Viardot.—Takes the Place of Jenny Lind as Prima Donna at Her Majesty's.—She extends her Voice into the Soprano Register.—Performs "Fides" in "Le Prophete."—Visit to America.—Retires from the Stage
The Childhood of the "Swedish Nightingale."—Her First Musical Instruction.—The Loss and Return of her Voice.—Jenny Lind's Pupilage in Paris under Manuel Garcia.—She makes the Acquaintance of Meyerbeer.—Great Sue-cess in Stockholm in "Robert le Diable."—Fredrika Bremer and Hans Christian Andersen on the Young Singer.—Her Debut in Berlin.—Becomes Prima Donna at the Royal Theatre.—Beginning of the Lind Enthusiasm that overran Europe.—She appears in Dresden in Meyerbeer's New Opera, "Feldlager in Schliesen."—Offers throng in from all the Leading Theatres of Europe.—The Grand Furore in Every Part of Germany.—Description of Scenes in her Musical Progresses.—She makes her Debut in London.—Extraordinary Excitement of the English Public, such as had never before been known.—Descriptions of her Singing by Contemporary Critics.—Her Quality as an Actress.—Jenny Lind's Personnel.—Scenes and Incidents of the "Lind" Mania.—Her Second London Season.—Her Place and Character as a Lyric Artist.—Mlle. Lind's American Tour.—Extraordinary Enthusiasm in America.—Her Lavish Generosity.—She marries Herr Otto Goldschmidt.—Present Life of Retirement in London.—Jenny Lind as a Public Benefactor
The Daughter of an Obscure German Pastor.—She studies Music in Paris.—Failure of her Voice.—Makes her Debut at La Fenice.—She appears in London during the Lind Excitement.—Description of her Voice and Person.—A Great Excitement over her Second Appearance in Italy.—Debut in Paris.—Her Grand Impersonation in "Fidelio."—Critical Estimates of her Genius.—Sophie Cruvelli's Eccentricities.—Excitement in Paris over her Valentine in "Les Huguenots."—Different Performances in London and Paris.—She retires from the Stage and marries Baron Vigier.—Her Professional Status.—One of the Most Gifted Women of any Age
Born at Hamburg of an Hungarian Family.—Her Early Musical Training.—First Appearance in Opera in "Lucrezia Borgia."—Romance of her Youth.—Rapid Extension of her Fame.—Receives a Conge from Vienna to sing in England.—Description of Mlle. Titiens, her Voice, and Artistic Style.—The Characters in which she was specially eminent.—Opinions of the Critics.—Her Relative Standing in the Operatic Profession.—Her Performances of Semi-ramide and Medea.—Latter Years of her Career.—Her Artistic Tour in America.—Her Death, and Estimate placed on her Genius
GREAT SINGERS, SECOND SERIES, MALIBRAN TO TITIENS.
MARIA FELICIA MALIBRAN.
The Childhood of Maria Garcia.—Her Father's Sternness and Severe Discipline.—Her First Appearance as an Artist on the Operatic Stage.—Her Genius and Power evident from the Beginning.—Anecdotes of her Early Career.—Manuel Garcia's Operatic Enterprise in New York.—Maria Garcia is inveigled into marrying M. Malibran.—Failure of the Garcia Opera, and Maria's Separation from her Husband.—She makes her Debut in Paris with Great Success.—Madame Malibran's Characteristics as a Singer, a Genius, and a Woman.—Anecdotes of her Generosity and Kindness.—She sings in a Great London Engagement.—Her Eccentric and Daring Methods excite Severe Criticism.—Her Reckless Expenditure of Strength in the Pursuit of her Profession or Pleasures.—Madame Malibran's Attachment to De Beriot.—Anecdotes of her Public and Private Career.—Malibran in Italy, where she becomes the Popular Idol.—Her Last London Engagement.—Her Death at Manchester during the Great Musical Festival.
With the name of Malibran there is associated an interest, alike personal and artistic, rarely equaled and certainly unsurpassed among the traditions which make the records of the lyric stage so fascinating. Daring originality stamped her life as a woman, her career as an artist, and the brightness with which her star shone through a brief and stormy history had something akin in it to the dazzling but capricious passage of a meteor. If Pasta was the Siddons of the lyric drama, unapproachable in its more severe and tragic phases, Malibran represented its Garrick. Brilliant, creative, and versatile, she sang equally well in all styles of music, and no strain on her resources seemed to overtax the power of an artistic imagination which delighted in vanquishing obstacles and transforming native defects into new beauties, an attribute of genius which she shared in equal degree with Pasta, though it took on a different manifestation.
This great singer belonged to a Spanish family of musicians, who have been well characterized as "representative artists, whose power, genius, and originality have impressed a permanent trace on the record of the methods of vocal execution and ornament." Her father, Manuel Vicente Garcia, at the age of seventeen, was already well known as composer, singer, actor, and conductor. His pieces, short comic operas, had a great popularity in Spain, and were not only bright and inventive, but marked by thorough musical workmanship. A month after he made his debut in Paris, in 1811, he had become the chief singer, and sang for three years under the operatic regime which shared the general splendor of Napoleon's court. He was afterward appointed first tenor at Naples by King Joachim Munit, and there produced his opera of "Califo di Bagdad," which met with great success. It was here that the child Maria, then only five years old, made her first public appearance in one of Paer's operas, and here that she received her first lessons in music from M. Panseron and the composer Herold. When Garcia quitted Italy in 1816, he sang with Catalani in Paris, but, as that jealous artist admitted no bright star near her own, Garcia soon left the troupe, and went to London in the spring of 1818. He oscillated between the two countries for several years, and was the first brilliant exponent of the Rossinian music in two great capitals, as his training and method were peculiarly fitted to this school. The indomitable energy and ambition which he transmitted to his daughters, who were to become such distinguished ornaments of the stage, were not contented with making their possessor a great executant, for he continued to produce operas, several of which were put on the stage in Paris with notable success. Garcia's name as a teacher commenced about the year 1823 to overshadow his reputation as a singer. In the one he had rivals, in the other he was peerless. His school of singing quickly became famous, though he continued to appear on the stage, and to pour forth operas of more than average merit.
The education of his daughter Maria, born at Paris, March 24, 1808, had always been a matter of paternal solicitude. A delicate, sensitive, and willful child, she had been so humored and petted at the convent-school of Hammersmith, where she was first placed, that she developed a caprice and a recklessness which made her return to the house of her stern and imperious father doubly painful, lier experience was a severe one, and Manuel Garcia was more pitiless to his daughter than to other pupils. Already at this period Maria spoke with ease Spanish, Italian, French, and English, to which she afterward added German. The Garcia household was a strange one. The Spanish musician was a tyrant in his home, and a savage temper, which had but few streaks of tenderness, frequently vented itself in blows and brutality, in spite of the remarkable musical facility with which Maria appropriated teaching, and the brilliant gifts which would have flattered the pride and softened the sympathies of a more gentle and complacent parent. The young girl, in spite of her prodigious instinct for art and her splendid intelligence, had a peculiarly intractable organ. The lower notes of the voice were very imperfect, the upper tones thin, disagreeable, and hard, the middle veiled, and her intonation so doubtful that it almost indicated an imperfect ear. She would sometimes sing so badly that her father would quit the piano precipitately and retreat to the farthest corner of the house with his fingers thrust into his ears. But Garcia was resolved that his daughter should become what Nature seemingly had resolved she should not be, a great vocalist, and he bent all the energies of his harsh and imperious temper to further this result. "One evening I studied a duet with Maria," says the Countess Merlin, "in which Garcia had written a passage, and he desired her to execute it. She tried, but became discouraged, and said, 'I can not.' In an instant the Andalu-sian blood of her father rose. He fixed his flashing eyes upon her: 'What did you say?' Maria looked at him, trembled, and, clasping her hands, murmured in a stifled voice, 'I will do it, papa;' and she executed the passage perfectly. She told me afterward that she could not conceive how she did it. 'Papa's glance,' added she, 'has such an influence upon me that I am sure it would make me fling myself from the roof into the street without doing myself any harm.'"
Maria Felicia Garcia was a wayward and willful child, but so generous and placable that her fierce outbursts of rage were followed by the most fascinating and winning contrition. Irresistibly charming, frank, fearless, and original, she gave promise, even in her early youth, of the remarkable qualities which afterward bestowed such a unique and brilliant cachet on her genius as an artist and her character as a woman. Her father, with all his harshness, understood her truly, for she inherited both her faults and her gifts from himself. "Her proud and stubborn spirit requires an iron hand to control it," he said; "Maria can never become great except at the price of much suffering." By the time she had reached the age of fifteen her voice had greatly improved. Her chest-notes had gained greatly in power, richness, and depth, though the higher register of the vocal organ still remained crude and veiled. Fetis says that it was on account of the sudden indisposition of Madame Pasta that the first public appearance of Maria in opera was unexpectedly made, but Lord Mount Edgcumbe and the impressario Ebers both tell a different story. The former relates in his "Reminiscences" that, shortly after the repair of the King's Theatre, "the great favorite Pasta arrived for a limited number of nights. About the same time Konzi fell ill and totally lost her voice, so that she was obliged to throw up her engagement and return to Italy. Mme. Vestris having seceded, and Caradori being for some time unable to perform, it became necessary to engage a young singer, the daughter of the tenor Garcia, who had sung here for several seasons.... Her extreme youth, her prettiness, her pleasing voice, and sprightly, easy action as Rosina in 'Il Barbiere,' in which part she made her debut, gained her general favor." Chor-ley recalls the impression she made on him at this time in more precise and emphatic terms: "From the first hour when Maria Garcia appeared on the stage, first in 'Il Barbiere' and subsequently in 'Il Crociato,' it was evident that a new artist, as original as extraordinary, was come—one by nature fairly endowed, not merely with physical powers, but also with that inventive, energetic, rapid genius, before which obstacles become as nothing, and by the aid of which the sharpest contradictions become reconciled." She made her debut on June 7, 1825, and was immediately engaged for the remaining six weeks of the season at five hundred pounds. Her first success was followed by a second in Meyerber's 'Il Crociato,' in which she sang with Velluti, the last of that extraordinary genre of artists, the male sopranos. Garcia wrote several arias for her voice, which were interpolated in the opera, much to Manager Ayrton's disgust, but much also to the young singer's advantage, for the father knew every defect and every beauty of his daughter's voice.
If her father was ambitious and daring, Maria was so likewise. She had to sing with Velluti a duet in Zingarelli's "Romeo e Giulietta," and in the morning they rehearsed it together, Velluti reserving his fioriture for the evening, lest the young debutante should endeavor to imitate his ornaments. In the evening he sang his solo part, embroidering it with the most florid decorations, and finishing with a new and beautiful cadenza, which astonished and charmed the audience; Maria seized the phrases, to which she imparted an additional grace, and crowned her triumph with an audacious and superb improvisation. Thunders of applause greeted her, and while trembling with excitement she felt her arm grasped by a hand of iron. "Briccona!" hissed a voice in her ear, as Velluti glared on her, gnashing his teeth with rage. After performing in London, she appeared in the autumn with her father at the Manchester, York, and Liverpool Festivals, where she sang some of the most difficult pieces from the "Messiah" and the "Creation." Some said that she failed, others that she sang with a degree of mingled brilliancy, delicacy, and sweetness that drew down a storm of applause.
Garcia now conceived a project for establishing Italian opera in the United States, and with characteristic daring he set sail for America with a miserable company, of which the only talent consisted of his own family, comprising himself, his son, daughter, and wife, Mme. Garcia having been a fairly good artist in her youth. The first opera produced was "Il Barbiere," on November 29, 1825, and this was speedily followed by "Tancredi," "Otello," "Il Turco in Italia," "Don Giovanni," "Cenerentola," and two operas composed by Garcia himself—"L'Amante Astuto," and "La Figlia dell' Aria," The young singer's success was of extraordinary character, and New York, unaccustomed to Italian opera, went into an ecstasy of admiration. Maria's charming voice and personal fascination held the public spellbound, and her good nature in the introduction of English songs, whenever called on by her admirers, raised the delight of the opera-goers of the day to a wild enthusiasm.
The occurrence of the most unfortunate episode of her life at this time was the fruitful source of much of the misery and eccentricity of her after-career. M. Francois Eugene Malibran, a French merchant, engaged in business in New York, fell passionately in love with the young singer, and speedily laid his heart and fortune, which was supposed to be great, at her feet. In spite of the fact that the suitor was fifty, and Maria only seventeen, she was disposed to accept the offer, for she was sick of her father's brutality, and the straits to which she was constantly put by the exigencies of her dependent situation. Her heart had never yet awakened to the sweetness of love, and the supposed great fortune and lavish promises of M. Malibran dazzled her young imagination. Garcia sternly refused his consent, and there were many violent scenes between father and daughter. Such was the hostility of feeling between the two, that Maria almost feared for her life. The following incident is an expressive comment on the condition of her mind at this time: One evening she was playing Des-demona to her father's Othello, in Rossini's opera. At the moment when Othello approaches, his eyes sparkling with rage, to stab Desdemona, Maria perceived that her father's dagger was not a stage sham, but a genuine weapon. Frantic with terror, she screamed "Papa, papa, for the love of God, do not kill me!" Her terrors were groundless, for the substitution of the real for a theatrical dagger was a mere accident. The audience knew no difference, as they supposed Maria's Spanish exclamation to be good operatic Italian, and they applauded at the fine dramatic point made by the young artist!
At last the importunate suitor overcame Gar-cia's opposition by agreeing to give him a hundred thousand francs in payment for the loss of his daughter's services, and the sacrifice of the young and beautiful singer was consummated on March 23, 1826. A few weeks later Malibran was a bankrupt and imprisoned for debt, and his bride discovered how she had been cheated and outraged by a cunning scoundrel, who had calculated on saving himself from poverty by dependence on the stage-earnings of a brilliant wife. The enraged Garcia, always a man of unbridled temper, was only prevented from transforming one of those scenes of mimic tragedy with which he was so familiar, into a criminal reality by assassinating Malibran, through the resolute expostulations of his friends. Mme. Malibran instantly resigned for the benefit of her husband's creditors any claims which she might have made on the remnants of his estate, and her New York admirers had as much occasion to applaud the rectitude and honor of the woman as they had had the genius of the artist. Garcia himself, hampered by pecuniary difficulties, set sail for Mexico with his son and younger daughter, to retrieve his fortunes, while Maria remained in New York, tied to a wretch whom she despised, and who looked on her musical talents as the means of supplying him with the luxuries of life. Mme. Malibran's energy soon found a vent in English opera, and she made herself as popular on the vernacular as she had on the Italian stage. But she soon wearied of her hard fate, which compelled her to toil without ceasing for the support of the man who had deceived her vilely, and for whom not one spark of love operated to condone his faults. Five months utterly snapped her patience, and she determined to return to Paris. She arrived there in September, 1826, and took up her abode with M. Malibran's sister. Although she had become isolated from all her old friends, she found in one of the companions of her days of pupilage, the Countess Merlin, a most affectionate help and counselor, who spared no effort to make her talents known to the musical world of Paris, Mme. de Merlin sounded the praises of her friend so successfully that she soon succeeded in evoking a great degree of public curiosity, which finally resulted in an engagement.
Malibran's first appearance in the Grand Opera at Paris was for the benefit of Mme. Galli, in "Semiramide." It was a terrible ordeal, for she had such great stars as Pasta and Sontag to compete with, and she was treading a classic stage, with which the memories of all the great names in the lyric art were connected. She felt that on the result of that night all the future success of her life depended. Though her heart was struck with such a chill that her knees quaked as she stepped on the stage, her indomitable energy and courage came to her assistance, and she produced an indescribable sensation. Her youth, beauty, and noble air won the hearts of all. One difficult phrase proved such a stumbling-block that, in the agitation of a first appearance, she failed to surmount it, and there was an apprehension that the lovely singer was about to fail. But in the grand aria, "Bel Raggio," she indicated such resources of execution and daring of improvisation, and displayed such a full and beautiful voice, that the house resounded with the most furious applause. Mme. Malibran, encouraged by this warm reception, redoubled the difficulties of her execution, and poured forth lavishness of fioriture and brilliant cadenzas such as fairly dazzled her hearers. Paris was conquered, and Mme. Malibran became the idol of the city, for the novelty and richness of her style of execution set her apart from all other singers as a woman of splendid inventive genius. She could now make her own terms with the managers, and she finally gave the preference to the Italiens over the Grand Opera, at terms of eight hundred francs per night, and a full benefit.
In voice, genius, and character Mme. Mali-bran was alike original. Her organ was not naturally of first-rate quality. The voice was a mezzo-soprano, naturally full of defects, especially in the middle tones, which were hard and uneven, and to the very last she was obliged to go through her exercises every day to keep it flexible. By the tremendously severe discipline to which she had been subjected by her father's teaching and method, the range of voice had been extended up and down so that it finally reached a compass of three octaves from D in alt to D on the third line in the base. Her high notes had an indescribable sparkle and brilliancy, and her low tones were so soft, sweet, and heart-searching that they thrilled with every varying phase of her sensibilities. Her daring in the choice of ornaments was so great that it was only justified by the success which invariably crowned her flights of inventive fancy: To the facility and cultivation of voice, which came from her father's training, she added a fertility of musical inspiration which came from nature. A French critic wrote of her: "Her passages were not only remarkable for extent, rapidity, and complication, but were invariably marked by the most intense feeling and sentiment. Her soul appeared in everything she did." Her extraordinary flexibility enabled her to run with ease over passages of the most difficult character. "In the tones of Malibran," says one of her English admirers, "there would at times be developed a deep and trembling pathos, that, rushing from the fountain of the heart, thrilled instantly upon a responsive chord in the bosoms of all." She was the pupil of nature. Her acting was full of genius, passion, and tenderness. She was equally grand as Semiramide and as Arsace, and sang the music of both parts superbly. Touching, profoundly melancholy as Desdemona, she was gay and graceful in Rosina; she drew tears as Ninetta, and, throwing off the coquette, could produce roars of laughter as Fidalma. She had never taken lessons in poses or in declamation, yet she was essentially, innately graceful. Mme. Malibran was in person about the middle height, and the contour of her figure was rounded to an enchanting embonpoint, which yet preserved its youthful grace. Her carriage was exceedingly noble, and the face more expressive than handsome; her hair was black and glossy, and always worn in a simple style. The eyes were dark and luminous, the teeth white and regular, and the countenance, habitually pensive in expression, was mutable in the extreme, and responsive to every emotion and feeling of the heart. To quote from Mr. Chorley: "She may not have been beautiful, but she was better than beautiful, insomuch as a speaking Spanish human countenance is ten times more fascinating than many a faultless angel-face such as Guido could paint. There was health of tint, with but a slight touch of the yellow rose in her complexion; great mobility of expression in her features; an honest, direct brightness of eye; a refinement in the form of her head, and the set of it on her shoulders."
When she was reproached by Fetis for using ad captandum effects too lavishly in the admonition: "With the degree of elevation to which you have attained, you should impose your opinion on the public, not submit to theirs," she answered, with a laugh and a shrug of her charming shoulders: "Mon cher grognon, there may perhaps be two or three connoisseurs in the theatre, but it is not they who give success. When I sing for you, I will sing very differently." Mme. Malibran, buoyed up on the passionate enthusiasm of the French public, essayed the most wonderful and daring flights in her song. She appeared as Desdemona, Rosina, and as Romeo in Zingarelli's opera—characters, of the most opposing kind and two of them, indeed, among Pasta's masterpieces. It was said that, "if Malibran must yield the palm to Pasta in point of acting, yet she possessed a decided superiority in respect of song"; and, even in acting, Malibran's grace, originality, vivacity, piquancy, spontaneity, feeling, and tenderness, won the heart of all spectators. Such was her versatility, that the Semi-ramide of one evening was the Cinderella of the next, the Zerlina of another, and the Desdemona of its successor; and in each the individuality of conception was admirably preserved. On being asked by a friend which was her favorite role, she answered, "The character I happen to be acting, whichever it may be."
In spite, however, of the general testimony to her great dramatic ability, so clever and capable a judge as Henry Chorley rated her musical genius as far higher than that of dramatic conception. He says: "Though creative as an executant, Malibran was not creative as a dramatic artist. Though the fertility and audacity of her musical invention had no limits, though she had the power and science of a composer, she did not establish one new opera or character on the stage, hardly even one first-class song in a concert-room." This criticism, when closely examined, may perhaps indicate a high order of praise. Mme. Malibran, as an artist, was so unique and original in her methods, so incomparable in the invention and skill which required no master to prompt or regulate her cadences, so complex in the ingenuity which blended the resources of singing and acting, that other singers simply despaired of imitating her effects, and what she did perished with her, except as a brilliant tradition. In other words, her utter superiority to the conventional made her artistic work phenomenal, and of a style not to be perpetuated on the stage. The weight of testimony appears to be that Mme. Malibran was, beyond all of her competitors, a singer of most versatile and brilliant genius, in whom dramatic instincts reigned with as dominant force as ability of musical expression. The fact, however, that Mme. Malibran, with a voice weak and faulty in the extreme in one whole octave of its range, and that the most important (between F and F), was able by her matchless skill and audacity in the forms of execution, modification, and ornament, to achieve the most brilliant results, might well blind even a keen connoisseur by kindling his admiration of her musical invention, at the expense of his recognition of dramatic faculty.
It was characteristic of Mme. Malibran that she fired all her fellow-artists with the ardor of her genius. Her resources and knowledge were such that she could sing in any school and any language. The music of Mozart and Cimarosa, Boieldieu and Eossini, Cherubini and Bellini, Donizetti and Meyerbeer, furnished in equal measure the mold into which her great powers poured themselves with a sort of inspired fury, like that of a Greek Pythoness. She had an artistic individuality powerful to create types of its own, which were the despair of other singers, for they were incapable of reproduction, inasmuch as they were partly forged from her own defects, transformed by genius into beauties. In all those accomplishments which have their root in the art temperament, she was a sort of Admirable Crichton. She played the piano-forte with great skill, and, with no special knowledge of drawing, possessed marked talent in sketching caricatures, portraits, and scenes from nature. She composed both the music and words of songs and romances with a felicitous ease. She excelled in feminine works, such as embroidery, tapestry, and dressmaking, and always modeled her own costumes. It was a saying with her friends that she was as much the artist with her needle as with her voice. She wrote and spoke five languages, and often used them with different interlocutors with such readiness and accuracy that she rarely confused them. Her wit and vivacity as a conversationalist were celebrated, and her mots had the point as well as the flash of the diamond. Her retorts and sarcasms often wounded, but she was quick to heal the stroke by a sweet and childlike contrition that made her doubly fascinating.
Impassioned, ardent, the prey of an endless excitement, her restless nature would quickly return from its flights to the every-day duties and responsibilities of life, and her instincts were so strong and noble that she was eager to repair any errors into which she might be betrayed. Lavish in her generosity to others, she was personally frugal, even penurious. A certain brusque and original frankness, and the ingenuousness with which she betrayed every impression, often involved her in compromising positions, which would have been fatal to a woman in her position less pure and upright in her essential nature. Fond of dolls, toys, and trifles, she was also devoted to athletic sports and pastimes, riding, swimming, skating, shooting, and fencing. Sometimes her return from a fatiguing night at the opera would be marked by an exuberance of animal spirits, which would lead her to jump over chairs and tables like a schoolboy. She was wont to say, "When I try to restrain my flow of spirits, I feel as if I should be suffocated." Her reckless gayety and unconventional manners led to strange rumors. She would wander over the country attired in boy's clothes, and without an escort, and a great variety of innocent escapades led a carping world to believe that she indulged excessively in stimulants, but the truth was that she never drank anything but a little wine-and-water.
Maria could not long endure the frowning tutelage of M. Malibran's sister, whom she at first selected as her chaperon, and so one day she decamped without warning, in a coach, and established her "household gods" with Mme. Naldi, an old friend of her father, and a woman of austere manners, whom she obeyed like a child. Her protector had charge of all her money, and opened all her letters before Maria saw them. When her fortune was at his height, Mme. Mali-bran showed her friend and biographer, Countess do Merlin, a much-worn Cashmere shawl, saying: "I use this in preference to any that I have. It was the first Cashmere shawl I ever owned, and I have pleasure in remembering how hard I found it to coax Mme. Naldi to let me buy it."
In 1828 the principal members of the operatic company at the Italiens were Malibran, Sontag, Donzelli, Zuchelli, and Graziani. Malibran sang in "Otello," "Matilda di Shabran," "La Cenerentola," and "La Gazza Ladra." Jealous as she was by temperament, she always wept when Madamoiselle Sontag achieved a great success, saying, naively, "Why does she sing so divinely?" The coldness between the two great singers was fomented by the malice of others, but at last a touching reconciliation occurred, and the two rivals remained ever afterward sincere friends and admirers of each other's talents. There are many charming anecdotes of Madame Malibran's generosity and quick sympathy. At the house of one of her friends she often met an aged widow, poor and unhappy, and strongly desired to assist her; but the position and character of the lady required delicate management. "Madame," she said at last, "I know that your son makes very pretty verses." "Yes, madame, he sometimes amuses himself in that way. But he is so young!" "No matter. Do you know that I could propose a little partnership affair? Troupenas [the music publisher] has asked me for a new set of romances. I have no words ready. If your son will give them to me, we could share the profits." Mme. Malibran received the verses, and gave in exchange six hundred francs. The romances were never finished.
She performed all such acts of charity with so much refined delicacy, such true generosity, that the kindness was doubled. Thus, at the end of this season, a young female chorister, engaged for the opening of the King's Theatre, found herself unable to quit Paris for want of funds. Mme. Malibran promised to sing at a concert which some of the leading vocalists gave for her benefit. The name of Malibran of course drew a crowd, and the room was filled; but she did not appear, and at last they were obliged to commence the concert. The entertainment was half over when she came, and approached the young girl, saying to her in a low voice: "I am a little late, my dear, but the public will lose nothing, for I will sing all the pieces announced. In addition, as I promised you all my evening, I will keep my word. I went to sing in a concert at the house of the Duc d'Orleans, where I received three hundred francs. They belong to you. Take them."
In April of the same year during which Mme. Malibran had established herself so firmly in the admiration of the Parisian world, she accepted an engagement for the summer months with La-porte of the King's Theatre in London. She made her debut in the character of Desdemona, a part which had already been firmly fixed in the notions of the musical public by the two differing conceptions of Pasta and Sontag. The opera had been originally written for Mme. Colbran, Rossini's wife, and when it was revived for Pasta that great lyric tragedienne had embodied in it a grand, stormy, passionate style, suited to the genre of her genius. Mme. Sontag, on the other hand, fashioned her impersonation from the side of delicate sentiment and tenderness, and Malibran had a difficult task in shaping the conception after an ideal which should escape the reproach of imitation. Her version was full of electric touches and rapid alternations of feeling, but at times it bordered on the sensational and extravagant. Her fiery vehemence was often felt to be inconsistent with the tenderness of the heroine. The critics, while admitting the varied and original beauties of her reading, were yet severe in their condemnation of some of its features. Mme. Malibran, however, urged that her action was what she would have manifested in the actual situations. "I remember once," says the Countess De Merlin, "a friend advised her not to make Otello pursue her so long when he was about to kill her. Her answer was: 'You are right; it is not elegant, I admit; but, when once I fairly enter into my character, I never think of effects, but imagine myself actually the person I represent. I can assure you that in the last scene of Desdemona I often feel as if I were really about to be murdered, and act accordingly.' Donzelli used to be much annoyed by Mme. Malibran not determining beforehand how he was to seize her; she often gave him a regular chase. Though he was one of the best-tempered men in the world, I recollect him one evening being seriously angry. Desdemona had, according to custom, repeatedly escaped from his grasp; in pursuing her, he stumbled, and slightly wounded himself with the dagger he brandished. It was the only time I ever saw him in a passion."
She next appeared successively as _Rosina, Ni-netta, and Tancredi_, winning fresh laurels in them all, not only by her superb skill in vocalizing, but by her versatility of dramatic conception and the ease with which she entered into the most opposite phases of feeling and motive. She covered Rossini's elaborate fioriture with a fresh profusion of ornament, but always with a dexterity which saved it from the reproach of being overladen. She performed _Semiramide_ with Mme. Pisaroni, and played Zerlina to Sontag's _Donna Anna_. Her habit of treating such dramatic parts as _Ninetta, Zerlina_, and _Amina_ was the occasion of keen controversy among the critics of the time. Entirely averse to the conventional method of idealizing the character of the country girl out of all semblance to nature, Malibran was essentially realistic in preserving the rusticity, awkwardness, and _naivete_ of peasant-life. One critic argued: "It is by no means rare to discover in the humblest walk of life an inborn grace and delicacy of Nature's own implanting; and such assuredly is the model from which characters like _Ninetta_ and _Zerlina_ ought to be copied." But there were others who saw in the vigor, breadth, and verisimilitude of Mme. Malibran's stage portraits of the peasant wench the truest and finest dramatic justice. A great singer of our own age, Mme. Pauline Lucca, seems to have modeled her performances of the operatic rustic after the same method. In such characters as _Susanna in the "Nozze di Figaro," and _Fidalma_ in Cimarosa's "Il Matrimonio Segreto," her talent for lyric comedy impressed the _cognoscenti_ of London with irresistible power. She was fascinated by the ludicrous, and was wont to say that she was anxious to play the _Duenna_ in "Il Barbiere" for the sake of the grotesque costume. In playing _Fidalma_ the drollery of her tone and manner, the richness and originality of her comic humor, were incomparable. Her daring, however, prompted her to do strange things, which would have been condemned in any other singer. For example, while _Fidalma_ is in the midst of the most ludicrous drollery of the part, Malibran suddenly took up one word and gave an extended series of the most brilliant and difficult roulades of her own improvisation, through the whole range of her voice. Her hearers were transported at this musical feat, but it entirely interrupted the continuity of the humor.
On Mme. Malibran's return to Paris, she found her father, who had unexpectedly returned from his Mexican tour, thoroughly bankrupted in purse, and more embittered than ever by his train of misfortunes. He announced his intention of giving some representations at the Theatre Italien. This resolution caused much vexation to his daughter, but she did not oppose it. Garcia had lost a part of his voice; his tenor had become a barytone, and he could no longer reach the notes which had in former times been written for him. She knew how much her father's voice had become injured, and knowing equally well his intrepid courage, feared, not without reason, that he would tarnish his brilliant reputation. Garcia displayed even more than ever the great artist. A hoarseness seized him at the moment of appearing on the stage. "This is nothing," said he: "I shall do very well"; and, by sheer strength of talent and of will, he arranged the music of his part (Almaviva) to suit the condition of his voice, changing the passages, transposing them an octave lower, and taking up notes adroitly where he found his voice available; and all this instantly, with an admirable confidence.
Malibran's second season in Paris confirmed the estimate which had been placed on her genius, but the incessant labors of her professional life and the ardor with which she pursued the social enjoyments of life were commencing to undermine her health. She never hesitated to sacrifice herself and her time for the benefit of her friends, in spite of her own physical debility. One night she had promised to sing at the house of her friend, Mme. Merlin, and was amazed at the refusal of her manager to permit her absence from the theatre on a benefit-night. She said to him: "It does not signify; I sing at the theatre because it is my duty, but afterward I sing at Mme. Merlin's because it is my pleasure." And so after one o'clock in the morning, wearied from the arduous performance of "Semiramide," she appeared at her friend's and sang, supped, and waltzed till daybreak. This excess in living every moment of her life and utter indifference to the requirements of health were characteristic of her whole career. One night she fainted in her dressing-room before going on the stage. In the hurry of applying restoratives, a vinaigrette containing some caustic acid was emptied over her lips, and her mouth was covered with blisters. The manager was in despair; but Mme. Malibran, quietly stepping to the mirror, cut off the blisters with a pair of scissors, and sang as usual. Such was the indomitable courage of the woman that she was always faithful to her obligations, come what might; a conscientiousness which was afterward the immediate cause of her death.
It was in Paris, in 1830, that Mme. Malibran's romantic attachment to M. Charles de Beriot, the famous Belgian violinist, had its beginning. M. de Beriot had been warmly and hopelessly enamored of Malibran's rival, Mdlle. Sontag, in spite of the fact that the latter lady was known to be the fiancee of Count Rossi. The sympathies of Malibran's warm and affectionate heart were called out by her friend's disappointment, for gossip in the musical circles of Paris discussed De Beriot's unfortunate love-affair very freely. With her usual impulsive candor she expressed her interest in the brilliant young violinist without reserve, and it was not long before De Beriot made Malibran his confidante, and found consolation for his troubles in her soothing companionship. The result was what might have been expected. Malibran's beauty, tenderness, and genius speedily displaced the former idol in the heart of the Belgian artist, while she learned that it was but a short step between pity and love. This mutual affection was the cause of a dispute between Maria and her friend Mme. Naldi, whose austere morality disapproved the intimacy, and there was a separation, our singer moving into lodgings of her own.
It was during her London engagement of the same year that Mme. Malibran became acquainted with the greatest of bassos, Lablache, who made his debut before an English public in the role of Geronimo, in "Il Matrimonio Segreto." The friendship between these two distinguished artists became a very warm one, that only terminated with Malibran's death. Lablache, who had sung with all the greatest artists of the age, lamented her early taking off as one of the greatest misfortunes of the lyric stage. One strong tie between them was their mutual benevolence. On one occasion an unfortunate Italian importuned Lablache for assistance to return to his native land. The next day, when all the company were assembled for rehearsal, Lablache requested them to join in succoring their unhappy compatriot; all responded to the call, Mme. Lalande and Donzelli each contributing fifty francs. Malibran gave the same as the others; but, the following day, seizing the opportunity of being alone with Lablache, she desired him to add to her subscription of fifty francs two hundred and fifty more; she had not liked to appear to bestow more than her friends, so she had remained silent the preceding day. Lablache hastened to seek his protege, who, however, profiting by the help afforded him, had already embarked; but, not discouraged, Lablache hurried after him, and arrived just as the steamer was leaving the Thames. Entering a boat, however, he reached the vessel, went on board, and gave the money to the emigre, whose expressions of gratitude amply repaid the trouble of the kind-hearted basso. Another time Malibran aided a poor Italian who was destitute, telling him to say nothing about it. "Ah, madame," he cried, "you have saved me for ever!" "Hush!" she interrupted; "do not say that; only the Almighty could do so. Pray to him."
The feverish activity of Mme. Malibran was shown at this time in a profusion of labors and an ardor in amusement which alarmed all her friends. When not engaged in opera, she was incessant in concert-giving, for which her terms were eighty guineas per night. She would fly to Calais and sing there, hurry back to England, thence hasten to Brussels, where she would give a concert, and then cross the Channel again, giving herself no rest. Night after night she would dance and sing at private parties till dawn, and thus waste the precious candle of her life at both ends. She was haunted by a fancy that, when she ceased to live thus, she would suddenly die, for she was full of the superstition of her Spanish race. Mme. Malibran about this time essayed the same experiment which Pasta had tried, that of singing the role of the Moor in "Otello." It was not very successful, though she sang the music and acted the part with fire. The delicate figure of a woman was not fitted for the strong and masculine personality of the Moorish warrior, and the charm of her expression was completely veiled by the swarthy mask of paint. Her versatility was so daring that she wished even to out-leap the limits of nature.
The great diva's horizon (since Sontag's retirement from the stage she had been acknowledged the leading singer of the age) was now destined to be clouded by a portentous event. M. Malibran arrived in Paris. He had heard of his wife's brilliant success, and had come to assert his rights over her. Maria declined to see him, and no persuasions of her friends could induce her to grant the soi-disant husband, for whose memory she had nothing but rooted aversion, even an interview. Though she finally arrived at a compromise with him (for his sole interest in resuming relationship with his wife seemed to be the desire of sharing in the emoluments of her profession), she determined not to sing again in the French capital while M. Malibran remained there, and accordingly retired to a chateau near Brussels. The whole musical world was interested in settling this imbroglio, and there was a final settlement, by the terms of which the singer was not to be troubled or interfered with by her husband as long as he was paid a fixed stipend. She returned to Paris, and reappeared at the Italiens as Ninetta, the great Rubini being in the same cast. The two singers vied with each other "till," observed a French critic, "it seemed as if talent, feeling, and enthusiasm could go no further." This engagement, however, was cut short by her frequent and alarming illnesses, and Mme. Malibran, though reckless and short-sighted in regard to her own health, became seriously alarmed. She suddenly departed from the city, leaving a letter for the director, Severini, avowing a determination not to return, at least till her health was fully reestablished. This threatened the ruin of the administration, for Malibran was the all-powerful attraction. M. Viardot, a friend who had her entire confidence (Mlle. Pauline Garcia afterward became Mme. Viardot), was sent to Brussels as ambassador, and he represented the ruin she would entail on the operatic season of the Italiens. This plea appealed to her generosity, and she returned to fulfill her engagement. Constant attacks of illness, however, continued to disturb her performances, and the Parisian public chose to attribute this interruption of their pleasures to the caprice of the diva. She so resented this injustice that she determined, at the close of the engagement, that she would never again sing in Paris. Her last appearance, on January 8,1832, was as Desdemona, and the fervency of her singing and acting made it a memorable night, as the rumor had crept out that Mme. Malibran was then taking a lasting leave of them as an artist, and the audience sought to repair their former injustice by redoubled expressions of enthusiasm and pleasure.
An amusing instance of her eccentric and impulsive resolution was her hasty tour with La-blache to Italy which occurred a few months afterward. The great basso, passing through Brussels en route to Naples, called at her villa to pay his respects. Malibran declared her intention, in spite of his laughing incredulity, of going with him. Though he was to leave at dawn the next morning, she was waiting at the door of his hotel when he came down the stairs. As she had no passport, she was detained on the Lombardy frontier till Lablache obtained the needed document. At Milan she only sang in private concerts, and pressed on to Rome, where she engaged for a short season at the Teatro Valle, and succeeded in offending the amour propre of the Romans by singing French romances of her own composition in the lesson-scene of "Il Barbiere." She learned of the death of her father while in Rome, news which plunged her in the deepest despondency, for the memory of his sternness and cruelty had long been effaced by her appreciation of the inestimable value his training had been to her. She had often remarked to her friend, Mme. Merlin, that without just such a severe system her voice would never have attained its possibilities.
From Rome she went to Naples to fulfill a scrittura with Barbaja, the celebrated impressario of that city, to give twelve performances at one thousand francs a night. An immense audience greeted her on the opening night at the Fondo Theatre, August 6, 1832, at first with a cold and critical indifference—a feeling, however, which quickly flamed into all the unrestrained volcanic ardor of the Neapolitan temperament. Thenceforward she sang at double prices, "notwithstanding the subscribers' privileges were on most of these occasions suspended, and although 'Otello,' 'La Gazza Ladra,' and operas of that description were the only ones offered to a public long since tired even of the beauties of Rossini, and proverbial for their love of novelty."
Her great triumph, however, was on the night when she took her leave, in the character of Ninetta. "Nothing can be imagined finer than the spectacle afforded by the immense Theatre of San Carlo, crowded to the very ceiling, and ringing with acclamations," says a correspondent of one of the English papers at the time. "Six times after the fall of the curtain Mme. Mali-bran was called forward to receive the reiterated plaudits and adieux of the assembled multitude, and indicate by graceful and expressive gestures the degree to which she was overpowered by fatigue and emotion. The scene did not end within the walls of the theatre; for a crowd of the most enthusiastic rushed from all parts of the house to the stage-door, and, as soon as her sedan came out, escorted it with loud acclamations to the Palazzo Barbaja, and renewed their salutations as the charming vocalist ascended the steps."
Mme. Malibran had now learned to dearly love Italy and its impulsive, warm-hearted people, so congenial to her own nature. She sang in different Italian cities, receiving everywhere the most enthusiastic receptions. In Bologna they placed a bust of their adored songstress in the peristyle of the theatre. Each city vied with its neighbor in lavishing princely gifts on her. She had not long been in London, where she returned to meet her spring engagement at the King's Theatre in 1833, when she concluded a contract with the Duke Visconti of Milan for one hundred and eighty-five performances, seventy-five in the autumn and carnival season of 1835-'36, seventy-five in the corresponding season of 1836-'37, and thirty-five in the autumn of 1836, at a salary of eighteen thousand pounds. These were the highest terms which had then ever been offered to a public singer, or in fact to any stage performer since the days of imperial Rome.
Mme. Malibran's Italian experiences were in the highest sense gratifying alike to her pride as a great artist and to her love of admiration as a woman. Her popularity became a mania which infected all classes, and her appearance on the streets was the signal for the most fervid shouts of enthusiasm from the populace. For two years she alternated between London and the sunny lands where she had become such an idol. She had to struggle in Milan against the indelible impress made by Mme. Pasta, whose admirers entertained an almost fanatical regard for her memory as the greatest of lyric artists; but when Malibran appeared as Norma, a part written by Bellini expressly for Pasta, she was proclaimed la cantante per eccelenza. A medal, executed by the distinguished sculptor Valerio Nesti, was struck in her honor. Her generosity of nature was signally instanced during these golden Italian days in many acts of beneficence, of which the following are instances: During her stay at Sinigaglia in the summer of 1834, she heard an exquisite voice singing beneath the windows of her hotel. On looking out she saw a wan beggar-girl dressed in rags. Discovering by investigation that it was a case of genuine want, she placed the girl in a position where she could receive an excellent musical education and have all her needs amply supplied. On the eve of her departure from Naples, the last engagement she ever sang in that city, Gallo, proprietor of the Teatro Emeronnitio, came to entreat her to sing once at his establishment. He had a wife and several children, and was a very worthy man, on the verge of bankruptcy. "I will sing," answered she, "on one condition—that not a word is said about remuneration." She chose the part of Amina; the house was crammed, and the poor man was saved from ruin. A vast multitude followed her home, with an enthusiasm which amounted almost to a frenzy, and the grateful manager named his theatre the Teatro Garcia. On Ash-Wednesday, March 13, 1835, Mme. Malibran bade the Neapolitans adieu—an eternal adieu. Radiant with glory, and crowned with flowers, she was conducted by the Neapolitans to the faubourgs amid the eclat of vivats and acclamations.
The Neapolitans adored Malibran, and she loved to sing to these susceptible lovers of the divine art. On one occasion when she was suffering from a severe accident, she appeared with her arm in a sling rather then disappoint her audience. During all her Italian seasons, especially in Naples, where perfection of climate and delightful scenery combine to stimulate the animal spirits, she pursued the same wild and reckless course which had so often threatened to cut off her frail tenure of life. A daring horsewoman and swimmer, she alternated these exercises with fatiguing studies and incessant social pleasures. She practiced music five or six hours a day, spent several hours in violent exercise, and in the evenings not engaged at the theatre would go to parties, where she amused herself and her friends in a thousand different ways—making caricatures, doggerel verses, riddles, conundrums, bouts-rimes, dancing, jesting, laughing, and singing. Full of exhaustless vivacity, she seemed more and more to disdain rest as her physical powers grew weaker. The enthusiasm with which she was received and followed everywhere was in itself a dangerous draught on her nervous energies, which should have been husbanded, not lavishly wasted. One night at Milan she was deluged with bouquets of which the leaves were of gold and silver, and recalled by the frantic acclamations of her hearers twenty times, at the close of which she fainted on the stage. It was during this engagement at Milan that she heard of the death of the young composer, Vincentio Bellini, on September 23, 1835, and she set on foot a subscription for a tribute to his memory, leading the list with four-hundred francs. It was a premonition of her own departure from the world of art which she had so splendidly adorned, for exactly a year from that day she breathed her last sigh.
Her arrival in Venice during this last triumphant tour of her life was the occasion for an ovation not less flattering than those she had received elsewhere. As her gondola entered the Grand Canal, she was welcomed with a deafening fanfare of trumpets, the crash of musical bands, and the shouts of a vast multitude. It was as if some great general had just returned from victories in the field, which had saved a state. Mali-bran was frightened at this enthusiasm, and took refuge in a church, which speedily became choke-full of people, and a passage had to be opened for her exit to her hotel. Whenever she appeared, the multitude so embarrassed her that a way had to be made by the gendarmes, and her gondola was always pursued by a cortege of other gondolas, that crowded in her wake. When she departed, the city presented her with a magnificent diamond and ruby diadem.
In March, 1835, the divorce which she had long been seeking was granted by a French tribunal, and ten months later, at the expiration of the limit fixed by French law, she married M. De Beriot, March 29, 1836, thus legalizing the birth of their son, Wilfred de Beriot, who, with one daughter, that did not live, had been the fruit of their passionate attachment. On the day of her marriage she distributed a thousand francs among the poor, and her friends showered costly gifts on her, among them being an agraffe of pearls from the Queen of France.
During the season of 1835 Mme. Malibran appeared for Mr. Bunn at Drury Lane and Covent Garden in twenty-six performances, for which she received L3,463. Among other operas she appeared in Balfe's new work, "The Maid of Artois," which, in spite of its beautiful melody, has never kept its hold on the stage. Her Leonora in Beethoven's "Fidelio" was considered by many the peer of Mme. Schroder-Devrient's grand performance. Her labors during this season were gigantic. She would rise at 5 a.m., and practice for several hours, rehearsing before a mirror and inventing attitudes. It was in this way that she conceived the "stage-business" which produced such an electric impression in "Gli Orazi," when the news of her lover's death is announced to the heroine. "While the rehearsals of 'The Maid of Artois' were going on from day to day—and Mme. Malibran's rehearsals were not so many hours of sauntering indifference—she would, immediately after they were finished, dart to one or two concerts, and perhaps conclude the day by singing at an evening party. She pursued the same course during her performance of that arduous character," thus wrote one of the critics of the time, for the interest which Malibran excited was so great that the public loved to hear of all the details of her remarkable career.
Shortly after her marriage in the spring of 1836, Mme. de Beriot was thrown from her horse while attending a hunting-party in England, and sustained serious internal injury, which she neglected to provide against by medical treatment, concealing it even from her husband. Indeed, she sang on the same evening, and her prodigious facility in tours de force was the subject of special comment, for she seemed spurred to outdo herself from consciousness of physical weakness. When she returned to England again in the following September, her failing health was painfully apparent to all. Yet her unconquerable energy struggled against her sufferings, and she would permit herself no relaxation. In vain her husband and her good friend Lablachc remonstrated. A hectic, feverish excitement pervaded all her actions. She was engaged to sing at the Manchester Musical Festival, and at the rehearsals she would laugh and cry hysterically by turns.
At the first performance of the festival in the morning, she was carried out of her dressing-room in a swoon, but the dying singer was bent on doing what she considered her duty. She returned and delivered the air of Abraham by Cimarosa. Her thrilling tones and profound dejection made a deep impression on the audience. The next day she rallied from her sick-bed and insisted on being carried to the festival building, where she was to sing a duet with Mme. Caradori-Allen. This was the dying song of the swan, and it is recorded that her last effort was one of the finest of her life. The assembly, entranced by the genius and skill of the singer, forgot her precarious condition and demanded a repetition. Malibran again sang with all the passionate fire of her nature, and her wonderful voice died away in a prolonged shake on her very topmost note. It was her last note on earth, for she was carried thence to her deathbed.
Her sufferings were terrible. Convulsions and fainting-fits followed each other in swift succession, and it was evident that her end was near. The news of her fatal illness excited the deepest sympathy and sorrow throughout England and France, and bulletins of her condition were issued every day. Pending the arrival of her own physician, Dr. Belluomini, from London, she had been bled while in a fainting-fit by two local practitioners. When she recovered her senses, she said, "I am a slain woman, for they have bled me!" She died on September 23, 1836, and De Beriot's name was the last word that parted her pallid lips.
The death of this great and idolized singer produced a painful shock throughout Europe, and was regarded as a public calamity, for she had been as much admired and beloved as a woman as she was worshiped as an artist. Her remains, first interred in Manchester, were afterward removed by her husband to Brussels, where he raised a circular memorial chapel to her memory at Lacken. Her statue, chiseled in white marble by Geefs, represents her as Norma, and stands in the center, faintly lit by a single sunbeam admitted from a dome, and surrounded by masses of shadow. "It appears," says the Countess de Merlin, "like a fantastic thought, the dream of a poet."
Maria Malibran was unquestionably one of the most gifted and remarkable women who ever adorned the lyric stage. The charm of her singing consisted in the peculiarity of the timbre and the remarkable range of her voice, in her excitable temperament, which prompted her to execute the most audacious improvisations, and in her strong musical feeling, which kept her improvisations within the laws of good taste. Her voice, a mezzo-soprano, with a high soprano range superadded by incessant work and training, was in its middle register very defective, a fault which she concealed by her profound musical knowledge and technical skill. It was her mind that helped to enslave her hearers; for without mental originality and a distinct sort of creative force her defective voice would have failed to charm, where in fact it did provoke raptures. She was, in the exact sense of a much-abused adjective, a phenomenal singer, and it is the misfortune of the present generation that she died too young for them to hear.
Mme. Schroeder-Devrient the Daughter of a Woman of Genius.—Her Early Appearance on the Dramatic Stage in Connection with her Mother.—She studies Music and devotes herself to the Lyric Stage.—Her Operatic Debut in Mozart's "Zauberflote."—Her Appearance and Voice.—Mlle. Schroeder makes her Debut in her most Celebrated Character, Fidelio.—Her own Description of the First Performance.—A Wonderful Dramatic Conception.—Henry Chorley's Judgment of her as a Singer and Actress.—She marries Carl Devrient at Dresden.—Mme. Schroeder-Devrient makes herself celebrated as a Representative of Weber's Romantic Heroines.—Dissolution of her Marriage.—She makes Successful Appearances in Paris and London in both Italian and German Opera.—English Opinions of the German Artist.—Anecdotes of her London Engagement.—An Italian Tour and Reengagements for the Paris and London Stage.—Different Criticisms of her Artistic Style.—Retirement from the Stage, and Second Marriage.—Her Death in 1860, and the Honors paid to the Memory of her Genius.
In the year 1832 German opera in its original form was introduced into England for the first time, and London learned to recognize the grandeur of Beethoven in opera, as it had already done in symphony and sonata. "Fidelio" had been already presented in its Italian dress, without making very much impression, for the score had been much mutilated, and the departure from the spirit of the composer flagrant. The opera, as given by artists "to the manner born," was a revelation to English audiences. The intense musical vigor of Beethoven's great work was felt to be a startling variety, wrought out as it was in its principal part by the genius of a great lyric vocalist. This was Mme. Schroeder-Devrient, who, as an operatic tragedienne, stands foremost in the annals of the German musical stage, though others have surpassed her in merely vocal resources, and who never has been rivaled except by Pasta.
She was the daughter of Sophia Schroeder, the Siddons of Germany. This distinguished actress for a long time reigned supreme in her art. Her deep sensibilities and dramatic instincts, her noble elocution and stately beauty, fitted her admirably for tragedy. In such parts as Phedre, Medea, Lady Macbeth, Merope, Sappho, Jeanne de Montfaucon, and Isabella in "The Bride of Messina," she had no pere. Wilhelmina Schroeder was born in Hamburg, October 6, 1805, and was destined by her mother for a stage career. In pursuance of this, the child appeared at the age of five years as a little Cupid, and at ten danced in the ballet at the Imperial Theatre of Vienna. With the gradual development of the young girl's character came the ambition for a higher grade of artistic work. So, when she arrived at the age of fifteen, her mother, who wished her to appear in tragedy, secured for her a position at the Burgtheater of Vienna, where she played in such parts as Aricie in "Phedre," and Ophelia in "Hamlet." The impression she made was that of a great nascent actress, who would one day worthily fill the place of her mother. But the true scope of her genius was not yet defined, for she had not studied music. At last she was able to study under an Italian master of great repute, named Mazzatti, who resided in the Austrian capital.
Her first appearance was as Pamina in Mozart's "Zauberflote," at the Vienna theatre, January 20, 1821. The debutante was warmly welcomed by an appreciative audience, and the terrors of the young girl of seventeen were quickly assuaged by the generous recognition she received. The beauty of her voice, her striking figure and port, and her dramatic genius, combined to make her instantly successful. Wilhelmina Schroeder was tall and nobly molded, and her face, though not beautiful, was sweet, frank, and fascinating—a face which became transfigured with fire and passion under the influence of strong emotion. Her vocal organ was a mellow soprano, which, though not specially flexible, united softness with volume and compass. In intonation and phrasing, her art, in spite of her youth and inexperience, showed itself to be singularly perfect. Though she rapidly became a favorite, her highest triumph was not achieved till she appeared as Leonora in the "Fidelio." In this she eclipsed all who had preceded her, and Germany soon rang with her name as that of an artist of the highest genius. Her own account of her first representation of this role is of much interest:
"When I was studying the character of Leonora at Vienna, I could not attain that which appeared to me the desired and natural expression at the moment when Leonora, throwing herself before her husband, holds out a pistol to the Governor, with the words, 'Kill first his wife!' I studied and studied in vain, though I did all in my power to place myself mentally in the situation of Leonora. I had pictured to myself the situation, but I felt that it was incomplete, without knowing why or wherefore. Well, the evening arrived; the audience knows not with what feelings an artist, who enters seriously into a part, dresses for the representation. The nearer the moment approached, the greater was my alarm. When it did arrive, and as I ought to have sung the ominous words and pointed the pistol at the Governor, I fell into such an utter tremor at the thought of not being perfect in my character, that my whole frame trembled, and I thought I should have fallen. Now only fancy how I felt when the whole house broke forth with enthusiastic shouts of applause, and what I thought when, after the curtain fell, I was told that this moment was the most effective and powerful of my whole representation! So, that which I could not attain with every effort of mind and imagination, was produced at this decisive moment by my unaffected terror and anxiety. This result and the effect it had upon the public taught me how to seize and comprehend the incident, so, that which at the first representation I had hit upon unconsciously, I adopted in full consciousness ever afterward in this part."
Not even Malibran could equal her in the impersonation of this character. Never was dramatic performance more completely, more intensely affecting, more deeply pathetic, truthful, tender, and powerful.
Some critics regarded her as far more of the tragedian than the singer. "Her voice, since I have known it," observes Mr. Chorley, in his "Modern German Music," "was capable of conveying poignant or tender expression, but it was harsh and torn—not so inflexible as incorrect. Mme. Schroeder-Devrient resolved to be par excellence 'the German dramatic singer.' Earnest and intense as was her assumption of the parts she attempted, her desire of presenting herself first was little less vehement: there is no possibility of an opera being performed by a company, each of whom should be as resolute as she was never to rest, never for an instant to allow the spectator to forget his presence. She cared not whether she broke the flow of the composition by some cry heard on any note or in any scale—by even speaking some word, for which she would not trouble herself to study a right musical emphasis or inflection—provided, only, she succeeded in continuing to arrest the attention. Hence, in part, arose her extraordinary success in "Fidelio." That opera contains, virtually, only one acting character, and with her it rests to intimate the thrilling secret of the whole story, to develop this link by link, in presence of the public, and to give the drama the importance of terror, suspense, and rapture. When the spell is broken by exhibiting the agony and the struggle of which she is the innocent victim, if the devotion, the disguise, and the hope of Leonora, the wife, were not for ever before us, the interest of the prison-opera would flag and wane into a cheerless and incurable melancholy. This Mme. Schroeder-Devrient took care that it should never do. From her first entry upon the stage, it might be seen that there was a purpose at her heart, which could make the weak strong and the timid brave; quickening every sense, nerving every fiber, arming its possessor with disguise against curiosity, with persuasion more powerful than any obstacle, with expedients equal to every emergency.... What Pasta would be in spite of her uneven, rebellious voice, a most magnificent singer, Mme. Schroeder-Devrient did not care to be, though nature, as I have heard from those who heard her sing as a girl, had blessed her with a fresh, delicious soprano voice."
Her fame so increased that the Fraeulein Schroeder soon made an art-tour through Germany. Her appearances at Cassel in the spring of 1823, in such characters as Pamina and Agathe, produced a great sensation. At Dresden she also evoked a large share of popular enthusiasm, and her name was favorably compared with the greatest lights of the German lyric stage. While singing at this capital she met Carl Devrient, one of the principal dramatic tenors of Germany, and, an attachment springing up between the pair, they were married. The union did not prove a happy one, and Mme. Schroeder-Devrient had bitter occasion to regret that she had tied her fortunes to a man utterly unworthy of love and respect. She remained for several years at Dresden, and among other operas she appeared in Weber's "Euryanthe," with Mme. Funk, Herr Berg-mann, and Herr Meyer. She also made a powerful impression on the attention of both the critics and the public in Cherubini's "Faniska," and Spohr's "Jessonda," both of which operas are not much known out of Germany, though "Faniska" was first produced at the Theatre Feydeau, in Paris, and contributed largely to the fame of its illustrious composer. The austere, noble music is not of a character to please the multitude who love what is sensational and easily understood. When "Faniska" was first produced at the Austrian capital in the winter of 1805, both Haydn and Beethoven were present. The former embraced Cherubini, and said to him, "You are my son, worthy of my love"; while Beethoven cordially hailed him as "the first dramatic composer of the age." The opera of "Faniska" is based on a Polish legend of great dramatic beauty, and the unity of idea and musical color between it and Beethoven's "Fidelio" has often excited the attention of critics. It is perhaps owing to this dramatic similarity that Mme. Schroeder-De vrient made as much reputation by her performance of it as she had already acquired in Beethoven's lyric masterpiece.
In 1828 she went to Prague, and thence to Berlin, where her marriage was judicially dissolved, she retaining her guardianship of her son, then four years old. Spontini, who was then the musical autocrat of Berlin, conceived a violent dislike to her, and his bitter nature expressed itself in severe and ungenerous sarcasms. But the genius of the singer was proof against the hostility of the Franco-Italian composer, and the immense audiences which gathered to hear her interpret the chef-d'ouvres of Weber, whose fame as the great national composer of Germany was then at its zenith, proved her strong hold on the hearts of the German people. Spontini's prejudice was generally attributed to Mme. Devrient's dislike of his music and her artistic identification with the heroines of Weber, for whose memory Spontini entertained much the same envious hate as Salieri felt for Mozart in Vienna at an earlier date.
Our singer's ambition sighed to conquer new worlds, and in 1830 she went to Paris with a troupe of German singers, headed by Mme. Fischer, a tall blonde beauty, with a fresh, charming voice, but utterly Mme. Schroder-Devrient's inferior in all the requirements of the great artist. She made her debut in May at the Theatre Louvois, as Agathe in "Der Freischutz," and, though excessively agitated, was so impressive and powerful in the impersonation as to create a great eclat. The critics were highly pleased with the beauty and finish of her style. She produced the principal parts of her repertoire in "Fidelio," "Don Giovanni," Weber's "Oberon" and "Euryanthe," and Mozart's "Serail." It was in "Fidelio," however, that she raised the enthusiasm of her audiences to the highest pitch. On returning again to Germany she appeared in opera with Scheckner and Sontag, in Berlin, winning laurels even at the expense of Mme. Sontag, who was then just on the eve of retiring from the stage, and who was inspired to her finest efforts as she was departing from the field of her triumphs.
Two years later Mme. Schroeder-Devrient accepted a proposition made to her by the manager of the Theatre Italiens to sing in a language and a school for which she was not fully qualified. The season opened with such a dazzling constellation of genius as has rarely, if ever, been gathered on any one stage—Pasta, Malibran, Schroeder-Devrient, Rubini, Bordogni, and Lablache. Mme. Pasta's illness caused the substitution of Schroeder-Devrient in her place in the opera of "Anna Bolena," and the result was disastrous to the German singer. But she retrieved herself in the same composer's "Pirata," and her splendid performance cooperated with that of Rubini to produce a sensation. It was observed that she quickly accommodated herself to the usages and style of the Italian stage, and soon appeared as if one "to the manner born." Toward the close of the engagement Mme. Devrient appeared for Malibran's benefit as Desdemona, Rubini being the Moor. Though the Rossinian music is a genre by itself, and peculiarly dangerous to a singer not trained in its atmosphere and method, the German artist sang it with great skill and finish, and showed certain moments of inspiration in its performance which electrified her hearers.
Mme. Schreder-Devrient's first appearance in England was under the management of Mr. Monck Mason, who had leased the King's Theatre in pursuance of a somewhat daring enterprise. A musical and theatrical enthusiast, and himself a composer, though without any experience in the practical knowledge of management, he projected novel and daring improvements, and aspired to produce opera on the most extensive and complete scale. He engaged an enormous company—not only of Italian and German, but of French singers—and gave performances in all three languages. Schroeder-Devrient sang in all her favorite operas, and also Desdemona, in Italian. Donzelli was the Otello, and the performance made a strong impression on the critics, if not on the public. "We know not," wrote one, "how to say enough of Mme. Schreder-Devrient without appearing extravagant, and yet the most extravagant eulogy we could pen would not come up to our idea of her excellence. She is a woman of first-rate genius; her acting skillful, various, impassioned, her singing pure, scientific, and enthusiastic. Her whole soul is wrapped in her subject, yet she never for a moment oversteps the modesty of nature." It was during this season that Mr. Chorley first heard her. He writes in his "Musical Recollections" a vivid description of her appearance in "Fidelio": "She was a pale woman. Her face, a thoroughly German one, though plain, was pleasing from the intensity of expression which her large features and deep, tender eyes conveyed. She had profuse fair hair, the value of which she thoroughly understood, delighting in moments of great emotion to fling it loose with the wild vehemence of a Maenad. Her figure was superb, though full, and she rejoiced in its display." He also speaks of "the inherent expressiveness of her voice which made it more attractive on the stage than a more faultless organ." Mme. Schroeder-Devrient met a warm social welcome in London from the family of the great pianist, Moscheles, to whom she was known of old. Mme. Moscheles writes in her diary: "Our interesting guests at dinner were the Haizingers, he the admirable tenor singer of whom the German opera company here may well be proud, she pretty and agreeable as ever; we had, too, our great Schroeder and our greater Mendelssohn. The conversation, of course, was animated, and the two ladies were in such spirits that they not only told anecdotes, but accompanied them with dramatic gestures; Schroeder, when telling us how he (the hero of her anecdote) drew his sword, flourished her knife in a threatening manner toward Haizinger, and Mendelssohn whispered to me, 'I wonder what John [the footman] thinks of such an English vivacity? To see the brandishing of knives, and not know what it is all about! Only think!'" A comic episode which occurred during the first performance of "Fidelio" is also related by the same authority: "In that deeply tragic scene where Mme. Schroeder (Fidelio) has to give Haizinger (Florestan) a piece of bread which she has kept hidden for him three days in the folds of her dress, he does not respond to the action. She whispers to him with a rather coarse epithet: 'Why don't you take it? Do you want it buttered?' All this time, the audience, ignorant of the by-play, was solely intent on the pathetic situation." This is but one of many instances which could be adduced from the annals of the stage showing how the exhibition of the greatest dramatic passion is consistent with the existence of a jocose, almost cynical, humor on the part of the actors.
In the following year (1833), Mme. Schroeder-Devrient sang under Mr. Bunn at the Covent Garden Theatre, appearing in several of Weber's and Mozart's masterpieces. She was becoming more and more of a favorite with the English public. The next season she devoted herself again to the stage of Germany, where she was on the whole best understood and appreciated, her faults more uniformly ignored. She appeared in twelve operas by native composers in Berlin, and thence went to Vienna and St. Petersburg. She proceeded to Italy in 1835, where she sang for eighteen months in the principal cities and theatres of that country, and succeeded in evoking from the critical Italians as warm a welcome as she had commanded elsewhere. In one city the people were so enthusiastic that they unharnessed her horses, and drew her carriage home from the theatre after her closing performance. Although she never entirely mastered the Italian school, she yet displayed so much intelligence, knowledge, and faculty in her art-work, that all catholic lovers of music recognized her great talents. She appeared again in Vienna in 1836, with Mme. Tadolini, Genaro, and Galli, singing in "L'Elisir d'Amore," and works of a similar cast, operas unsuited, one would think, to the peculiar cachet of her genius, but her ability in comic and romantic operas, though never so striking as in grand tragedy, seemed to develop with practice.
Her last English engagement was in 1837, opening the season with a performance of "Fidelio" in English. The whole performance was lamentably inferior to that at the Opera-House in 1832. "Norma" was produced, Schroeder-Devrient being seconded by Wilson, Giubilei, and Miss Betts. She was either very ill advised or overconfident, for her "massy" style of singing was totally at variance with the light beauty of Bellini's music. Her conception of the character, however, was in the grandest style of histrionic art. "The sibyls of Michael Angelo are not more grand," exclaimed one critic; "but the vocalization of Pasta and Grisi is wholly foreign to her." During this engagement, Mme. Schroeder-Devrient was often unable to perform, from serious illness. From England she went to the Lower Rhine.
In 1839 she was at Dresden with Herr Tichatschek, one of the first tenors of Germany, a handsome man, with a powerful, sweet, and extensive voice. In June, 1841, she gave a performance at Berlin, to assist the Parisian subscription for a monument to Cherubini. The opera was "Les Deux Journees," in which she took her favorite part of Constance. The same year she sang at Dresden with the utmost success, in a new role in Goethe's "Tasso," in which she was said to surpass her Fidelio. For several years Mme. Schroeder-Devrient resided in perfect seclusion in the little town of Rochlitz, and appeared to have forgotten all her stage ambition. Suddenly, however, she made her reappearance at Dresden in the role of Romeo in Bellini's "I Montecchi ed i Capuletti." She had lost a good deal of her vocal power and skill, yet her audiences seemed to be moved by the same magic glamour as of old, in consequence of her magnificent acting. Among other works in which she performed during this closing operatic season of her life was Gluck's "Iphigenie en Aulis," which was especially revived for her. Johanna Wagner, the sister of the great composer, was also in the cast, and a great enthusiasm was created by a general stage presentation of almost unparalleled completeness for that time.
Mme. Devrient retired permanently from the stage in the year 1849, having amassed a considerable fortune by her professional efforts. She made a second matrimonial venture with a rich Livonian proprietor named Bock, with whom she retired to his estate. Her retirement occasioned profound regret throughout Germany, where she was justly looked on as one of the very greatest artists, if, indeed, even this reservation could be made, who had ever shone on their lyric stage. The Emperor Francis I. paid Mme. Schroeder a compliment which had never before been paid to a German singer. He ordered her portrait to be painted in all her principal characters, and placed in the collection of the Imperial Museum. Six years after her farewell from the stage, an Italian critic, Scudo, heard her sing in a private house in Paris, and speaks very disparagingly of her delivery of the melodies of Schubert in a weak, thin voice. She, like Malibran, possessed one of those voices which needed incessant work and practice to keep it in good order, though she did not possess the consummate musical knowledge and skill of Malibran. She was a woman of great intelligence and keen observation; an artist of the most passionate ardor and impetuosity, always restrained, however, by a well-studied control and reserve; in a word, a great lyric tragedienne rather than a great singer in the exact sense of that word. She must be classed with that group of dramatic singers who were the interpreters of the school of music which arose in Germany after the death of Mozart, and which found its most characteristic type in Carl Maria von Weber, for Beethoven, who on one side belongs to this school, rather belonged to the world, like Shakespeare in the drama, than to a single nationality. Mme. Schroeder-De-vrient died February 9, 1860, at Cologne, and the following year her marble bust was placed in the Opera-House at Berlin.
The Childhood of a Great Artist.—Giulietta Grisi's Early Musical Training.—Giuditta Grisi's Pride in the Talents of her Young Sister.—Her Italian Debut and Success.—She escapes from a Managerial Taskmaster and takes Refuge in Paris.—Impression made on French Audiences.—Production of Bellini's "Puritani."—Appearance before the London Public.—Character of Grisi's Singing and Acting.—Anecdotes of the Prima Donna.—Marriage of Mlle. Grisi.—Her Connection with Other Distinguished Singers.—Rubini, his Character as an Artist, and Incidents of his Life.—Tamburini, another Member of the First Great "Puritani" Quartet.—Lablache, the King of Operatic Bassos.—His Career as an Artist.—His Wonderful Genius as Singer and Actor.—Advent of Mario on the Stage.—His Intimate Association with Mme. Grisi as Woman and Artist.—Incidents of Mario's Life and Character as an Artist.—Grisi's Long Hold on the Stage for more than a Quarter Century.—Her American Tour.—Final Retirement from her Profession.—The Elements of her Greatness as a Goddess of Song.
A quarter of a century is a long reign for any queen, a brilliant one for an opera queen in these modern days, when the "wear and tear" of stage-life is so exacting. For so long a time lasted the supremacy of Mme. Grisi, and it was justified by a remarkable combination of qualities, great physical loveliness, a noble voice, and dramatic impulse, which, if not precisely inventive, was yet large and sympathetic. A celebrated English critic sums up her great qualities and her defects thus: "As an artist calculated to engage, and retain the average public, without trick or affectation, and to satisfy by her balance of charming attributes—by the assurance, moreover, that she was giving the best she knew how to give—she satisfied even those who had received much deeper pleasure and had been impressed with much deeper emotion in the performances of others. I have never tired of Mme. Grisi during five-and-twenty years; but I have never been in her case under one of those spells of intense enjoyment and sensation which make an epoch in life, and which leave a print on memory never to be effaced by any later attraction, never to be forgotten so long as life and power to receive shall endure."
Giulietta Grisi was the younger daughter of M. Gaetano Grisi, an Italian officer of engineers, in the service of Napoleon, and was born at Milan, July 2, 1812. Her mother's sister was the once celebrated Grassini, who, as the contemporary of Mrs. Billington and Mme. Mara, had shared the admiration of Europe with these great singers. Thence probably she and her sister Giuditta, ten years her elder, inherited their gift of song. Giuditta was for a good while regarded as a prodigy by her friends, and acquired an excellent rank on the concert and operatic stage, but she was so far outshone by her more gifted sister, that her name is now only one of the traditions of that throng of talented and hard-working artists who have contributed much to the stability of the lyric stage, without adding to it any resplendent luster. Delicate health prevented the little Giulia from receiving any early musical training, but her own secret ambition caused her to learn the piano-forte, by her own efforts; and her enthusiastic attention, and attempt to imitate, while her sister was practicing solfeggi, clearly indicated the bent of her tastes. She soon astonished her family by the fluency and correctness with which she repeated the most difficult passages; and Giuditta, who appreciated these evidences of vocal and mimetic talent, would listen with delight to the lively efforts of her young sister, and then, clasping her fondly in her arms, prophesy that she would be "the glory of her race." "Thou shalt be more than thy sister, my Giuliettina," she would exclaim. "Thou shalt be more than thy aunt! It is Giuditta tells thee so—believe it." The only defect in Giulia's voice—certainly a serious one—was a chronic hoarseness, which seemed a bar to her advancement as a vocalist.
Her parents resolved that Giulia should have regular lessons in singing; and she entered the Conservatory of her native town, where her sister had also obtained her musical training. The early talent she developed, under the direction of the composer Marliani, was remarkable. That she might continue her studies uninterruptedly, she was sent to Bologna, to her uncle, Colonel Ragani, husband of Grassini, by whom she was put under the care of the learned Giacomo Guglielmi, son of the celebrated composer, who during three years devoted himself entirely to her musical education. Gradually the lovely quality of her voice began to be manifest, and its original blemishes disappeared, her tones acquiring depth, power, and richness.