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Title: Great Singers, First Series - Faustina Bordoni To Henrietta Sontag
Author: Ferris, George T. (George Titus), 1840-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Great Singers, First Series - Faustina Bordoni To Henrietta Sontag" ***

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Copyright, 1879, By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.


In compiling and arranging the material which enters into the following
sketches of distinguished singers, it is only honest to disclaim any
originality except such as may be involved in a picturesque presentation
of facts. The compiler has drawn freely from a great variety of sources,
and has been simply guided by the desire to give the reading public
such a digest of the more important incidents in the careers of
the celebrities treated of as should be at once compact, racy, and
accurate. To serve this purpose the opinions and descriptions of writers
and critics contemporary with the subjects have been used at length, and
no means overlooked to give the sketches that atmosphere of freshness
which is the outcome of personal observation. All that a compilation of
this kind can hope to effect is best gained in preserving this kind
of vividness, instead of revamping impressions and opinions into
second-hand forms. Pains have been taken to verify dates and facts, and
it is believed they will be found trustworthy.

It will be observed that many well-known singers have been omitted, or
treated only incidentally: among the earlier singers, such as Anas-tasia
Robinson, Mingotti, Anna Maria Crouch, and Anna Selina Storace; among
more recent ones, such as Mmes. Fodor, Cinti-Damoreau, Camperese,
Pisaroni, Miss Catherine Stephens, Mrs. Paton-Wood, Mme. Dorus-Gras, and
Cornelie Falcon. This omission has been indispensable in a work whose
purpose has been to cover only the lives of the very great names
in operatic art, as the question of limit has been inflexible. A
supplementary volume will give similar sketches of later celebrities.

The works from which material has been most freely drawn are as follows:
Bernard's "Retrospection of the Stage"; Dr. Burney's various histories
of music; Chorley's "Thirty Years' Musical Recollections"; Dibdin's
"Complete History of the English Stage"; Ebers's "Seven Years of the
King's Theatre"; Fétis's "Biographie des Musiciens"; Hogarth's "Musical
Drama"; Sutherland Edwards's "History of the Opera"; Arsène Houssaye's
"Galerie des Portraits"; Michael Kelly's "Reminiscences"; Lord Mount
Edgcumbe's "Musical Reminiscences"; Oxberry's "Dramatic Biography and
Histrionic Anecdotes"; Mrs. Clayton's "Queens of Song"; Arthur Simpson's
"Memoirs of Catalani"; and Grove's "Dictionary of Music and Musicians."



The Art-Battles of Handel's Time.--The Feud between Cuzzoni
and Faustina.--The Character of the Two Rivals as Women and
Artists.--Faustina's Career.--Her Marriage with Adolph Hasse, and
something about the Composer's Music.--Their Dresden Life.--Cuzzoni's
Latter Years.--Sketch of the Great Singer Farinelli.--The Old Age of
Hasse and Faustina


The Cardinal and the Daughter of the Cook.--The Young Prima Donna's
_Début_ in Lucca.--Dr. Burney's Description of Gabrielli.--Her
Caprices, Extravagances, and Meeting with Metastasio.--Her Adventures
in Vienna.--Bry-done on Gabrielli.--Episodes of her Career in Sicily
and Parma.--She sings at the Court of Catharine of Russia.--Sketches
ol Caffarelli and Pacchierotti.--Gabrielli in London, and her Final
Retirement from Art


The French Stage as seen by Rousseau.--Intellectual Ferment of the
Period.--Sophie Arnould, the Queen of the most Brilliant of Paris
Salons.--Her Early Life and Connection with Comte de Lauraguais.--Her
Reputation as the Wittiest Woman of the Age.--Art Association with the
Great German Composer, Gluck.--The Rivalries and Dissensions of the
Period.--Sophie's Rivals and Contemporaries, Madame St. Huberty,
the Vestrises Father and Son, Madelaine Guimard.--Opera during the
Revolution.--The Closing Days of Sophie Arnould's Life.--Lord Mount
Edgcumbe's Opinion of her as an Artist


Elizabeth Weichsel's Runaway Marriage.--__Début__ at Covent
Garden.--Lord Mount Edgcumbe's Opinion of her Singing.--Her Rivalry with
Mme. Mara.--Mrs. Billington's Greatness in English Opera.--She sings in
Italy in 1794-'99.--Her Great Power on the Italian Stage.--Marriage with
Felican.--Reappearance in London in Italian and English Opera.--Sketch
of Mme. Mara's Early Life.--Her Great Triumphs on the English
Stage.--Anecdotes of her Career and her Retirement from
England.--Grassini and Napoleon.--The Italian Prima Donna disputes
Sovereignty with Mrs. Billington.--Her Qualities as an Artist.--Mrs.
Billington's Retirement from the Stage and Declining Years


The Girlhood of Catalani.--She makes her __Début__ in Florence.
--Description of her Marvelous Vocalism.--The Romance of Love and
Marriage.--Her Preference for the Concert Stage.--She meets Napoleon in
Paris.--Her Escape from France and Appearance in London.--Opinions
of Lord Mount Edgcumbe and other Critics.--Anecdotes of herself and
Husband.--The Great Prima Donna's Character.--Her Gradual Divergence
from Good Taste in singing.--_Bon Mots_ of the Wits of the Day.--The
Opera-house Riot.--Her Husband's Avarice.--Grand Concert Tour through
Europe.--She meets Goethe.--Her Return to England and Brilliant
Reception.--She sings with the Tenor Braham.--John Braham's Artistic
Career.--The Davides.--Catalani's Last English Appearance, and the
Opinion of Critics.--Her Retirement and Death


Greatness of Genius overcoming Disqualification.--The Characteristic
Lesson of Pasta's Life.--Her First Appearance and Failure.--Pasta
returns to Italy and devotes herself to Study.--Her First Great
Successes in 1819.--Characteristics of her Voice and Singing.--Chorley's
Review of the Impressions made on him by Pasta.--She makes her Triumphal
_Début_ in Paris.--Talma on Pasta's Acting.--Her Performances of
"Giulietta" and "Tancredi."--Medea, Pasta's Grandest Impersonation, is
given to the World.--Description of the Performance.--Enthusiasm of the
Critics and the Public.--Introduction of Pasta to the English Public in
Rossini's "Otello."--The Impression made in England.--Recognized as
the Greatest Dramatic Prima Donna in the World.--Glances at the Salient
Facts of her English Career.--The Performance of "Il Crociato in
Egitto."--She plays the Male _Rôle_ "Otello."--Rivalry with Malibran
and Sontag.--The Founder of a New School of Singing.--Pasta creates the
Leading _Rôles_ in Bellini's "Sonnambula" and "Norma" and Donizetti's
"Anna Bolena."--Decadence and Retirement


The Greatest German Singer of the Century.--Her Characteristics as an
Artist.--Her Childhood and Early Training.--Her Early Appearances in
Weimar, Berlin, and Leipsic.--She becomes the Idol of the Public.--Her
Charms as a Woman and Romantic Incidents of her Youth.--Becomes
affianced to Count Rossi.--Prejudice against her in Paris, and her
Victory over the Public Hostility.--She becomes the Pet of Aristocratic
_Salons_.--Rivalry with Malibran.--Her _Début_ in London, where she
is welcomed with Great Enthusiasm.--Returns to Paris.--Anecdotes of her
Career in the French Capital.--She becomes reconciled with Malibran in
London.--Her Secret Marriage with Count Rossi.--She retires from the
Stage as the Wife of an Ambassador.--Return to her Profession after
Eighteen Years of Absence.--The Wonderful Success of her Youth
renewed.--Her American Tour.--Attacked with Cholera in Mexico and dies.



The Art-Battles of Handel's Time.--The Feud between Cuzzoni
and Faustina.--The Character of the Two Rivals as Women and
Artists.--Faustina's Career.--Her Marriage with Adolph Hasse, and
something about the Composer's Music.--Their Dresden Life.--Cuzzoni's
Latter Years.--Sketch of the Great Singer Farinelli.--The Old Age of
hasse and Faustina.


During the early portion of the eighteenth century the art of the stage
excited the interests and passions of the English public to a degree
never equaled since. Politics and religion hardly surpassed it in the
power of creating cabals and sects and in stirring up animosities. This
was specially marked in music. The great Handel, who had not then found
his true vocation as an oratorio composer, was in the culmination of
his power as manager of the opera, though he was irritated by hostile
factions. The musical quarrels of the time were almost as interesting as
the Gluck-Piccini war in Paris in the latter part of the same century,
and the _literati_ took part in it with a zest and wit not less piquant
and noticeable. Handel, serenely grand in his musical conceptions, was
personally passionate and fretful; and the contest of satire, scandal,
and witticism raged without intermission between him and his rivals,
supported on each hand by princes and nobles, and also by the great
dignitaries of the republic of letters. In this tumult the singers
(always a _genus irritabile_, like the race of poets) who belonged to
the opera companies took an active part.

Not the least noteworthy episode of this conflict was the feud between
two foremost sirens of the lyric stage, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina
Bordoni. When the brilliant Faustina appeared in London, as a fresh
importation of Handel, who was as indefatigable in purveying novelties
as any modern Mapleson or Strakosch, Cuzzoni was the idol of the public,
having succeeded to that honor after Anastasia Robinson retired from
the stage as Countess of Peterborough. Handel some years before had
introduced Cuzzoni to the English stage, and, though kept in constant
turmoil by her insolence and caprice, had taken great pains to display
her fine voice by the composition of airs specially suited to her. It is
recorded that one morning, after she had refused at rehearsal to sing a
song written for her by the master, such rage took possession of Handel
that he seized her fiercely, and threatened to hurl her from the window
unless she succumbed. One of the arias composed for this singer extorted
from Main-waring, a musician bitterly at odds with Handel, the remark,
"The great bear was certainly inspired when he wrote that song."

Cuzzoni's popularity with the public had so augmented her native conceit
and insolence as to make a rival unbearable. Though she was ugly and ill
made, of a turbulent and obstinate temper, ungrateful and capricious,
she deported herself as if she possessed all the graces of beauty, art,
and genius, and regarded the allegiance of the public as her native
right. London had indeed given her some claim to this arrogance, as
from the first it had treated her with brilliant distinction, so that
fashionable ladies had adopted the style of her stage dresses, and duels
were fought by the young "bucks" and "swells" of the time over the right
to escort her to her carriage. The bitterness with which Cuzzoni hated
Faustina was aggravated by the fact that the latter, in addition to her
great ability as a singer, was younger, far more beautiful, and of most
fascinating and amiable manner. Handel and the directors of the King's
theatre were in ecstasies that they had secured two such exquisite
singers; but their joy was destined to receive a sudden check in the
bitter squabbles which speedily arose. Indeed, the two singers did not
meet in battle for the first time, for seven years before they had
been rival candidates for favor in Italy. Faustina Bordoni possessed
remarkable beauty of figure and face, an expression full of fire and
intelligence, to which she united tact, amiability, and prudence. As
singers the rivals were nearly equal; for Faustina, while surpassing the
Cuzzoni in power of execution, had not the command of expression which
made the latter's art so pathetic and touching. Dr. Barney, the musical
historian, and father of Madame d'Arblay, describes Cuzzoni in these
words: "A native warble enabled her to execute divisions with such
facility as to conceal every appearance of difficulty; and so soft and
touching was the natural tone of her voice, that she rendered pathetic
whatever she sang, in which she had leisure to unfold its whole volume.
The art of conducting, sustaining, increasing, and diminishing her
tones by minute degrees, acquired for her among professors the title of
complete mistress of her art. In a canta-bile air, though the notes she
added were few, she never lost a favorable opportunity of enriching the
cantilena with all the refinements and embellishments of the time.
Her shake was perfect; she had a creative fancy, and the power of
occasionally accelerating and retarding the measure in the most
artificial manner by what the Italians call _tempo rubato_. Her high
notes were unrivaled in clearness and sweetness, and her intonations
were so just and fixed that it seemed as if it were not in her power
to sing out of tune." The celebrated flute-player Quantz, instructor of
Frederick II., also gave Dr. Burney the following account of Faustina's
artistic qualities: "Faustina had a mezzo-soprano voice, that was less
clear than penetrating. Her compass now was only from B flat to G in
alt; but after this time she extended its limits downward. She possessed
what the Italians call _un cantar granito_; her execution was articulate
and brilliant. She had a fluent tongue for pronouncing words rapidly
and distinctly, and a flexible throat for divisions, with so beautiful a
shake that she put it in motion upon short notice, just when she would.
The passages might be smooth, or by leaps, or consisting of iterations
of the same note; their execution was equally easy to her as to any
instrument whatever. She was, doubtless, the first who introduced with
success a swift repetition of the same note. She sang adagios with great
passion and expression, but was not equally successful if such deep
sorrow were to be impressed on the hearer as might require dragging,
sliding, or notes of syncopation and _tempo rubato_. She had a very
happy memory in arbitrary changes and embellishments, and a clear and
quick judgment in giving to words their full value and expression. In
her action she was very happy; and as her performance possessed that
flexibility of muscles and face-play which constitute expression, she
succeeded equally well in furious, tender, and amorous parts. In short,
she was born for singing and acting."

Faustina's amiability would have kept her on good terms with a rival;
but Cuzzoni's malice and envy ignored the fact that their respective
qualities were rather adapted to complement than to vie with each other.
Handel, who had a world of trouble with his singers, strove to keep them
on amicable terms, but without success. The town was divided into two
parties: the Cuzzoni faction was headed by the Countess of Pembroke, and
that of Faustina by the Countess of Burlington and Lady Delawar, while
the men most loudly declared for the Venetian beauty.

At last the feud came to a climax. On the 20th of June, 1727, a
brilliant gathering of rank and fashion filled the opera-house to hear
the two _prime donne_, who were to sing together. On their appearance
they were received with a storm of mingled hissing and clapping of
hands, which soon augmented into a hurricane of catcalls, shrieking,
and stamping. Even the presence of royalty could not restrain the
wild uproar, and accomplished women of the world took part in these
discordant sounds. Dr. Arbuthnot, in alluding to the disgraceful scene,
wrote in the "London Journal" this stinging rebuke: "Æsop's story of the
cat, who, at the petition of her lover, was changed into a fine woman,
is pretty well known; notwithstanding which alteration, we find that
upon the appearance of a mouse she could not resist the temptation of
springing out of his arms, though it was on the very wedding night.
Our English audience have been for some time returning to their cattish
nature, of which some particular sounds from the gallery have given us
sufficient warning. And since they have so openly declared themselves, I
must only desire that they must not think they can put on the fine woman
again just when they please, but content themselves with their skill in
caterwauling." The following epigram was called out by the proceedings
of the evening, which were mostly stimulated by the Pembroke party, who
supported Cuzzoni:

     "Old poets sing that beasts did dance
     Whenever Orpheus played:
     So to Faustina's charming voice
     Wise Pembroke's asses brayed."

The two fair cantatrices even forgot themselves so far as to come to
blows on several occasions, and the scandalous chronicle of the times
was enlivened with epigrams, lampoons, libels, and duels in rapid
succession. This amusing but disgraceful feud was burlesqued in a
farce called "Contretemps, or The Rival Queens," which was performed at
Heidigger's theatre. Faustina as the _Queen of Bologna_ and Cuzzoni
as _Princess of Modena_ were made to seize each other by the hair, and
lacerate each other's faces. Handel looks on with cynical attention, and
calmly orders that the antagonists be "left to fight it out, inasmuch as
the only way to calm their fury is to let them satisfy it."

The directors of the opera finally solved the difficulty in the
following manner: Cuzzoni had solemnly sworn never to accept a guinea
less than her rival. As Faustina was far more attractive and manageable,
she was offered just one guinea more than Cuzzoni, who learning the fact
broke her contract in a fury of indignation, and accepted a Viennese
engagement. The well-known Ambrose Philips addressed the following
farewell lines to the wrathful singer:

     "Little siren of the stage,
     Charmer of an idle age,
     Empty warbler, breathing lyre,
     Wanton gale of fond desire;
     Bane of every manly art,
     Sweet enfeebler of the heart;
     Oh! too pleasing is thy strain.
     Hence to southern climes again,
     Tuneful mischief, vocal spell;
     To this island bid farewell:
     Leave us as we ought to be--
     Leave the Britons rough and free."


Faustina Bordoni, who from the time of her radiant _début_ was known as
the "New Siren," was the daughter of a noble Venetian family, formerly
one of the governing families of the republic. Born in the year
1700, she began to study her art at an early age under Gasparoni, who
developed a beautiful and flexible voice to the greatest advantage.
She made her first appearance at the age of sixteen in Pollarolo's
"Ariodante," and her beauty, which was ravishing, her exquisite voice,
dramatic power, and artistic skill, gave her an immediate place as one
of the greatest ornaments of the lyric stage. She came into rivalry with
Cuzzoni even at this early period, but carried off the palm of victory
as she did in after-years. Venice, Naples, Florence, and Vienna were
successively the scenes of her triumphant reign as an artist, and she
became acknowledged as the most brilliant singer in Europe. At Vienna
she was appointed court singer at a salary of fifteen thousand thalers.
Here she was found by Handel, who carried her to London, where she made
her _début_ May 5,1726, in that great composer's "Alessandro," very
appropriately singing _Statira_ to the _Roxana_ of Cuzzoni. Faustina's
amiable and unobtrusive character seems to have made her an unwilling
participant in the quarrels into which circumstances forced her, and
to have always deserved the eulogium pronounced by Apostolo Zeno on her
departure from Vienna: "But whatever good fortune she meets with, she
merits it all by her courteous and polite manners, as well as talents,
with which she has enchanted and gained the esteem and affection of the
whole court." Throughout life a sweet temper and unspotted purity of
character made her the idol of her friends as well as of the general
public. Faustina seems to have left London gladly, though her short
career of two years there was a brilliant artistic success. The
scandalous bickerings and feuds through which she passed made her
departure more of a pleasure to herself than to the lovers of music in
turbulent London.

She returned to Venice in 1728, where she met Adolph Hasse, who was
leader of the orchestra at the theatre in which she was engaged.
Faustina, in the full bloom of her loveliness, was more than ever the
object of popular adulation; and many of the wealthy young nobles of
Venice laid their names and fortunes at her feet. But the charming
singer had found her fate. She and Hasse had fallen in love with each
other at first sight, and Faustina was proof against the blandishments
of the gilded youth of Italy. Hasse was the most popular dramatic
composer of the age, and had so endeared himself to the Italian public
that he was known as "_il caro Sassone_," a title which had also been
previously given to Handel. Hasse had commenced life as a tenor singer,
but his talent for composition soon lifted him into a higher field of
effort. His first opera was produced at Brunswick, but its reception
showed that he must yet master more of the heights and depths of musical
science before attaining any deserved success. So he proceeded to Italy,
and studied under Porpora and Alessandro Scarlatti. In a few years he
became a celebrity, and the opera-houses of Italy eagerly vied with each
other in procuring new works from his fecund talent. Faustina, then
at the zenith of her powers and charms, and Hasse, the most admired
composer of the day, were congenial mates, and their marriage was not
long delayed.

Of this composer a few passing words of summary may be interesting. His
career was one long success, and he wrote more than a hundred operas,
besides a host of other compositions. Few composers have had during
their lifetime such world-wide celebrity, and of these few none are
so completely forgotten now. The facile powers of Hasse seem to have
reflected the most genial though not the deepest influences of his time.
He had nothing in common with the grand German school then rising into
notice, or with the simple majesty of the early Italian writers. Himself
originally a singer, and living in an age of brilliant singers, he was
one of the first representatives of that school of Italian opera which
was called into being by the worship of vocal art for its own sake. He
had an inexhaustible flow of tunefulness, and the few charming songs
of his now extant show great elegance of melodic structure, and such
sympathy with the needs of the voice as make them the most perfect
vehicle for expression and display on the part of the singer. For ten
years, that most wonderful of male singers, as musical historians unite
in calling Farinelli, charmed away the melancholy of Philip V. of Spain
by singing to him every evening the same two melodies of Hasse, taken
from the opera of "Artaserse."

In 1731 the celebrated couple accepted an offer from the brilliant Court
of Dresden, presided over by Augustus II., as great a lover of art and
literature as Goethe's Duke of Saxe-Weimar, or as the present Louis of
Bavaria. This aesthetic monarch squandered great sums on pictures and
music, and gave Hasse unlimited power and resources to place the Dresden
opera on such a footing as to make it foremost in Europe. His first
opera produced in Dresden was the masterpiece of his life, "Alessandro
dell' Indie," and its great success was perhaps owing in part to the
splendid singing and acting of Faustina, for whom indeed the music had
been carefully designed. As the husband of the most fascinating prima
donna of her age, Hasse had no easy time. His life was still further
embittered by the presence and intrigues of Porpora, his old master and
now rival, and jealousy of Porpora's pupil, Mingotti, who threatened to
dispute the sway of his wife. Hasse's musical spite was amusingly shown
in writing an air for Mingotti in his "Demofoonte." He composed the
music for what he thought was the defective part of her voice, while the
accompaniment was contrived to destroy all effect. Mingotti was nothing
daunted, but by hard study and ingenious adaptation so conquered the
difficulties of the air, that it became one of her greatest show-pieces.
A combination of various causes so dissatisfied the composer with
Dresden, that he divided his time between that city, Venice, Milan,
Naples, and London, though the Saxon capital remained his professed
home. One of his diversions was the establishment of opera in London in
opposition to Handel; but he became so ardent an admirer of that great
man's genius, that he refused to be a tool in the hands of the latter's
enemies, though several of his operas met with brilliant success in the
English capital.

Dresden life at last flowed more easily with Hasse and Faustina on the
advent of Augustus III., who possessed his father's connoisseurship
without his crotchets and favoritism. Here he remained, with the
exception of a short Venetian sojourn, till late in life. On the evening
of Frederick the Great's entrance into Dresden in 1745, after the battle
of Kesselsdorf, Hasse's opera of "Arminio" was performed by command of
the conqueror, who was so charmed with the work and Faustina's singing
that he invited the composer and wife to Berlin. During the Prussian
King's occupation he made Faustina many magnificent gifts, an
exceptional generosity in one who was one of the most penurious of
monarchs as well as one of the greatest of soldiers. Faustina continued
to sing for eight years longer, when, at the age of fifty-two, she
retired from the long art reign which she had enjoyed, having held her
position with unchanged success against all comers for nearly forty


In notable contrast to the career of Faustina was that of her old-time
rival, Cuzzoni. After the Venetian singer retired from London, Cuzzoni
again returned to fill an engagement with the opposition company formed
by Handel's opponents. With her sang Farinelli and Senesino, the former
of whom was the great tenor singer of the age--perhaps the greatest
who ever lived, if we take the judgment of the majority of the musical
historians. Cuzzoni was again overshadowed by the splendid singing of
Farinelli, who produced an enthusiasm in London almost without parallel.
Her haughty and arrogant temper could not brook such inferiority, and
she took the first opportunity to desert what she considered to be an
ungrateful public. We hear of her again as singing in different parts of
Europe, but always with declining prestige. In the London "Daily Post"
of September 7, 1741, appeared a paragraph which startled her old
admirers: "We hear from Italy that the famous singer, Mrs. C-z-ni, is
under sentence of death, to be beheaded for poisoning her husband." If
this was so, the sentence was never carried into execution, for she
sang seven years afterward in London at a benefit concert. She issued
a preliminary advertisement, avouching her "pressing debts" and her
"desire to pay them" as the reason for her asking the benefit, which,
she declared, should be the last she would ever trouble the public with.
Old, poor, and almost deprived of her voice by her infirmities,
her attempt to revive the interest of the public in her favor was a
miserable failure; her star was set for ever, and she was obliged
to return to Holland more wretched than she came. She had scarcely
reappeared there when she was again thrown into prison for debt; but,
by entering into an agreement to sing at the theatre every night, under
surveillance, she was enabled to obtain her release. Her recklessness
and improvidence had brought her to a pitiable condition; and in her
latter days, after a career of splendor, caprice, and extravagance,
she was obliged to subsist, it is said, by button-making. She died in
frightful indigence, the recipient of charity, at a hospital in Bologna,
in 1770.


Associated with the life and times of Faustina Bordoni, and the most
brilliant exponent of the music of her husband, Hasse, Carlo Broschi,
better known as Farinelli, stands out as one of the most remarkable
musical figures of his age. This great artist, born in Naples in 1705,
was the nephew of the composer Farinelli, whose name he adopted. He was
instructed by the celebrated singing-master Porpora, who trained nearly
all the great voices of Europe for over half a century; and at his first
appearance in Rome, in 1722, common report had already made him famous.
So wonderful was his execution, even at this early age, that he was
able to vie with a trumpet-player, then the admiration of Rome for his
remarkable powers. Porpora had written an obligato part to a song, in
which his pupil rivaled the instrument in holding and swelling a note of
extraordinary purity and volume. The virtuoso's execution was masterly,
but the young singer so surpassed him as to carry the enthusiasm of the
audience to the wildest pitch by the brilliance of his singing and the
difficult variations which he introduced. Farinelli left the guidance
of Porpora in 1724, and appeared in different European cities with a
success which made him in three years a European celebrity. In 1727,
while singing in Bologna, he met Bernacchi, at that time known as the
"king of singers." The rivals were matched against each other one night
in a grand duo, and Farinelli, freely admitting that the veteran artist
had vanquished him, begged some lessons from him. Bernacchi generously
accorded these, and took great pains with his young rival. Thus was
perfected the talent of Farinelli, who, to use the words of a modern
critic, was as "superior to the great singers of his own period as they
were to those of more recent times."

After brilliant triumphs at Vienna, Rome, Naples, and Parma, where he
surpassed the most formidable rivals and was heaped with riches and
honors, he appeared before the Emperor Charles VI. of Germany, a
momentous occasion in his art-career. "You have hitherto excited only
astonishment and admiration," said the imperial connoisseur, "but
you have never touched the heart. It would be easy for you to create
emotion, if you would but be more simple and natural." The singer
adopted this counsel, and became the most pathetic as he continued to be
the most brilliant of singers.

The interest of Farinelli's London career will be augmented for the
lovers of music by its connection with the contests carried on between
Handel and his rivals, with which we have seen Faustina and Cuzzoni also
to have been intimately associated. When Handel went on the Continent
to secure artists for the year 1734, some prejudice operated against his
negotiation with Farinelli, and the latter took service with Porpora,
who had been secured by the Pembroke faction to lead the rival opera.
Farinelli's singing turned the scale in favor of Handel's enemies, who
had previously hardly been able to keep the enterprise on its feet, and
had run in debt nineteen thousand pounds. He made his first appearance
at the Lincoln's Inn Opera in "Artaserse," one of Hasse's operas.
Several of the songs, however, were composed by Riccardo Broschi,
the singer's brother, especially for him, and these interpolations
illustrated the powers of Farinelli in the most effective manner. In one
of these the first note was taken with such delicacy, swelled by minute
degrees to such an amazing volume, and afterward diminished in the same
manner to a mere point, that it was applauded for full five minutes.
Afterward he set off with such brilliance and rapidity of execution that
the violins could not keep pace with him. An incident commemorated
in Hogarth's "Rake's Progress" occurred at this time, A lady of rank,
carried beyond herself by admiration of the great singer, leaned out of
her box and exclaimed, "One God and one Farinelli!" The great power of
this singer's art is also happily set forth in the following anecdote:
He was to appear for the first time with Senesino, another great singer,
who of course was jealous of Farinelli's unequaled renown. The former
had the part of a fierce tyrant, and Farinelli that of a hero in chains.
But in the course of the first song by his rival, Senesino forgot his
assumed part altogether. He was so moved and delighted that, in front of
an immense audience, he rushed forward, clasped Farinelli in his arms,
and burst into tears. Never had there been such a ferment among English
patrons of opera as was made by Farinelli's singing. The Prince of Wales
gave him a gold snuff-box set with diamonds and rubies, in which were
inclosed diamond knee-buckles, and a purse of one hundred guineas.
The courtiers and nobles followed in the wake of the Prince, and the
costliest offerings were lavished on this spoiled favorite of art. His
income during three years in London was five thousand pounds a year,
to which must be added quite as much more in gratuities and presents
of different kinds. On his return to Italy he built a splendid mansion,
which he christened the "English Folly."

Farinelli's Spanish life was the most important episode in his career,
if twenty-five years of experience may be called an episode. His purpose
in visiting Madrid in 1736 was to spend but a few months; but he arrived
in the Spanish capital at a critical moment, and Fate decreed that
he should take up a long residence here--a residence marked by
circumstances and honors without parallel in the life of any other
singer. Philip V. at this time was such a prey to depression that he
neglected all the affairs of his kingdom. "When Farinelli arrived,
the Queen arranged a concert at which the monarch could hear the great
singer without being seen. The effect was remarkable, and Farinelli
gained the respect, admiration, and favor of the whole court. When he
was asked by the grateful monarch to name his own reward, he answered
that his best recompense would be to know that the King was again
reconciled to performing the active duties of his state. Philip
considered that he owed his cure to the powers of Farinelli. The final
result was that the singer separated himself from the world of art for
ever, and accepted a salary of fifty thousand francs to sing for the
King, as David harped for the mad King Saul. Farinelli told Dr. Burney
that during ten years he sang four songs to the King every night without
any change." When Ferdinand VI., who was also a victim to his father's
malady, succeeded to the throne, the singer continued to perform his
minstrel cure, and acquired such enormous power and influence that
all court favor and office depended on his breath. Though never prime
minister, Farinelli's political advice had such weight with Ferdinand,
that generals, secretaries, ambassadors, and other high officials
consulted with him, and attended his levee, as being the power behind
the throne. Farinelli acquired great wealth, but no malicious pen has
ever ascribed to him any of the corrupt arts by which royal favorites
are wont to accumulate the spoils of office. In his prosperity he never
forgot prudence, modesty, and moderation. Hearing one day an old veteran
officer complain that the King ignored his thirty years of service while
he enriched "a miserable actor," Farinelli secured promotion for the
grumbler, and, giving the commission to the abashed soldier, mildly
taxed him for calling the King ungrateful. According to another
anecdote, he requested an embassy for one of the courtiers. "Do you not
know," said the King, "that this grandee is your deadly enemy?" "True,"
replied Farinelli; "and this is the way I propose to get revenge." Dr.
Burney also relates the following anecdote: A tailor, who brought him
a splendid court costume, refused any pay but a single song. After long
refusal Farinelli's good nature yielded, and he sang to the enraptured
man of the needle and shears, not one, but several songs. After
concluding he said: "I, too, am proud, and that is the reason perhaps of
my advantage over other singers. I have yielded to you; it is but just
that you should yield to me." Thereupon he forced on the tailor more
than double the price of the clothes.

Farinelli's influence as a politician was always cast on the side of
national honor and territorial integrity. When the new King,
Charles III., ascended the throne, being even then committed to the
Franco-Neapolitan imbroglio, which was such a dark spot in the Spanish
history of that time, Farinelli left Spain at the royal suggestion,
which amounted to a command. The remaining twenty years of his life he
resided in a splendid palace near Bologna, where he devoted his time and
attention to patronage of learning and the arts. He collected a noble
gallery of paintings from the hands of the principal Italian and
Spanish masters. Among them was one representing himself in a group with
Metastasio and Faustina Bordoni, for whose greatness as an artist and
beauty of character he always expressed the warmest admiration. Though
Farinelli was all his life an idol with the women, his appearance was
not prepossessing. Dibdin, speaking of him at the age of thirty, says
he "was tall as a giant and as thin as a shadow; therefore, if he
had grace, it could only be of a sort to be envied by a penguin or a

To his supreme merit as an artist we have, however, overwhelming
testimony. Out of the many enthusiastic descriptions of his singing,
that of Mancini, after Porpora the greatest singing-master of the age,
and the fellow pupil with Farinelli under Bernacchi, will serve: "His
voice was thought a marvel because it was so perfect, so powerful, so
sonorous, and so rich in its extent, both in the high and low parts of
the register, that its equal has never been heard. He was, moreover,
endowed with a creative genius which inspired him with embellishments so
new and so astonishing that no one was able to imitate them. The art
of taking and keeping the breath so softly and easily that no one could
perceive it, began and died with him. The qualities in which he excelled
were the evenness of his voice, the art of swelling its sound, the
portamento, the union of the registers, a surprising agility, a graceful
and pathetic style, and a shake as admirable as it was rare. There was
no branch of the art which he did not carry to the highest pitch of
perfection.... The successes of his youth did not prevent him from
continuing to study, and this great artist applied himself with so much
perseverance that he contrived to change in some measure his style, and
to acquire another and superior method, when his name was already famous
and his fortune brilliant."


Let us return from the consideration of Faustina's most brilliant
contemporary to Hasse and his wife. We have already seen that this great
prima donna retired from the stage in 1753, at the age of fifty-two. The
life of the distinguished couple during this period is described with
much pictorial vividness in a musical novel, published several years
since, under the name of "Alcestis," which also gives an excellent idea
of German art and music generally. In 1760 Hasse suffered greatly from
the bombardment of Dresden by the Prussians, losing among other property
all his manuscripts in the destruction of the opera-house--a fact
which may partly account for the oblivion into which this once admired
composer has passed. The loss was peculiarly unfortunate, for the
publication of Hasse's works was then about to commence at the expense
of the King. He and his wife removed to Vienna, where they remained
till 1775, when they retired to Venice, Faustina's birthplace. Two
years before this Dr. Burney visited them at their handsome house in the
Landstrasse in Berlin, and found them a humdrum couple--Hasse groaning
with the gout, and the once lovely Faustina transformed into a jolly old
woman of seventy-two, with two charming daughters. As he approached the
house with the Abate Taruffi, Faustina, seeing them, came down to meet
them. Says the Doctor: "I was presented to her by my conductor, and
found her a short, brown, sensible, lively old lady, who expressed
herself much pleased to meet a _cavalière Inglesi_, as she had been
honored with great marks of favor in England. Signor Hasse soon entered
the room. He is tall and rather large in size, but it is easy to imagine
that in his younger days he must have been a robust and fine figure;
great gentleness and goodness appear in his countenance and manners."

Going to see them a second time, the Doctor was received by the whole
family with much cordiality. He says Faustina was very intelligent,
animated, and curious concerning what was going on in the world. She had
a wonderful store of musical reminiscences, and showed remains of the
splendid beauty for which her youth was celebrated. But her voice was
all gone. Dr. Burney asked her to sing. "Ah! Non posso; ho perduto
tutte le mie facoltà." ("Alas! I am no longer able; I have lost all
my faculty.") "I was extremely fascinated," said the Doctor, "with the
conversation of Signor Hasse. He was easy, communicative, and rational,
equally free from pedantry, pride, and prejudice. He spoke ill of
no one, but on the contrary did justice to the talents of several
composers, among them Porpora, who, though he was his first master, was
afterward his greatest rival." Though his fingers were gouty, he played
on the piano for his visitor, and his beautiful daughters sang. One was
a "sweet soprano," the other a "rich and powerful contralto, fit for
any church or theatre in Europe "; both girls "having good shakes," and
"such an expression, taste, and steadiness as it is natural to expect in
the daughters and scholars of Signor Hasse and Signora Faustina."

There are two pictures of Faustina Bordoni in existence. One is in
Hawkins's "History," showing her in youth. Brilliant large black
eyes, splendid hair, regular features, and a fascinating sweetness of
expression, attest how lovely she must have been in the heyday of
her charms. The other represents her as an elderly person, handsomely
dressed, with an animated, intelligent countenance. Faustina died in
1793, at the age of ninety-two, and Hasse not long after, at the age of


The Cardinal and the Daughter of the Cook.--The Young Prima Donna's
_Début_ in Lucca.--Dr. Barney's Description of Gabrielli.--Her Caprices,
Extravagances, and Meeting with Metastasio.--Her Adventures in Vienna.--
Brydone on Gabrielli.--Episodes of her Career in Sicily and Parma.--She
sings at the Court of Catharine of Russia.--Sketches of Caffarelli and
Paochicrotti.--Gabrielli in London, and her Final Retirement from Art.


One of the great dignitaries of the Papal Court during the middle of the
eighteenth century was the celebrated Cardinal Gabrielli. He was one day
walking in his garden, when a flood of delicious, untutored notes burst
on his ear, resolving itself finally into a brilliant _arietta_ by
Ga-luppi. The pretty little nymph who had poured out these wild-wood
notes proved to be the daughter of his favorite cook. Catarina's beauty
of person and voice had already excited the hopes of her father, and he
frequently took her to the Argentina Theatre, where her quick ear caught
all the tunes she heard; but the humble cook could not put the child
in the way of further instruction and training. When Cardinal Gabrielli
heard that enchanting but uncultivated voice, he called the little
Catarina and made her sing her whole stock of arias, a mandate she
willingly obeyed. He was delighted with her talent, and took on himself
the care of her musical education. She was first placed under the charge
of Garcia (Lo Spagnoletto), and afterward of Porpora. The Cardinal kept
a keen oversight of her instruction, and frequently organized concerts,
where her growing talents were shown, to the great delight of the
brilliant Roman society. Catarina's training was completed in the
conservatory of L'Ospidaletto at Venice, while it was under the
direction of Sacchini, who succeeded Galuppi.

"La Cuochettina," as she was called from her father's profession, made
her first appearance in Galuppi's "Sofonisba" in Lucca, after five
years of severe training. She was beautiful, intelligent, witty, full
of liveliness and grace, with an expression full of coquettish charm and
_espieglerie_. Her acting was excellent, and her singing already that of
a brilliant and finished vocalist. It is not a marvel that the excitable
Italian audience received her with the most passionate plaudits of
admiration. Her stature was low, but Dr. Burney describes her in the
following terms: "There was such grace and dignity in her gestures and
deportment as caught every unprejudiced eye; indeed, she filled the
stage, and occupied the attention of the spectators so much, that they
could look at nothing else while she was in view." No indication of
her mean origin betrayed itself in her face or figure, for she carried
herself with all the haughty grandeur of a Roman matron. Her voice,
though not powerful, was of exquisite quality and wonderful extent,
its compass being nearly two octaves and a half, and perfectly equable
throughout. Her facility in vocalization was extraordinary, and her
execution is described by Dr. Burney as rapid, but never so excessive as
to cease to be agreeable; but in slow movements her pathetic tones, as
is often the case with performers renowned for "dexterity," were not
sufficiently touching.

The young chevaliers of Lucca were wild over the new operatic star; for
her talent, beauty, and fascination made her a paragon of attraction,
and her capricious whims and coquetries riveted the chains in which she
held her admirers. Catarina, however she may have felt pleased at lordly
tributes of devotion, and willing to accept substantial proofs of
their sincerity, lavished her friendship for the most part on her own
comrades, and became specially devoted to the singer Guardagni, whose
rare artistic excellence made him a valuable mentor to the young prima
donna. Three years after her _début_ her reputation had become national,
and we find her singing at Naples in the San Carlo. The aged poet
Metastasio, a name so imperishably connected with the development of the
Italian opera, became one of her bond slaves. Gabrielli was wont to use
her admirers for artistic advantage, and she learned certain invaluable
lessons in the delivery of recitative and the higher graces of her art
from one whose experience and knowledge were infinitely higher and more
suggestive than those of a mere singing-master. The courtly poet, the
pet of rank and beauty for nearly fifty years, sighed in vain at the
feet of this inexorable coquette, and shared his disappointment with a
host of other distinguished suitors, who showered costly gifts at the
shrine of beauty, and were compelled to content themselves with kissing
her hand as a reward.

Metastasio's interest, unchecked by the disdain of the capricious
beauty, succeeded in obtaining for her the position of court singer at
Vienna, where the Emperor, Francis I., was one of her admirers. She soon
created as great a furor among the gallants of the Austrian capital as
she had in Italy. Swords were drawn freely in the quarrels which she
delighted to foster, and dueling became a mania with those who aspired
to her favor. The passions she instigated sometimes took eccentric
courses. The French Ambassador, who loved her madly, suspected the
Portuguese Minister of being more successful than himself with the
lovely Gabrielli. His suspicions being confirmed at one of his visits,
he drew his sword in a transport of rage, and all that saved the
operatic stage one of its most brilliant lights was the whalebone
bodice, which broke the point of the furious Frenchman's rapier. The
sight of the bleeding beauty--for she received a slight scratch--brought
the diplomat to his senses. Falling on his knees, he poured forth his
remorse in passionate self-reproaches, but only received his pardon on
the most humiliating terms, namely, that he should present her with
the weapon which had so nearly pierced her heart, on which was to be
inscribed this memento of the jealous madness of its owner: "_Epée de
M------, qui osa frapper La Gabrielli_." Only Metastasio's persuasions
(for Gabrielli prized his friendship and advice as much as she trifled
with him in a different _rôle_) persuaded her to spare the Frenchman the
insufferable ridicule which her retention of the telltale sword would
have imposed on one whose rank and station could ill afford to be made
the laughing-stock of his times.

The siren's infinite caprices furnished the most interesting _chronique
scandaleuse_ of Vienna. Brydone in his "Tour" tells us that it was
fortunate for humanity that the fair cantatrice had so many faults; for,
had she been more perfect, "she must have made dreadful havoc in the
world; though, with all her deficiencies," he says, "she was supposed to
have achieved more conquests than any one woman breathing." Her caprice
was so stubborn, that neither interest, nor threats, nor punishment had
the least power over it; she herself declared that she could not command
it, but that it for the most part commanded her. The best expedient to
induce her to sing when she was in a bad humor was to prevail upon her
favorite lover to place himself in the principal seat of the pit, or the
front of a box, and, if they were on good terms--which was seldom the
case, however--she should address her tender airs to him, and exert
herself to the utmost. When Brydone was in Sicily, her lover promised
to give him an example of his power over her. "He took his seat
accordingly; but Gabrielli, probably suspecting the connivance, would
take no notice of him; so even this expedient does not always succeed."


When Gabrielli left Vienna for Sicily in 1765, she was laden with
riches, for her manifold extravagances were generally incurred at
the expense of somebody else; and she continued at Palermo the same
eccentric, capricious, and flighty conduct which had made her name
synonymous with everything reckless and daring in contravening
propriety. She treated the highest dignitaries with the same insolence
which she displayed toward operatic managers. Even the Viceroy of
Sicily, standing in the very place of royalty, was made the victim of
wanton impertinence. The Viceroy gave a dinner in honor of La Gabrielli,
to which were invited the proudest nobles of the court; and, as she did
not appear at the appointed hour, a servant was sent to her apartments.
She was found _en déshabillé_ dawdling over a book, and affected to
have forgotten the viceregal invitation--a studied insult, hardly to be
endured. This insolence, however, was overlooked by the representative
of royal authority, and it was not till the proud beauty's caprices
caused her to seriously neglect her artistic duties that she felt the
weight of his displeasure. When he sent a remonstrance against her
singing _sotto voce_ on the stage, she said she might be forced to
_cry_, but not to _sing_. The exasperated ruler ordered her to prison
for twelve days. Her caprice was here shown by giving the costliest
entertainments to her fellow prisoners, who were of all classes from
debtors to bandits, paying their debts, distributing great sums among
the indigent, and singing her most beautiful songs in an enchanting
manner. When she was released she was followed by the grateful tears
and blessings of those she had so lavishly benefited in jail. This
fascinating creature seems all through life to have been good on impulse
and bad on principle. Three years after this Gabrielli was singing in
Parma, where she made a speedy conquest of the Infante, Don Ferdinand.
His boundless wealth condoned the ugliness of his person in the eyes of
the singer, and the lavish income he placed at her disposal gratified
her boundless extravagances, while it did not prevent her from being
gracious to the Infante's many rivals and would-be successors.
Bitter quarrels and recriminations ensued, and the jealous ravings
of Catarina's princely admirer were more than matched by the fierce
sarcasms and shrill clamor of the beautiful virago. One day Don
Ferdinand, justly suspecting her of gross unfaithfulness, assailed
her with unusual fury, to which she replied by terming him a _gobbo
maladetto_ (accursed hunchback). On this the Prince, carried beyond
all control, had her imprisoned on some legal pretext, though Gabrielli
found proofs of love struggling with his anger in the magnificence of
the apartment and luxuriance of the service bestowed on her. But he
strove in vain to make his peace. The offended coquette was implacable,
and disdained alike his excuses and protestations of devotion. One night
she escaped from her prison, scaled the garden-wall, and fled, leaving
her weak and disconsolate lover to cool his sighs in tears of unavailing

The court of the Semiramis of the North, Catharine II. of Russia, who
strove to expunge the contempt felt for her as a woman by Europe through
the imperial munificence with which she played at patronizing art and
literature, was the next scene of the fair Italian's triumph. Gabrielli
was received with lavish favor, but the Empress frowned when she heard
the pecuniary demands of the singer. "Five thousand ducats!" she
said, in amazement. "Why, I don't give more than that to one of my
field-marshals." "Very well," replied the audacious Gabrielli; "your
Majesty may get your field-marshals to sing for you, then." Catharine,
who, however cruel and unscrupulous when need be, was in the main
good-natured, laughed at the impertinence, and instead of sending
Gabrielli to Siberia consented to her demands, adding special gratuities
to the nominal salary. Two countrymen of the beautiful cantatrice,
Pai-siello and Cimarosa, were afterward treated with equal honor and
consideration by the imperial _dilettante_. Catharine's favor lasted
unimpaired for several years, and it only abated when Gabrielli's lust
for conquest and the honor of rivalry with a sovereign tempted her to
coquet with Prince Po-temkin. An intimation from the court chamberlain
that St. Petersburg was too hot for one of her warm southern blood,
and that Siberia or some other place at her will would better suit
her temperament, sufficed when backed by an imperial endorsement. La
Gabrielli returned from Russia, loaded with, diamonds and wealth,
for Catharine did not dismiss her without substantial proofs of her
magnificence and generosity.

At this period Gabrielli was invited to England; and after considerable
haggling with the London manager, and compelling him to employ her
favorite of the hour, Signor Manzoletto, as principal tenor, the
negotiation was consummated. Gabrielli still preserved all her
excellence of voice and charm of execution; but her rare beauty, which
had been as great a factor in her success as artistic skill, was on the
wane. The English engagement had been made with some reluctance; for
the stern and uncompromising temper of the island nation had been widely
recognized with exaggerations in Continental Europe. "I should not be
mistress of my own will," she said, "and whenever I might have a fancy
not to sing, the people would insult, perhaps misuse me. It is better
to remain unmolested, were it even in prison." She, however, changed her
mind, and her experiences in London were such as to make her regret that
she had not stood firm to her first resolution.


Among the remarkable male singers of Gabrielli's time was Caffarelli,
whom his friends indeed declared to be no less great than Farinelli.
Though never closely associated with La Cuochet-tina in her stage
triumphs (a fact perhaps fortunate for the cantatrice), he must be
regarded as one of the representative artists of the period when she was
in the full-blown and insolent prime of her beauty and reputation. Born
in 1703, of humble Neapolitan parentage, he became a pupil of Porpora at
an early age. The great singing-master is said to have taught him in a
peculiar fashion. For five years he permitted him to sing nothing
but scales and exercises. In the sixth year Porpora instructed him in
declamation, pronunciation, and articulation. Caffarelli, at the end of
the sixth year, supposing he had just mastered the rudiments, began to
murmur, when he was amazed by Porpora's answer: "Young man, you may now
leave me; you are the greatest singer in the world, and you have nothing
more to learn from me." Hogarth discredits this story, on the ground
that "none but a plodding drudge without a spark of genius could have
submitted to a process which would have been too much for the patient
endurance even of a Russian serf; or if a single spark had existed at
first, it must have been extinguished by so barbarous a treatment."
Caffarelli did not rise to the height of his fame rapidly, and, when
he went to London to supply the place of Farinelli in 1738, he entirely
failed to please the English public, who had gone wild with enthusiasm
over his predecessor. Farinelli's retirement from the artistic world
about this period removed from Caffarelli's way the only rival who could
have snatched from him the laurels he soon acquired as the leading
male singer of the age. After Caffarelli's return from England, his
engagements in Turin, Genoa, Milan, and Florence were a triumphal
progress. At Turin he sang before the Prince and Princess of Sardinia,
the latter of whom had been a pupil of Farinelli, as she was a Spanish
princess. Caffarelli, on being told that the royal lady had a prejudice
in favor of her old master, said haughtily, "To-night she shall hear
two Farinellis in one," and exerted his faculties so successfully as
to produce acclamations of delight and astonishment. He always seems
to have had great jealousy of the fame of Farinelli, and the latter
entertained much curiosity about his successor in public esteem.
Metas-tasio, the friend of the retired artist, wrote to him in 1749 from
Vienna about Caffarelli's reception: "You will be curious to know
how Caffarelli has been received. The wonders related of him by his
adherents had excited expectations of something above humanity." After
summing up the judgments of the critics who were severe on Caffarelli's
faults, that his voice was "false, screaming, and disobedient," that
his singing was full of "antique and stale flourishes," that "in his
recitative he was an old nun," and that in all that he sang there was
"a whimsical tone of lamentation sufficient to sour the gayest allegro,"
Metastasio says that in his happy moments he could please excessively,
but the caprices of his voice and temper made these happy moments very

Caffarelli's arrogant, vain, and turbulent nature seems to have been the
principal cause of his troubles. The numerous anecdotes current of him
turned mainly on this characteristic, so different from the modesty and
reticence of Fari-nelli. Metastasio, in a lively letter to the Princess
di Belmonte, describes an amusing fracas at the Viennese Opera-House.
The poet of the house, Migliavacca, who was also director of rehearsals,
became engaged in altercation with the singer, because the latter
neglected attendance. He rehearsed to Caffarelli in bitter language
the various terms of reproach and contempt which his enemies throughout
Europe had lavished on him. "But the hero of the panegyric, cutting the
thread of his own praise, called out to his eulogist, 'Follow me if
thou hast courage to a place where there is none to assist thee,' and,
moving toward the door, beckoned him to come out. The poet hesitated
a moment, then said with a smile: 'Truly, such an antagonist makes me
blush; but come along, since it is a Christian act to chastise a madman
or a fool,' and advanced to take the field." Suddenly the belligerents
drew blades on the very stage itself, and, while the bystanders were
expecting to see poetical or vocal blood besprinkle the harpsichords
and double basses, the Signora Tesi advanced toward the duelists. "Oh,
sovereign power of beauty!" writes Metastasio with sly sarcasm; "the
frantic Caffarelli, even in the fiercest paroxysms of his wrath,
captivated and appeased by this unexpected tenderness, runs with rapture
to meet her, lays his sword at her feet, begs pardon for his errors,
and, generously sacrificing to her his vengeance, seals, with a thousand
kisses on her hand, his protestations of obedience, respect, and
humility. The nymph signifies her forgiveness with a nod, the poet
sheathes his sword, the spectators begin to breathe again, and the
tumultuous assembly breaks up amid sounds of laughter. In collecting the
numbers of the wounded and slain, none was found but the poor copyist,
who, in trying to part the combatants, had received a small contusion
in the clavicula of the foot from an involuntary kick of the poet's

Once, while Caffarelli was singing at Naples, he was told of the arrival
of Gizzielo, a possible rival, at Rome. Unable to check his anxiety, he
threw himself into a post-chaise and hastened to Rome, arriving in
time to hear his young rival sing the _aria d'entrata_. Delighted with
Gizzielo's singing, and giving vent to his emotion, he cried in a loud
voice: "_Bravo, bravissimo, Gizzielo! E Caffarelli che te lo dice_." So
saying, he rushed out and posted back to Naples, arriving barely in time
to dress for the opera. By invitation of the Dauphin, he went to Paris
in 1750, and sang at several concerts, where he pleased and astonished
the court by his splendid vocalism. Louis XV. sent him a snuff-box;
but Caffarelli, observing its plainness, said disdainfully, showing a
drawerful of splendid boxes, that the worst was finer than the French
King's present. "If he had only sent me his portrait in it," said the
vain' artist. "That is only given to ambassadors and princes," was
the reply of the King's gentleman. "Well," was the reply, "all the
ambassadors and princes in the world would not make one Caffarelli." The
King laughed heartily at this, but the Dauphin sent for the singer
and presented him with a passport, saying, "It is signed by the King
himself--for you a great honor; but lose no time in using it, for it is
only good for ten days." Caffarelli left in high dudgeon, saying he had
not made his expenses in France.

Mr. Garrick, the great actor, heard Caffarelli in Naples in 1764, when
he was turned of sixty, and thus writes to Dr. Burney: "Yesterday we
attended the ceremony of making a nun; she was the daughter of a duke,
and everything was conducted with great splendor and magnificence. The
consecration was performed with great solemnity, and I was very much
affected; and, to crown the whole, the principal part was sung by the
famous Caffarelli, who, though old, has pleased me more than all the
singers I ever heard. He _touched_ me, and it is the first time I
have been touched since I came to Italy." At this time Caffarelli had
accumulated a great fortune, purchased a dukedom, and built a splendid
palace at San Dorato, from which he derived his ducal title.

Over the gate he inscribed, with characteristic modesty, this
inscription: "_Amphion Thebas, ego domum._" * A wit of the period added,
"_Ille cum, sine tu_." ** Caffarelli died in 1783, leaving his title
and wealth to his nephew, some of whose descendants are still living in
enjoyment of the rank earned by the genius of the singer. By some of
the critics of his time Caffarelli was judged to be the superior of
Farinelli, though the suffrages were generally on the other side. He
excelled in slow and pathetic airs as well as in the bravura style; and
was unrivaled in the beauty of his voice, and in the perfection of his
shake and his chromatic scales, which latter embellishment in quick
movements he was the first to introduce.

     * "Amphion built Thebes, I a palace."

     ** "He with good reason, you without."


When Gabrielli was on her way to England in 1765, she sang for a few
nights in Venice with the celebrated Pacchierotti, a male soprano singer
who took the place of Caffarelli, even as the latter filled that vacated
by Farinelli. Gabrielli was inspired by the association to do her
utmost, and when she sang her first _aria di bravura_, Pacchierotti gave
himself up for lost. The astonishing swiftness, grace, and flexibility
of her execution seemed to him beyond comparison; and, tearing his hair
in his impetuous Italian way, he cried in despair, "_Povero me, povero
me! Vuesto e un portento!_" ("Unfortunate man that I am, here indeed is
a prodigy!") It was some time before he could be persuaded to sing; but,
when he did, he excited as much admiration in Gabrielli's breast as that
fair cantatrice had done in his own. Pac-chierotti is the third in the
great triad of the male soprano singers of the eighteenth century, and
the luster of his reputation does not shine dimly as compared with the
other two. He commenced his musical career at Palermo in 1770, at the
age of twenty, and when he went to England in 1778 expectations were
raised to the highest pitch by the accounts given of him by Brydone in
his "Tour through Sicily and Malta." His first English season was very
successful, and he returned again in 1780, to remain for four years and
become one of the greatest favorites the London public had ever known,
his last appearance being at the great Handel commemoration. The details
of Pacchierotti's life are rather scanty, for he was singularly modest
and retiring, and shrank from rather than courted public notice. We know
more of him from his various critics as an artist than as a man.

"Pacchierotti's voice," says Lord Mount Edgcumbe, who contributed so
richly to the literature of music, "was an extensive soprano, full and
sweet in the highest degree; his powers of execution were great, but he
had far too good taste and good sense to make a display of them where
it would have been misapplied, confining it to one bravura song in each
opera, conscious that the chief delight of singing and his own supreme
excellence lay in touching expression and exquisite pathos. Yet he was
so thorough a musician that nothing came amiss to him; every style was
to him equally easy, and he could sing at first sight all songs of the
most opposite characters, not merely with the facility and correctness
which a complete knowledge of music must give, but entering at once into
the views of the composer and giving them all the spirit and expression
he had designed. Such was his genius in his embellishments and cadences
that their variety was inexhaustible.... As an actor, with many
disadvantages of person--for he was tall and awkward in his figure, and
his features were plain--he was nevertheless forcible and impressive;
for he felt warmly, had excellent judgment, and was an enthusiast in his
profession. His recitative was inimitably fine, so that even those who
did not understand the language could not fail to comprehend from his
countenance, voice, and action every sentiment he expressed."

An anecdote illustrating Pacchierotti's pathos is given by the
best-informed musical authorities. When Metastasio's "Artaserse" was
given at Rome with the music of Bertoni, Pacchierotti performed the
part of Arbaces. In one place a touching song is followed by a short
instrumental symphony. When Pacchierotti had finished the air, he turned
to the orchestra, which remained silent, saying, "What are you about?"
The leader, awakened from a trance, answered with much simplicity in a
sobbing voice, "We are all crying." Not one of the band had thought
of the symphony, but sat with eyes full of tears, gazing at the great


Gabrielli's career, which will now be resumed, had been full of romantic
adventures, _affairés d'amour_, and curious episodes, and her vanity
looked forward to the continuance in England of similar social
excitements. She had accepted the London engagement with some scruple
and hesitation, but her anticipation of brilliant conquests among
the _jeunesse dorée_ of Britain overcame her fear that she would find
audiences less tolerant than those to which she had been accustomed in
her imperious course through Europe. But the beautiful Gabrielli was
then a little on the wane both in personal loveliness and charm of
voice; and, though her fame as a coquette and an artist had preceded
her, she met with an indifference that was almost languor. The young
Englishmen of the period, though quick to draw blade as any gallants in
Europe, did not feel inspired to fight for her smiles, as had been the
case with their compeers in the Continental cities, which rang with the
scandals, controversies, and duels engendered by her numerous conquests.
This sort of social stimulus had become necessary from long use as
an ally of professional effort; and, lacking it, Gabrielli became
insufferably indolent and careless. She would not take the least trouble
to please fastidious London audiences, then as now the most exacting in
Europe. She chose to remain sick on occasions which should have drawn
forth her finest efforts, and frequently sent her sister Francesca to
fill her great parts. One night her manager, mistrusting her excuses of
illness, proceeded to her apartments, and found them ablaze with light
and filled with a large company of gay and riotous revelers. Of course
this condition of affairs could not long be endured. Stung by the slight
appreciation of her talents in England, and not choosing to endure the
want of patience which made the public grumble when she chose to sing
badly or not at all, she quitted England after a very brief stay. Lord
Mount Edgcumbe saw her in the opera of "Didone," and avows bluntly that
he could see nothing more of her acting than that she took the greatest
possible care of her enormous hoop when she sidled out of the flames of
Carthage. Dr. Burney, on the other hand, is a more chivalrous critic, or
else he was unduly impressed with the lady's charms; for she appeared to
him "the most intelligent and best-bred _virtuoso_ with whom he had
ever conversed, not only on the subject of music, but on every subject
concerning which a well-educated female, who had seen the world, might
be expected to have information." Furthermore, he extols the precision
and accuracy of her execution and intonation, and the thrilling quality
of her voice.

Brydone, who appears to have been fascinated with this siren, has an
amusing apology for her carelessness of her duties in England, which he
insists was not caprice, but inability to sing. He says: "And this I can
readily believe, for that wonderful flexibility of voice, that runs
with such rapidity and neatness through the most minute divisions, and
produces almost instantaneously so great a variety of modulation, must
surely depend on the very nicest tones of the fibers; and if these are
in the smallest degree relaxed, or their elasticity diminished, how is
it possible that their contractions and expansions can so readily obey
the will as to produce these effects? The opening of the glottis which
forms the voice is so extremely small, and in every variety of tone its
diameter must suffer a sensible change; for the same diameter must ever
produce the same tone. So _wonderfully_ minute are its contractions and
dilatations, that Dr. Kiel, I think, computed that in some voices its
opening, not more than the tenth of an inch, is divided into upward
of twelve hundred parts, the different sound of every one of which is
perceptible to the exact ear. Now, what a nice tension of fibers must
this require! I should imagine even the most minute change in the air
causes a sensible difference, and that in our foggy climate fibers would
be in danger of losing this wonderful sensibility, or, at least, that
they would very often be put out of tune. It is not the same case with
an ordinary voice, where the variety of divisions run through and the
volubility with which they are executed bear no proportion to that of a

Gabrielli sang in various cities of Italy for several years more, still
retaining her hold on the hearts of her countrymen. In 1780 she finally
retired from the stage and began to live a regular and orderly life,
though still extravagant and lavish in her indulgence both of freaks of
luxury and generosity. During her residence at Rome the noblesse of
that city held her in high esteem, and her concerts gathered the most
distinguished and wealthy people. Her prodigality had considerably
reduced her income, and when she retired from her profession it amounted
to little more than twenty thousand francs. The state in which Gabrielli
had lived suited a princess of the blood rather than an operatic singer.
Her traveling retinue included a little army of servants and couriers,
and, both at home and at the theatre, she exacted the respect which was
rather the due of some royal personage. A Florentine nobleman paid her
a visit one day, and tore one of his ruffles by catching in some part of
her dress. Gabrielli the next day, to make amends, sent him six bottles
of Spanish wine, with the costliest rolls of Flanders lace stuffed into
the mouths of the bottles instead of corks. But, if she was extravagant
and luxurious, she was also generous; and, in spite of the cruel
caprices which had marked her life, she always gave tokens of a
naturally kind heart. She gave largely to charity, and provided
liberally for her parents, as also for her brother's education. Of this
brother, who appeared at the Teatro Argentina in Rome as a tenor,
but who sang as wretchedly as his sister did exquisitely, an amusing
anecdote is narrated. The audience began to hoot and hiss, and yells of
"Get out, you raven!" sounded through the house. With great _sang-froid_
the unlucky singer said: "You fancy you are mortifying me by hooting me;
you are grossly deceived; on the contrary, I applaud your judgment, for
I solemnly declare that I never appear on any stage without receiving
the same treatment, and sometimes worse."

Gabrielli's closing years were spent at Bologna, where she won the
esteem and admiration of all by her charities and steadiness of life, a
notable contrast to the license and extravagance of her earlier career.
She died in 1796, at the age of sixty-six.


The French Stage as seen by Rousseau.--Intellectual Ferment of the
Period.--Sophie Arnould, the Queen of the most Brilliant of Paris
Salons.--Her Early Life and Connection with Comte de Lauraguais.--Her
Reputation as the Wittiest Woman of the Age.--Art Association with the
Great German Composer, Gluck.--The Rivalries and Dissensions of the
Period.--Sophie's Rivals and Contemporaries, Madame St. Huberty,
the Vestrises Father and Son, Madelaine Guimard.--Opera during the
Revolution.--The Closing Days of Sophie Arnould's Life.--Lord Mount
Edgcumbe's Opinion of her as an Artist.


Rousseau, a man of decidedly musical organization, and who wrote so
brilliantly on the subject of the art he loved (but who cared more for
music than he did for truth and honor, as he showed by stealing the
music of two operas, "Pygmalion" and "Le Devin du Village," and passing
it off for his own), has given us some very racy descriptions of French
opera in the latter part of the eighteenth century in his "Dictionnaire
Musicale," in his "Lettre sur la Musique Française," and, above all,
in the "Nouvelle Héloïse." In the mouth of Saint Preux, the hero of the
latter novel, he puts some very animated sketches:

"The opera at Paris passes for the most pompous, the most voluptuous,
the most admirable spectacle that human art has ever invented. It is,
say its admirers, the most superb monument of the magnificence of Louis
XIV. Here you may dispute about anything except music and the opera; on
these topics alone it is dangerous not to dissemble. French music,
too, is defended by a very vigorous inquisition, and the first thing
indicated is a warning to strangers who visit this country that all
foreigners admit there is nothing so fine as the grand opera at Paris.
The fact is, discreet people hold their tongues and laugh in their
sleeves. It must, however, be conceded that not only all the marvels of
nature, but many other marvels much greater, which no one has ever seen,
are represented at great cost at this theatre; and certainly Pope must
have alluded to it when he describes a stage on which were seen gods,
hobgoblins, monsters, kings, shepherds, fairies, fury, joy, fire, a jig,
a battle, and a ball.*...

     * Addison gives some such description of the French opera in
     No. 29 of the "Spectator."

Having told you what others say of this brilliant spectacle, I will
now tell you what I have seen myself. Imagine an inclosure fifteen feet
broad and long in proportion; this inclosure is the theatre. On its two
sides are placed at intervals screens, on which are grossly painted
the objects which the scene is about to represent. At the back of the
inclosure hangs a great curtain painted in like manner, and nearly
always pierced and torn, that it may represent at a little distance
gulfs on the earth or holes in the sky. Every one who passes behind this
stage or touches the curtain produces a sort of earthquake, which has a
double effect. The sky is made from certain bluish rags suspended
from poles or from cords, as linen may be seen hung out to dry in any
washerwoman's yard. The sun (for it is seen here sometimes) is a lighted
torch in a lantern. The cars of the gods and goddesses are composed of
four rafters, squared and hung on a thick rope in the form of a swing or
seesaw; between the rafters is a cross-plank on which the god sits down,
and in front hangs a piece of coarse cloth well dirtied, which acts the
part of clouds for the magnificent car. One may see toward the bottom of
the machine two or three stinking candles, badly snuffed, which, while
the great personage dementedly presents himself, swinging in his seesaw,
fumigate him with an incense worthy of his dignity. The agitated sea
is composed of long lanterns of cloth and blue pasteboard, strung on
parallel spits which are turned by little blackguard boys. The thunder
is a heavy cart, rolled over an arch, and is not the least agreeable
instrument one hears. The flashes of lightning are made of pinches of
rosin thrown on a flame, and the thunder is a cracker at the end of
a fusee. The theatre is furnished, moreover, with little square
trap-doors, through which the demons issue from their cave. When they
have to rise into the air, little devils of stuffed brown cloth are
substituted, or perhaps live chimney-sweeps, who swing suspended and
smothered in rags. The accidents which happen are sometimes tragical,
sometimes farcical. When the ropes break, then infernal spirits and
immortal deities fall together, laming and sometimes killing each other.
Add to all this the monsters which render some scenes very pathetic,
such as dragons, lizards, tortoises, and large toads, which promenade
the theatre with a menacing air, and display at the opera all the
temptations of St. Anthony. Each of these figures is animated by a lout
of a Savoyard, who has not even intelligence enough to play the beast."
Saint Preux is also made to say of the singers: "One sees actresses
nearly in convulsions, tearing yelps and howls violently out of their
lungs, closed hands pressed on their breasts, heads thrown back, faces
inflamed, veins swollen, and stomach panting. I know not which of the
two, eye or ear, is more agreeably affected by this display.... For my
part, I am certain that people applaud the outcries of an actress at the
opera as they would the feats of a tumbler or rope-dancer at a fair....
Imagine this style of singing employed to express the delicate gallantry
and tenderness of Quinault. Imagine the Muses, the Graces, the Loves,
Venus herself, expressing themselves this way, and judge the effect. As
for devils, it might pass, for this music has something infernal in it,
and is not ill adapted to such beings."

From this and similar accounts it will be seen that opera in France
during the latter part of the eighteenth century had, notwithstanding
Jean Jacques's garrulous sarcasms, advanced a considerable way toward
that artificial perfection which characterizes it now. Music was a topic
of discussion, which absorbed the interest of the polite world far more
than the mutterings in the politi-cal horizon, which portended so fierce
a convulsion of the social _régime_. Wits, philosophers, courtiers, and
fine ladies joined in the acrimonious controversy, first between the
adherents of Lulli and Rameau, then between those of Gluck and Piccini.
The young gallants of the day were wont to occupy part of the stage
itself and criticise the performance of the opera; and often they
adjourned from the theatre to the dueling-ground to settle a difficulty
too hard for their wits to unravel. The intense interest appertaining to
all things connected with music and the theatre noticeable in the French
of to-day, was tenfold as eager a century ago. Passionate curiosity,
even extending to enthusiasm, with which that worn-out and utterly
corrupt society, by some subtile contradiction, threw itself into all
questions concerning philosophy, science, literature, and art, found
its most characteristic expression in its relation to the music of the

It was at this strange and picturesque period, when everything in
politics, society, literature, and art was fermenting for the terrible
Hecate's brew which the French world was soon to drink to the dregs,
that there appeared on the stage one of the most remarkable figures
in its history, a woman of great beauty and brilliancy, as well as an
artist of unique genius--Sophie Arnould. Her name is lustrous in French
memoirs for the splendor of her wit and conversational talent; and
Arsène Houssaye has thought it worthy to preserve her _bon-mots_ in
a volume of table-talk, called "Arnouldiana," which will compare with
anything of its kind in the French language. For a dozen years prior to
the Revolution Sophie Arnould was a queen of society as well as of
art; and in her elegant _salon_, which was a museum of art _curios_
and bric-à-brac, she held a brilliant court, where men of the highest
distinction, both native and foreign, were proud to pay their homage
at the shrine of beauty and genius. There might be seen D'Alembert, the
learned and scholarly, rough and independent in manner, who deserted the
drawing-rooms of the great for saloons where he could move at his ease.
There, also, Diderot would often delight his circle of admirers by the
fluency and richness of his conversation, his friends extolling his
disinterestedness and honesty, his enemies whispering about his cunning
and selfishness. The novelist Duclos, with his keen power of penetrating
human character, would move leisurely through the throng, picking
up material for his romances; and Mably would talk politics and drop
ill-natured remarks. The learned metaphysician Helvetius, too, was
often there, seeking for compliments, his appetite for applause being
voracious; so insatiable, indeed, that he even danced one night at the
opera. It was said that he was led to study mathematics by seeing a
circle of beautiful ladies surrounding the ugly geometrician Maupertuis
in the gardens of the Tuileries. Dorât, who wasted his time in
writing bad tragedies, and his property in publishing them; the gay,
good-hearted Marmontel; Bernard--called by Voltaire _le gentil_--who
wrote the libretto of "Castor et Pollux," esteemed for years a
masterpiece of lyric poetry; Rameau, the popular composer, in whose
pieces Sophie always appeared; and Francoeur, the leader of the
orchestra, were also among her guests. J. J. Rousseau was the great
lion, courted and petted by all. When Benjamin Franklin arrived in
Paris, where he was received with unbounded hospitality by the most
distinguished of French society, he confessed that nowhere did he find
such pleasure, such wit, such brilliancy, as in the _salon_ of Mile.
Arnould. M. André de Murville was one of the more noteworthy men of wit
who attended her _soirées_, and he became so madly in love with her that
he offered her his hand; but she cared very little about him. One day
he told her that if he were not in the Académie within thirty years, he
would blow out his brains. She looked steadily at him, and then, smiling
sarcastically, said, "I thought you had done that long ago." Poets
sang her praises; painters eagerly desired to transfer her exquisite
lineaments to canvas. All this flattery intoxicated her. She wished
to be classed with Ninon, Lais, and Aspasia, and was proud to be the
subject of the verses of Dorat, Bernard, Rulhière, Marmontel, and
Favart. Sophie's wit never hesitated to break a lance even on those she
liked. "What are you thinking of?" she said to Bernard, in one of his
abstracted moods. "I was talking to myself," he replied. "Be careful,"
she said archly; "you gossip with a flatterer." To a physician, whom she
met with a gun under his arm, she laughed aloud, "Ah, doctor, you are
afraid of your professional resources failing." Her racy repartees were
in every mouth from Paris to Versailles, and she was in all respects a
brilliant personage among the intellectual lights of the age.

In the Rue de Béthisy, Paris, stood a house, the Hôtel de Châtillon,
from the window of one of whose rooms assassins flung the gory head of
the great Admiral de Coligni down to the Duke de Guise on the night of
Saint Bartholomew, 1572. In that same room was born, February 14, 1744,
Sophie Arnould, the daughter of the proprietor, who had transformed the
historic dwelling into a hostelry. She grew up a bright, lively, and
beautiful child, and was conscious from an early age of the value of her
talents. Anne, as she was then called (for the change to Sophie was made
afterward), would say with exultation: "We shall be as rich as princes.
A good fairy has given me a talisman to transform everything into gold
and diamonds at the sound of my voice."

Accident brought her talent to light. It was then the fashion for
ladies, after confessing their sins in Passion Week, to retire for some
days to a religious house, there to expiate by fasting the faults and
misdemeanors committed during the gayeties of the Carnival. It chanced
that when Anne was about twelve years old the Princess of Modena retired
to the convent of Val-de-Grace, and in attending vespers heard one voice
which, for power and purity, she thought had never been surpassed.
Fine voices were at a premium then in France, and the Princess at once
decided that she had discovered a treasure. She inquired who was the
owner of this exquisite organ, and was informed that it was little Anne
Arnould. The Princess sent for the child, who came readily, and was not
in the least abashed by the presence of the great lady, but sang like a
nightingale and chattered like a magpie. The wit and beauty of the girl
charmed the Princess, and she threw a costly necklace about her throat.
"Come, my lovely child," said she; "you sing like an angel, and you
have more wit than an angel. Your fortune is made." As a result of the
praises so loudly chanted by the Princess of Modena, the child was
sent for to sing in the King's Chapel, and, in spite of the aversion of
Anne's pious mother, who was afraid with good reason of the influences
of the dissipated court, she was placed thus in contact with power and
royalty. The beautiful Pompadour heard her charming voice, and remarked,
with that effusion of sentiment which veneered her cruel selfishness,
"Ah! with such a talent, she might become a princess." This opinion of
the imperious and all-powerful favorite decided the girl's fate; for it
was equivalent to a mandate for her _début_. The precocious child knew
the danger of the path opened for her. To the remonstrances of her
mother she said with a shrug of her pretty shoulders: "To go to the
opera is to go to the devil. But what matters it? It is my destiny."
Poor Mme. Arnould scolded, shuddered, and prayed, and ended it, as she
thought, by shutting the girl up in a convent. But Louis XV. got wind
of this threatened checkmate, and a royal mandate took her out of the
convent walls which had threatened to immure her for life. Anne was
placed with Clairon, the great tragedienne, to learn acting, and with
Mlle. Fel to learn singing. As a consequence, while she had some
rivals in the beauty of her voice, her acting surpassed anything on the
operatic stage of that era.


When Anne Arnould made her first appearance, she assumed the name of
Sophie on account of the softer sound of its syllables. Her _début_,
September 15, 1757, was one of most brilliant success, and in a
night Paris was at her feet. Her genius, her beauty, her voice, her
magnificent eyes, her incomparable grace and fascinating witchery of
manner, were the talk of the city; and the opera was besieged every
night she sang. Fréron, in speaking of the waiting crowds, said, "I
doubt if they would take such trouble to get into paradise." The young
and lovely _débutante_ accepted the homage of the time, which then as
now expressed itself in bouquets, letters, and jewels, without number,
with as much nonchalance as if she had been a stage goddess of twenty
years' standing.

Hosts of admirers fluttered around this new and brilliant light. Mme.
Arnould fretted and scolded, and watched her precious charge as well
as she could; for when the opera received a singer, neither father nor
mother could longer claim her. One of the besieging _roués_ said that
Sophie walked on roses. "Yes," was the mother's keen retort, "but see to
it that you do not plant thorns amid the roses." Sophie's fascinations
were the theme of universal talk among the gay and licentious idlers of
the court, and heavy bets were made as to who should be the victor in
his suit. Among the most distinguished of the court rufflers of the
period was the Comte de Lauraguais, noted for his personal beauty,
wit, and daring, and for having written some very bad plays, which were
instantly damned by the audience. He had run through a great fortune,
and the good-humored gayety with which he won money from his friends was
only equaled by the nonchalance with which he had squandered his own.
He was a member of the Academy of Sciences, and enjoyed lounging in
fashionable saloons and behind the scenes at the opera. Lauraguais
had the temerity to attempt to carry off the young beauty, but, the
enterprise failing, he had recourse to another expedient. One evening,
supping with some friends, the conversation turned naturally on the
star which had just risen, and there was much jesting over the maternal
anxiety of Arnould _mère_. Lauraguais, laughing, instantly offered to
lay an immense wager that within fifteen days Mme. Arnould would no
longer attend Sophie to the opera. The bet was taken, and the next day
a handsome but modest-looking young man, professing to be from the
country, applied at the Hôtel de Châtillon for lodgings. The fascinating
tongue of young Duval (for he represented that he was a poet of that
name, who hoped to get a play taken by the managers) soon beguiled both
mother and daughter, and he began to make love to Sophie under the
very maternal eyes. The romantic girl listened with delight to the
protestations and vows of the young provincial poet, though she had
disdained the flatteries of the troops of court gallants who besieged
the opera-house stage when she sang. The _finale_ of this pretty
pastoral was a moonlight flitting one night. The couple eloped, and the
Comte de Lauraguais won his wager that Mme. Arnould would not longer
accompany her daughter to the opera, and with the wager the most
beautiful and fascinating woman of the time.

Sophie, finding herself freed from all conventional shackles, gave full
play to her tastes, both for luxury and intellectual society. Her house,
the Hôtel Rambouillet, was transformed into a palace, and both at home
and in the green-room of the opera she was surrounded by a throng of
noblemen, diplomats, soldiers, poets, artists--in a word, all the most
brilliant men of Paris, who crowded her receptions and besieged her
footsteps. The attentions paid the brilliant Sophie caused terrible fits
of jealousy on the part of Lauraguais, and their life for several years,
though there appears to have been sincere attachment on both sides, was
embittered by quarrels and recriminations. Sophie seems to have been
faithful to her relation with Lauraguais, though she never took pains
to deprecate his anger or avert his suspicions. Discovering that he
was intriguing with an operatic fair one, she contrived that Lauraguais
should come on her _tête-a-tête_ with a Knight of Malta. To his
reproaches she answered, "This gentleman is only fulfilling his vows as
Knight of Malta in waging war upon an infidel" (infidèle). At last she
tired of leading such a fretful existence, and took the occasion of the
Count's absence to break the bond. She filled her carriage with all of
his valuable gifts to herself--jewelry, laces, and two children--and
sent them to his hotel. The message was received by the Countess, who
gladly accepted the charge of the little ones, but returned the carriage
and its other contents. On Lauraguais's return he was thrown into the
deepest misery by Sophie's resolve; but, although she was touched by his
pleading and reproaches, she remained inflexible. She accepted, however,
a pension of two thousand crowns which his generosity settled on her. We
are told that the sentimental Countess joined with her husband in urging
Sophie, who at first refused to receive Lauraguais's bounty, to yield,
saying that her admiration of the lovely singer made her excuse his
fault in being unfaithful to herself, and that the children should be
always treated as her own. Such a scene as this would be impossible out
of the France of the eighteenth century.

The number of Sophie Arnould's _bon-mots_ is almost legion, and her
good nature could rarely resist the temptation of uttering a brilliant
epigram or a pungent repartee. Some one showed her a snuff-box, on which
were portraits of Sully and the Duke de Choiseul. She said with a wicked
smile, "Debit and credit." A Capuchin monk was reported to have been
eaten by wolves. "Poor beasts! hunger must be a dreadful thing,"
ejaculated she. A beautiful but silly woman complained to her of the
persistency of her lovers. "You have only to open your mouth and
speak, to get rid of their importunities," was the pungent answer. She
effectually silenced a coxcomb, who aimed to annoy her by saying, "Oh!
wit runs in the street nowadays," by the retort, "Too fast for fools to
catch it, however." Of Madeleine Guimard, the fascinating dancer, who
was exceedingly thin, Sophie said one night, after she had seen her
dance a _pas de trois_ in which she represented a nymph being contended
for by two satyrs, "It made her think of two dogs fighting for a bone."*

     * This _mot_ the Paris wits have revived at the expense of
     Mlle. Sara Bernhardt.

One day Voltaire said to her, "Ah! mademoiselle, I am eighty-four years
old, and I have committed eighty-four follies" (_sottises_). "A mere
trifle," responded Sophie; "I am not yet forty, and I have committed
more than a thousand."

For a time Mile. Arnould suffered under a loss of court favor, owing
to her having made Mme. Du Barry the butt of her pointed sarcasms. A
_lettre de cachet_ would have been the fate of another, but Sophie was
too much of a popular idol to be so summarily treated. She, however,
retired for a time from the theatre with a pension of two thousand
francs, having already accumulated a splendid fortune. Instantly that
it was known she was under a cloud, there were plenty to urge that she
never had any voice, and that her only good points were beauty and fine
acting. Abbé Galiani, a court parasite, remarked one night, "It's the
finest asthma I ever heard."

In 1774 the great composer Gluck, whose genius was destined to have such
a profound influence on French music, came to Paris with his "Iphigenie
en Aulide," by invitation of the Dauphiness Marie Antoinette, who had
formerly been his musical pupil. The stiff and stilted works of Sully
and Rameau had thus far ruled the French stage without any competition,
except from the Italian operettas performed by the company of Les
Bouffons, and the new school of French operatic comedy developed into
form by the lively genius of Grétry. When Gluck's magnificent opera,
constructed on new art principles, was given to the Paris public,
April 19, 1774, it created a deep excitement, and divided critics and
connoisseurs into opposing and embittered camps, in which the most
distinguished wits, poets, and philosophers ranged themselves, and
pelted each other with lampoons, pamphlets, and epigrams, which often
left wounds that had to be healed afterward by an application of cold
steel. In this contest Sophie Arnould, who had speedily emerged from her
retirement, took an active part, for Gluck had selected her to act the
part of his heroines. The dramatic intensity and breadth of the German
composer's conceptions admirably suited Sophie, whose genius for acting
was more marked than her skill in singing. The success of Gluck's
"Iphigenie" gave the finishing stroke to the antiquated operas of
Rameau, in which the singer had made her reputation, and offered her a
nobler vehicle for art-expression. On her association with Gluck's music
Sophie Arnould's fame in the history of art now chiefly rests.

Gluck, like all others, yielded to the magic charm of the beautiful and
witty singer, and went so far as to permit rehearsals to be held at her
own house. On one occasion the Prince de Hennin, one of the haughtiest
of the grand seigneurs of the period, intruded himself, and, finding
himself unnoticed, interrupted the rehearsal with the remark, "I
believe it is the custom in France to rise when any one enters the
room, especially if it be a person of some consideration." Gluck's eyes
flashed with rage, as he sprang threateningly to his feet. "The custom
in Germany, sir, is to rise only for those whom we esteem!" he said;
then turning to Sophie, who had been stopped in the middle of an air, "I
perceive, madame, that you are not mistress in your own house. I leave
you, and shall never set foot here again." Sophie is credited with
having commented on this scene with the remark that it was the only case
where she had ever witnessed a personal illustration of Æsop's fable of
the lion put to flight by an ass.*

     * An English wit some years afterward perpetrated the same
     witticism on the occasion of Edmund Burke's leaving the
     House of Commons in a rage, because he was interrupted in
     one of his great speeches by a thick-witted country member.

It is pleasant to know that the Prince de Hennin was obliged to make a
humble apology to Gluck, by order of Marie Antoinette.

Sophie Arnould appeared with no less success in Gluck's operas of
"Orphée" and "Alceste" than in the first, and rose again to the topmost
wave of court favor. When "Orphée" was at rehearsal at the opera-house,
it became the fashion of the great court dignitaries and the young
chevaliers of the period to attend. Gluck instantly, when he entered the
theatre, threw off his coat and wig, and conducted in shirt-sleeves
and cotton nightcap. When the rehearsal was over, prince and marquis
contended as to who should act the part of _valet de chambre_. The
composer at this time was the subject of almost idolatrous admiration,
for it was at a later period that the old quarrels were resumed again
with even more acrid personalities, and Piccini was imported from Italy
by the Du Barry faction to be pitted against the German. Gluck returned
from Germany, whither he had gone on a visit, to find the opposition
cabal in full force, and the merits of the Italian composer lauded
to the skies by the fickle public of Paris. But the former's greatest
opera, "Iphigénie en Tauride," was produced, and gave a fatal blow
to Piccini's ascendancy, though his own opera on the same subject was
afterward given with great care. On the latter occasion Mile. Laguerre,
the principal singer, appeared on the stage intoxicated, and was unable
to get through the music successfully. "This is not 'Iphigenia in
Tauris,'" said witty Sophie Arnould, "but Iphigenia in Champagne."
Through some intrigue Gluck was persuaded to substitute Mile. Levasseur
for Mile. Arnould in the interpretation of his last great operas;
so Sophie, enraged and disheartened, but to the gratification of the
myriads of people whom she had offended by her cutting witticisms, which
had been showered alike on friends and enemies, retired to private life,
and thenceforward rarely appeared on the stage.


Interest will be felt in some of Sophie Arnould's more distinguished
art contemporaries. Among these, the highest place must be given to Mme.
Antoinette Cécile Saint Huberty, _née_ Gavel. Born in Germany of French
descent, she made her first appearance in Paris in a small part in
Gluck's "Armide." Small, thin, and unprepossessing in person, her power
of expression and artistic vocal-ism won more and more on the public,
till the retirement of Sophie Arnould and Mile. Levasseur, and the
death of Laguerre, left her in undisputed possession of the stage. When
Piccini's "Didon," his greatest opera,* was produced, she sang the part
of the _Queen of Carthage_.

     * "Didon," differing widely from the other operas of
     Piccini, was modeled after the new operatic principles of
     Gluck, and was a magnificent homage on the part of his old
     rival to the genius of the German. Indeed, although the
     adherents of the two musicians waged so fierce a conflict,
     they themselves were full of respect and admiration for each
     other. Gluck always warmly expressed his appreciation of
     Piccini's "felicitous and charming melodies, the clearness
     of his style, the elegance and truth of his expression."
     What Piccini's opinion of Gluck was is best shown in his
     proposition after Gluck's death to raise a subscription, not
     for the erection of a statue, but for the establishment of
     an annual concert to take place on the anniversary of
     Gluck's death, to consist entirely of his compositions--"in
     order to transmit to posterity the spirit and character of
     his magnificent works, that they may serve as a model to
     future artists of the true style of dramatic music."

Marmontel, the poet of the opera, had already said at rehearsal, "She
expressed it so well that I imagined myself at the theatre," and Piccini
congratulated her on having been largely instrumental in its success.
As _Didon_ she made one of her greatest successes. "Never," says Grimm,
"has there been united acting more captivating, a sensibility more
perfect, singing more exquisite, happier by-play, and more noble
_abandon_." She was crowned on the stage--an honor hitherto unknown,
and since so much abused. The secret of her marvelous gift lay in her
extreme sensibility. Others might sing an air better, but no one could
give to either airs or recitatives accentuation more pure or more
impassioned, action more dramatic, and by-play more eloquent. Some one
complimenting her on the vivid truth with which she embodied her part,
"I really experience it," she said; "in a death-scene I actually feel as
if I were dead."

It has been said that Talma was the first to discard the absurd costumes
of the theatre, but this credit really belongs to Mme. Saint Huberty.
She studied the Greek and Roman statues, and wore robes in keeping with
the antique characters, especially suppressing hoops and powder. This
singer remained queen of the French stage until 1790, when she retired.
During the time of her art reign she appeared in many of the principal
operas of Piccini, Salieri, Sacchini, and Grétry, showing but little
less talent for comedy than for tragedy. She retired from public life
to become the wife of the Count d'Entraignes. Her tragic fate many years
afterward is one of the celebrated political assassinations of the age.
Count d'Entraignes at this time was residing at Barnes, England, having
recently left the diplomatic service of Russia, in which he had shown
himself one of the most dangerous enemies of the Napoleonic government
in France. The Count's Piedmontese valet had been bribed by a spy of
Fouché, the French Minister of Police, to purloin certain papers. The
valet was discovered by his master, and instantly stabbed him, and, as
the Countess entered the room a moment afterward, he also pierced her
heart with the stiletto recking with her husband's blood, finishing the
shocking tragedy by blowing out his own brains. Thus died, in 1812, one
who had been among the most brilliant ornaments of the French stage.

No record of Sophie Arnould's artistic associates is complete without
some allusion to the celebrated dancers Gaëtan Vestris * and Auguste,
his son. Gaétan was accustomed to say that there were three great men
in Europe--Voltaire, Frederick the Great, and himself. In his old age
he preserved all his skill, and M. Castel Blaze, who saw him at the
Académie fifty years after his _début_ in 1748, declares that he still
danced with inimitable grace.

     * Mme. Vestris, the last of the family, and the first wife
     of the English comedian Charles Mathews, was the
     granddaughter of Gaëtan.

It is of Gaëtan that the story is told in connection with Gluck, when
the opera of "Orphée" was put in rehearsal. The dancer wished for a
ballet in the opera.

"Write me the music of a chacone, Monsieur Gluck," said the god of

"A chacone!" ejaculated the astonished composer; "do you think the
Greeks, whose manners we are endeavoring to depict, knew what a chacone

"Did they not?" said Vestris, amazed at the information; then, in a tone
of compassion, "How much they are to be pitied!"

Gaëtan retired from the stage at the successful _début_ of Auguste, but
appeared again from time to time to show his invulnerability to time. On
the occasion of his son's first appearance, the veteran, in full court
dress, sword, and ruffles, and hat in hand, stepped to the front by
the side of the _débutante_. After a short address to the public on the
importance of the choreographic art and his hopes of his son, he turned
to Auguste and said: "Now, my son, exhibit your talent. Your father is
looking at you." He was accustomed to say: "Auguste is a better dancer
than I am; he had Gaëtan Vestris for a father, an advantage which nature
refused me." "If," said Gaëtan, on another occasion, "le dieu de la
danse" (a title which he had given himself) "touches the ground from
time to time, he does so in order not to humiliate his comrades."

     * This boast of Gaëtan Vestris seems to have inspired the
     lines which Moore afterward addressed to a celebrated

     ".... You'd swear, When her delicate feet in the dance
     twinkle round, That her steps are of light, that her home is
     the air, And she only _par complaisance_ touches the

The son inherited the paternal arrogance. To the director of the opera,
De Vismes, who, enraged at some want of respect, said to him, "Do you
know who I am?" he drawled, "Yes! you are the farmer of my talent." On
one occasion Auguste refused to obey the royal mandate, and Gaétan said
to him with some reproof in his tones: "What! the Queen of France does
her duty by requesting you to dance before the King of Sweden, and
you do not do yours! You shall no longer bear my name. I will have no
misunderstanding between the house of Vestris and the house of Bourbon;
they have hitherto always lived on good terms." It nearly broke
Auguste's heart when one day during the French Revolution he was seized
by a howling band of _sans culottes_ and made to exhibit his finest
skill on the top of a barrel before this ragged mob of liberty-loving

The fascinating sylph, Madeleine Guimard, broke almost as many hearts
and inspired as many duels as the charming Sophie Arnould herself.
Plain even to ugliness, and excessively thin, her exquisite dancing and
splendid eyes made great havoc among her numerous admirers. Lord Byron
said that thin women when young reminded him of dried butterflies,
when old of spiders. The stage associates of Mile. Guimard called her
"L'araignée," and Sophie Arnould christened her "the little silkworm,"
for the sake of the joke about "la feuille." But such spiteful raillery
did not prevent her charming men to her feet whom greater beauties had
failed to captivate. Houdon the sculptor molded her foot, and the great
painters vied for the privilege of decorating the walls of her hotel.
When she broke her arm, mass was said in church for her recovery,
and she was one of the reigning toasts of Paris. Among the numerous
_liaisons_ of Mile. Guimard, that with the Prince de Soubise is most
noted. After this she eloped with a German prince, and the Prince de
Soubise pursued them, wounded his rival, killed three of his servants,
and brought her back to Paris in triumph. After a great variety of
adventures of this nature, she married in 1787 a humble professor of
dancing named Despriaux. Lord Mount Edgcumbe saw her in 1789 at the
King's Theatre in London. "Among them," he writes, referring to a troupe
of new performers, "came the famous Mile. Guimard, then nearly sixty
years old, but still full of grace and gentility, and she had never
possessed more."


When Sophie Arnould retired from the stage, she took a house near the
Palais Royal, and extended as brilliant a hospitality as ever. She was
as celebrated for her practical jokes as for her witticisms, of which
the following freak is a good example: One evening in 1780 she gave a
grand supper, to which, among others, she invited M. Barthe, author of
"Les Fausses Infidélités," and many similar pieces. He was inflated
with vanity, though he was totally ignorant of everything away from the
theatre, and was, in fact, one of those individuals who actually seem
to court mystification and practical jokes. Mlle. Arnould instructed her
servant Jeannot, and had him announced pompously under the title of the
Chevalier de Médicis, giving M. Barthe to understand that the young man
was an illegitimate son of the house of Medici. The pretended nobleman
appeared to be treated with respect and distinction by the company, and
he spoke to the poet with much affability, professing great admiration
for his works. M. Barthe was enchanted. He was in a flutter of gratified
vanity, and, to show his delight at the condescension of the chevalier,
he proposed to write an epic poem in honor of his house. This farce
lasted during the evening. The assembled company were in convulsions of
suppressed laughter, which broke out when, at the moment of M. Barthe's
most ecstatic admiration and respect for his new patron, Sophie Arnould
lifted her glass, and, looking at the chevalier, said, in a clear voice,
"Your health, Jeannot!" The sensations of poor M. Barthe may readily be
imagined. The incident became the story of the day in all circles, and
the unlucky poet could not go anywhere for fear of being tormented about

At length she withdrew completely from the follies, passions, and
cares of the world, and bought an ancient monastic building, formerly
belonging to the monks of St. Francis, near Luzarches, eighteen or
twenty miles from Paris. This grim residence she decorated luxuriously
in its interior, and over the door inscribed the ecclesiastical motto,
"Ite missa est." Here she remained during the earlier storms of the
Revolution, though she occasionally went to Paris at the risk of her
head to gratify her curiosity about the republican management of opera,
which presented some very unique features. The reader will be interested
in some brief pictures of the revolutionary opera.

It was directed by four distinguished _sans culottes_--Henriot,
Chaumette, Le Rouxand, and Hébert. The nominal director, however, was
Francoeur, the same who first brought out Sophie Arnould in Louis XV.'s
time. Henriot, Danton, Hébert, and other chiefs of the Revolution would
hardly take a turn in the _coulisses_ or _foyer_ before they would say
to some actor or actress: "We are going to your room; see that we are
received properly." This of course meant a superb collation; and, after
emptying many bottles of the costliest wines, the virtuous republicans
would retire without troubling themselves on the score of expense. As
this was a nightly occurrence, and the poor actors had no money, the
expense fell on the restaurateur, who was compelled to console himself
by the reflection that it was in the cause of liberty. Oftentimes the
executioner, the dreaded Sanson, who as public official had the right of
entree, would stroll in and in a jocular tone emphasize his abilities as
a critic by saying to the singers that his opinion on the _execution_ of
the music ought to be respected.*

     * So, too, the London hangman one night went into the pit of
     her Majesty's Theatre to hear Jenny Lind sing, and remarked
     with a sigh of professional longing, "Ah, what a throat to

Operatic kings and queens were suppressed, and the titles of royalty
were prohibited both on the stage and in the greenroom. It was
necessary, indeed, to use the old monarchical répertoire; but kings
were transformed into chiefs; princes and dukes became members of the
Convention or representatives of the people; seigneurs became mayors,
and substitutes were found for words like "crown," "scepter," "throne,"
etc. There was one great difficulty to overcome. This was met by placing
the scenes of the new operas in Italy, Portugal, etc.--anywhere but in
France, where it was indispensable from a political point of view, but
impossible from the poetic and musical, to make lovers address each
other as _citoyen, citoyenne_.

Hébert would frequently display proscriptive lists in the green-room,
including the names of many of the actors and other operatic employees,
and say, "I shall have to send you all to the guillotine some day, but
I have been prevented hitherto by the fact that you have conduced to
my amusement." The stratagem which saved them was to get the ferocious
Hébert drunk, for he loved wine as well as blood, and steal the fatal
document. However, this operatic _dilettante_ always appeared with
a fresh one next day. One bloodthirsty republican, Lefebvre, who was
ambitious for musical fame, insisted on singing first characters. He
appeared as _primo tenore_, and was hissed; he then tried his luck as
first bass, and was again hissed by his friends the _sans culottes_.
Enraged by the _fiasco_, he attributed it to the machinations of a
counter-revolution, and nearly persuaded Robespierre to give him a
platoon of musketeers to fire on the infamous emissaries of "Pitt and
Coburg." Yet, though the Reign of Terror was a fearful time for art
and artists, there were sixty-three theatres open, and they were always
crowded in spite of war, famine, and the guillotine.

It was fortunate for Sophie Arnould that her connection with the opera
had closed prior to this dreadful period. As stated previously, she
remained undisturbed during the early years of the Revolution. Only
once a band of _sans culottes_ invaded her retreat. To their suspicious
questions she answered by assurances of loving the republic devotedly.
Her unconsciously satirical smile aroused distrust, and they were about
hurrying her off to prison, when she pointed out a bust of Gluck, and
inquired if she would keep a bust of Marat if she were not loyal to
the republic. This satisfied her intelligent inquisitors, and they
retreated, saying, "She is a good _citoyenne_, after all," as they
saluted the marble. During this time she was still rich, having thirty
thousand livres a year. But misfortunes thickened, and in two years she
had lost nearly every franc. Obliged to go to Paris to try to save the
wreck of her estate, she found her hosts of friends dissipated like the
dew, all guillotined, shot, exiled, or imprisoned.

A gleam of sunshine came, however, in the kindness of Fouché, the
Minister of Police, an old lover. One morning the Minister received
the message of an unknown lady visitor. On receiving her he instantly
recognized the still beautiful and sparkling lineaments of the woman he
had once adored. Fouché, touched, heard her story, and by his powerful
intercession secured for her a pension of twenty-four hundred livres and
handsome apartments in the Hôtel D'Angevil-liers. Here she speedily drew
around her again the philosophers and fashionables, the poets and the
artists of the age; and the Sophie Arnould of the golden days of old
seemed resurrected in the vivacity and brilliancy of the talk from which
time and misfortune had taken nothing of its pungent salt. In 1803 she
died obscurely; and the same year there also passed out of the world
two other celebrated women, the great actress Clairon and the singer De
Beaumesnil, once Sophie's rival.

Lord Mount Edgcumbe, in his "Musical Reminiscences," speaks of Sophie
Arnould, whom he heard in ante-revolutionary days, as a woman of
entrancing beauty and very great dramatic genius. This connoisseur tells
us too that her voice, though limited in range and not very flexible,
was singularly rich, strong, and sweet, fitting her exceptionally for
the performance of the simple and noble arias of Gluck, which were
rather characterized by elevation and dramatic warmth than florid
ornamentation. Her place in art is, therefore, as the finest
contemporary interpreter of Wagner's greater predecessor.


Elizabeth Weichsel's Runaway Marriage.--_Début_ at Covent Garden.--Lord
Mount Edgcumbe's Opinion of her Singing.--Her Rivalry with Mme.
Mara.--Mrs. Billington's Greatness in English Opera.--She sings in Italy
in 1794-'99.--Her Great Power on the Italian Stage.--Marriage with
Felican.--Reappearance in London in Italian and English Opera.--Sketch
of Mme. Mara's Early Lite.--Her Great Triumphs on the English
Stage.--Anecdotes of her Career and her Retirement from
England.--Grassini and Napoleon.--The Italian Prima Donna disputes
Sovereignty with Mrs. Billington.--Her Qualities as an Artist.--Mrs.
Billington's Retirement from the Stage and Declining Years.


Among the comparatively few great vocalists born in England, the
traditions of Mrs. Elizabeth Billington's singing rank her as by far
the greatest. Brought into competition with many brilliant artists from
other countries, she held her position unshaken by their rivalry. She
came of musical stock. Her father, Charles Weichsel, was Saxon by birth,
but spent most of his life as an orchestral player in London; and her
mother was a charming vocalist of considerable repute. Born in 1770 in
the English capital, she was most carefully trained in music from an
early age, and her gifts displayed themselves so manifestly as to give
assurance of that brilliant future which made her the admiration of her
times. Both she and her brother Charles were regarded as prodigies of
youthful talent, the latter having attained some distinction on the
violin at the age of six, though he failed in after-years, unlike his
brilliant sister, to fulfill his juvenile promise. Elizabeth Weichsel
when only eleven composed original pieces for the piano, and at the age
of fourteen appeared in concert at Oxford. Her career was so long
and eventful that we must hurry over its youthful stages. The young
cantatrice at the age of fifteen was sought in marriage by Mr. Thomas
Billington, who had been her music-master, and, as her father was
bitterly opposed to the connection, the enamored couple eloped, and were
married at Lambeth Church with great secrecy.

They soon found themselves at their wits' end. With no money, and
without the established reputation which commands the attention of
managers, Mrs. Billington found that in taking a husband she had assumed
a fresh responsibility. Finally she secured an engagement at the Smock
Alley Theatre in Dublin, when she appeared in Gluck's opera of "Orpheus
and Eurydice," with the well-known tenor Tenducci, whose exquisite
singing of the air, "Water parted from the Sea," in the opera of
"Artaxerxes," had chiefly contributed to his celebrity. It was _à
propos_ of this that the well-known Irish street-song of the day was

     "Tenducci was a piper's son,
     And he was in love when he was young;
     And all the tunes that he could play
     Was 'Water parted from the Say.'"

For about a year the young singer played provincial engagements, but it
was good training for her. Her powers were becoming matured, and she was
learning self-reliance in the bitter school of experience, which more
and more assured her of coming triumph. At last she persuaded Lewis, the
manager of Covent Garden, to give her a metropolitan hearing. Though her
voice at this time had not attained the volume and power of after-years,
its qualities were exceptional. Its compass was in the upper notes
extraordinary, though in the lower register rather limited. She was well
aware of this defect, and tried to remedy it by substituting one octave
for another; a license which passed unnoticed by the undiscriminating
multitude, while it was easily excused by cultivated ears, being, as
one connoisseur remarked, "like the wild luxuriance of poetical imagery,
which, though against the cold rules of the critic, constitutes the
true value of poetry." She had not the full tones of Banti, but rather
resembled those of Allegranti, whom she closely imitated. Her voice,
in its very high tones, was something of the quality of a flute or
flageolet, or resembled a commixture of the finest sounds of the flute
and violin, if such could be imagined. It was then "wild and wandering,"
but of singular sweetness. "Its agility," says Mount Edgcumbe, "was very
great, and everything she sang was executed in the neatest manner and
with the utmost precision. Her knowledge of music enabled her to give
great variety to her embellishments, which, as her taste was always
good, were always judicious." In her cadenzas, however, she was obliged
to trust to her memory, for she never could improvise an ornament. Her
ear was so delicate that she could instantly detect any instrument out
of tune in a large orchestra; and her intonation was perfect. In manner
she was "peculiarly bewitching," and her attitudes generally were good,
with the exception of an ugly habit of pressing her hands against
her bosom when executing difficult passages. Her face and figure were
beautiful, and her countenance was full of good humor, though not
susceptible of varied expression; indeed, as an actress, she had
comparatively little talent, depending chiefly on her voice for
producing effect on the stage.

Mrs. Billington's __début__ in London was on February 13, 1786, in the
presence of royalty and a great throng of nobility and fashion, in the
character of _Rosetta_ in "Love in a Village." Her success was beyond
the most sanguine hopes, and her brilliant style, then an innovation
in English singing, bewildered the pit and delighted the musical
connoisseurs. The leader of the orchestra was so much absorbed in one of
her beautiful cadenzas that he forgot to give the chord at its close. So
much science, taste, birdlike sweetness, and brilliancy had never before
been united in an English singer. So Mrs. Billington assumed undisputed
sovereignty in the realm of song, for one night made her famous. The
managers, who had haggled over the terms of thirteen pounds a week for
her first brief engagement of twelve nights, were glad to give her a
thousand pounds for the rest of the season. For her second part she
chose _Polly Peachum_ in "The Beggars' Opera," to show her detractors
that she could sing simple English ballad-music with no less taste and
effect than the brilliant and ornate style with which she first took
the town by storm. Mara, the great German singer, who until then had no
rival, was distracted with rage and jealousy, which the sweet-tempered
Billington treated with a careless smile. Though her success had been
so brilliant, she relaxed no effort in self-improvement, and studied
assiduously both vocalism and the piano. Indeed, Salomon, Haydn's
impressario, said of her with enthusiasm, "Sar, she sing equally well
wid her troat and her fingers." At the close of this season, which was
the opening of a great career, Mrs. Billington visited Paris, where
she placed herself under the instruction of the composer Sacchini, who
greatly aided her by his happy suggestions. To him she confesses herself
to have been most indebted for what one of her admirers called "that
pointed expression, neatness of execution, and nameless grace by which
her performance was so happily distinguished."

Kelly, the Irish actor and singer, who made her acquaintance about this
time, said he thought her an angel of beauty and the St. Cecilia of
song. Her loveliness enchanted even more by the sweetness and amiability
of its expression than by symmetry of feature, and everywhere she
was the idol of an adoring public. Even her rivals, embittered by
professional jealousy, soon melted in the sunshine of her sweet temper.
An amusing example of professional rivalry is related by John Bernard in
his "Reminiscences," where Miss George, afterward Lady Oldmixon, managed
to cloud the favorite's success by a cunning musical trick. "Mrs.
Billington, who was engaged on very high terms for a limited number of
nights, made her first appearance on the Dublin stage in the character
of _Polly_ in 'The Beggars' Opera,' surrounded by her halo of
popularity. She was received with acclamations, and sang her songs
delightfully; particularly 'Cease your Funning,' which was tumultuously
encored. Miss George, who performed the part of _Lucy_ (an up-hill
singing part), perceiving that she had little chance of dividing
the applause with the great magnet of the night, had recourse to the
following stratagem: When the dialogue duet in the second act, 'Why, how
now, Madam Flirt?' came on, Mrs. Billing-ton having given her verse with
exquisite sweetness, Miss George, setting propriety at defiance, sang
the whole of her verse an octave higher, her tones having the effect of
the high notes of a sweet and brilliant flute. The audience, taken by
surprise, bestowed on her such loud applause as almost shook the walls
of the theatre, and a unanimous encore was the result."

Haydn gave this opinion on her in his "Diary" in 1791: "On the 10th of
December I went to see the opera of 'The Woodman' (by Shield). It was on
the day when the provoking memoir of Mrs. Billington was published. She
sang rather timidly, but yet well. She is a great genius. The tenor was
Incledon. The common people in the gallery are very troublesome in every
theatre, and take lead in uproar. The audience in the pit and boxes have
often to clap a long time before they can get a fine part repeated. It
was so this evening with the beautiful duet in the third act: nearly a
quarter of an hour was spent in contention, but at length the pit and
boxes gained the victory, and the duet was repeated. The two actors
stood anxiously on the stage all the while." The great composer paid
her one of the prettiest compliments she ever received. Reynolds was
painting her portrait in the character of St. Cecilia, and one day Haydn
called just as it was being finished. Haydn contemplated the picture
very attentively, then said suddenly, "But you have made a great
mistake." The painter started up aghast. "How! what?" "Why," said Haydn,
"you have represented Mrs. Billington listening to the angels; you
should have made the angels listening to her!" Mrs. Billington blushed
with pleasure. "Oh, you dear man!" cried she, throwing her arms round
his neck and kissing him.


Mrs. Billington seems to have entertained the notion in 1794 of quitting
the stage, and went abroad to free herself from the protests and
reproaches which she knew the announcement of her purpose would call
forth if she remained in England. Accompanied by her husband and
brother, she sauntered leisurely through Europe, for her professional
exertions had already brought her a comfortable fortune. A trivial
accident set her feet again in the path which she had designed to
forsake, and which she was destined to adorn with a more brilliant
distinction. The party had traveled _incognito_, but on arriving in
Naples a babbling servant revealed the identity of the great singer,
which speedily became known to Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson's friend, then
domiciled in Naples as the favorite of the royal family. Lady Hamilton
insisted on presenting Mrs. Billington to the Queen, and she was
persuaded to sing in a private concert before their Majesties, which was
swiftly succeeded by an invitation, so urgent as to take the color of
command, to sing at the San Carlo. So the English prima donna made
her _début_ before the Neapolitans in "Inez di Castro," which had been
specially arranged for her by Francesco Bianchi. The fervid Naples
audience received her with passionate acclamations, to which she had
never been accustomed from the more impassive English. Hitherto her
reputation had been mostly identified with English opera; thenceforward
she was to be known chiefly as a brilliant exponent of the Italian
school of music.

Paesiello's "Didone," Paer's "Ero e Leandro," and Guglielmi's "Deborah e
Sisera" rapidly succeeded, each one confirming afresh the admiration of
her hearers, who were all _cognoscenti_, as Italian audiences generally
are. It became the vogue to patronize the beautiful cantatrice, and the
large English colony, who were led by some of the noblest gentlewomen
of England, such as Lady Templeton, Lady Palmerston, Lady Gertrude
Villiers, Lady Grandison, and others, made it a matter of national
pride to give the singer an enthusiastic support. English influence
was all-paramount at the court of Naples, from important political
exigencies, and this cooperated with Mrs. Billington's extraordinary
merits to raise her to a degree of consideration which had been rarely
attained by any singer in that beautiful Italian capital, prone as its
people are to indulge in exaggerated admiration of musical celebrities.
She sang for nearly two years at the San Carlo, and in 1796 we find her
at Bologna before French military audiences, whom Napoleon's Italian
victories had brought across the Alps. The conqueror confessed himself
vanquished by the lovely Billington, and made her the guest of himself
and Josephine, who admired the art no less than she dreaded the beauty
of a possible rival.

The English singer passed from city to city of Italy, everywhere
arousing the liveliest admiration. Her _début_ in Venice was to be in
"Semiramide," written expressly for her by Nasolini, a young composer of
great promise. Illness, however, confined her to her bed for six
months, in spite of which the impressario paid her salary in full. She
recovered, and showed her gratitude by singing without recompense during
the fair of the Ascension, when immense throngs flocked to Venice. The
_corps diplomatique_ presented her on the first night with a jeweled
necklace of immense value, as a testimonial of their esteem and pleasure
at her recovery.

A singular evidence of the superstition of the Neapolitans was shown on
her return to their city, which was then threatened by an eruption of
Vesuvius and a dreadful earthquake, the cause of considerable damage.
The populace believed that it was a visitation of God in punishment for
the permission granted to a heretic Englishwoman to sing at San Carlo.
Mrs. Billington's safety was for a time threatened, but her talents and
popularity at last triumphed, and she rose higher in public regard than
before. Her Neapolitan engagement was terminated very suddenly by the
death of her husband, as he was in the act one evening of cloaking her
prior to her stepping into her carriage to go to the theatre. A single
gasp and a convulsion, and Thomas Billington was dead at his wife's
feet. The consternation at this event was mixed with much scandal, and
many whispered that he had died from poison or the dagger. It was known
that the Neapolitan nobles had paid Mrs. Billington warm attention,
and hints of assassination were industriously circulated by those
gossip-mongers who are always in quest of a fresh social sensation. Mrs.
Billington, after remaining for some time in retirement, fled from a
scene which was fraught with painful memories, though there is no reason
to believe that she deeply lamented the loss of a husband whose only
attraction to this brilliant woman was the reflected light of her youth,
which invested him with the association of her first girlish love. At
all events, the widow succeeded in becoming desperately enamored
in Milan, a short six months after, with an officer of the French
commissariat, M. Felican. He was a remarkably handsome man, and his
strong siege of the lovely Billington soon caused her to surrender at
discretion. She declared "she was in love for the first time in her
life," and her marriage took place in 1799 without delay. Her raptures,
however, came to a swift conclusion; for among M. Felican's favorite
methods of displaying marital devotion were beating her, and hurling
dishes or other convenient movables at her head when in the least
irritated. The novel character of her honeymoon soon became known to a
curious and possibly envious public, and the brutal Felican was publicly
flogged at the drum-head by order of General Serrurier, within two
months of her marriage, for whipping her so cruelly that she could not
appear in the opera of the evening.

The tenor, Braham, sang with Mrs. Billington at Milan during this
period, in the opera "Il Trionfo de Claria," by Nasolini, and an
amusing incident occurred in the rivalry of the two, each to surpass
the other in popular estimation. The applause which Braham received at
rehearsal enraged Felican, who intrigued till he persuaded the leader to
omit the grand aria for the tenor voice, in which Braham's powers were
advantageously displayed. This piece of spite and jealousy being noised
about, the public openly testified their displeasure, and the next day
it was announced by Gherardi, the manager, in the bills, that Braham's
scena should be performed; and on the second night of the opera it was
received with tumultuous applause. Braham, justly indignant, avenged
himself in an ingenious manner, but his wrath descended on an innocent
head. Mrs. Billington's embellishments were always elaborately studied,
and, when once fixed on, seldom changed. The angry tenor, knowing this,
caught her roulades, and on the first opportunity, his air coming first,
he coolly appropriated all her fioriture. Poor Mrs. Billington listened
in dismay at the wings. She could not improvise ornaments and graces;
and, when she came on, the unusual meagerness of her style astonished
the audience. She refused, in the next opera, to sing a duet with
Braham; but, as she was good-natured, she forgave him, and they always
remained excellent friends.

With that perverse devotion which characterizes the love of so many
women, Mrs. Billington clung to her brutal husband in spite of his
cruelty and callousness, and she did not separate from him till she
feared for her life. Many times he threatened to kill her, and extorted
from her by fear all the valuable jewels in her possession, as well
as the larger share of the money received from professional exertion.
Despairing at last of any change, she fled with great secrecy to
England, where she arrived in 1801, after an absence of seven years,
during which time her name had become one of the most popular in Europe.
There was instantly a battle between Harris and Sheridan, the rival
managers, as to which should secure this peerless attraction. She
finally signed a contract with her old friend Harris, for three thousand
guineas the season from October to April, and the guarantee of a free
benefit of five hundred guineas. It was likewise arranged that she
should sing for Sheridan at similar terms on alternate nights, as there
was a bitter dispute between the managers over the priority of the offer
accepted by the prima donna. Her reappearance before an English audience
was made in Dr. Arne's "Artaxerxes," which the critics of the day
praised as possessing "the beautiful melody of Hasse, the mellifluous
richness of Pergolese, the easy flow of Piccini, and the finished
cantabile of Sacchini, with his own true and native simplicity." It is
not only the criticism of to-day which has concealed the real form and
quality of works of merely temporary interest under flowery phrases,
that mean nothing.

It was speedily observed how greatly Mrs. Billington's style had
improved in her absence. Lord Mount Edgcumbe says she resembled Mara so
much that the same observations would apply to both equally well. "Both
were excellent musicians, thoroughly skilled in their profession; both
had voices of uncommon sweetness and agility, particularly suited to the
bravura style, and executed to perfection and with good taste everything
they sang. But neither was Italian, and consequently both were deficient
in recitative. Neither had much feeling, both were deficient in
theatrical talents, and they were absolutely null as actresses;
therefore they were more calculated to give pleasure in the concert-room
than on the stage." It was noticed that her pronunciation of the English
language was not quite free from impurities, arising principally from
the introduction of vowels before consonants, a habit probably acquired
from the Italian custom. "Her whole style of elocution," observes one
writer, "may be described as sweet and persuasive rather than powerful
and commanding. It naturally assumed the character of her mind and
voice." She was considered the most accomplished singer that had ever
been born in England.

Mrs. Billington displayed her talents in a variety of operatic
characters, which taxed her versatility, but did not prove beyond her
powers. Both English and Italian operas, serious and comic _rôles_,
seemed entirely within her scope; and those who admired her as _Mandane_
were not less fascinated by her _Rosetta_, when Ineledon shared the
honors of the evening with herself. In spite of Lord Mount Edgcumbe's
somewhat severe judgment as given above, she appears to have pleased by
her acting as well as singing, if we can judge from the wide diversity
of characters in which she appeared so successfully. We are justified in
this, especially from the character of the English opera, of which Mrs.
Billington was so brilliant an exponent; for this was rather musical
drama than opera, and made strong demands on histrionic faculty.
As _Rosetta_, in "Love in a Village," a performance in which Mrs.
Billington was peculiarly charming, she drew such throngs that the price
of admission was raised for the nights on which it was offered. The
witticism of Jekyl, the great barrister, made the town laugh on one of
these occasions. Being present with a country friend in the pit, the
latter asked him, as Mrs. Billington appeared in the garden-scene, "Is
that Rosetta?" The singer's portly form, which had increased largely in
bulk during her Italian absence, made the answer peculiarly appropriate:
"No, sir, it is not Rosetta, it is Grand Cairo."

Life was running smoothly for Mrs. Billington; never had her popularity
reached so high a pitch; never had Fortune favored her with such lavish
returns for her professional abilities. One night she was horrified with
fear and disgust on returning home to see her brutal husband, Felican,
lolling on the sofa. He had been heart-broken at separation from his
beloved wife, and could endure it no longer. It was only left for her
to bribe him to depart with a large sum of money, which she fortunately
could afford. "I never," says Kelly, "saw a woman so much in awe of a
man as poor Mrs. Billington was of him whom she had married for love."
On the 3d of July, 1802, she sang with Mme. Mara at the farewell benefit
of that distinguished singer. Both rose to the utmost pitch of their
skill, and, in their attempts to surpass each other, the theatre rang
with thunders of applause. In our sketches of some of Mrs. Billington's
rivals and contemporaries, Mme. Mara demands precedence.


Frederick the Great loved war and music with equal fervor, and possessed
talents for the one little inferior to his genius for the other. He
played with remarkable skill on the flute, of which instrument he
possessed a large collection, and composed original music with both
science and facility. This royal connoisseur carried his despotism into
his love of art, and ruled with an iron hand over those who catered
for the amusement of himself and the good people of Berlin. Though the
creator of that policy which, in the hands of Bismarck and the modern
German nationalists, has wrought such wonderful results, and which has
extended itself even to matters of aesthetic culture as a gospel of
patriotic bigotry, the great Fritz thoroughly despised everything German
except in matters of state, and was completely wedded to the literature
of France and the art of Italy. When the talents of a young German
vocalist, Mlle. Schmäling, were recommended to him, it was enough for
him to hear the report, "She sings like a German," to make him sniff
with disdain. "A German singer!" he said; "I should as soon expect to
get pleasure from the neighing of my horse." Curiosity, however, at last
so far overcame prejudice as to make him send for Mlle. Schmäling, who
was enthusiastically praised by many of those whose opinions the King
could not ignore, to come to Potsdam and sing for him. Her pride, which
was high, had been wounded by the royal criticism, and she carried
herself with as much _hauteur_ as could go with respect. The King
regarded her with a cool stare, without any gesture of salutation, and
Mile. Schmäling amused herself with looking at the pictures. "So you
are going to sing me something?" at last said royalty with military

The figure of the Prussian King as he sat by the piano was anything but
prepossessing. A little, crabbed, spare old man, attired with Spartan
simplicity, in a faded blue coat, whose red facings were smudged brown
with the Spanish snuff he so liberally took; thin lips, prominent jaws,
receding forehead, and eyes of supernatural keenness glaring from under
shaggy brows; a battered cocked hat, and a thick cane, which he used as
a whip to belabor his horse, his courtiers, or his soldiers as occasion
needed, on the table before him--all these made a grim picture.

Mlle. Schmäling answered his curt words with "As your Majesty pleases,"
and instantly sat down at the piano. As she sang, Frederick's face
relaxed, and taking a huge pinch of snuff, he said, "Ha! can you sing
at sight?" (then an extraordinary accomplishment). Picking out the
most difficult bravura in his collection, he bade her try it, with the
remark, "This, to be sure, is but poor stuff, but when well executed
sounds pretty enough." The result of the royal examination convinced the
King that Mlle. Schmäling had not only a magnificent voice, but was a
thorough artist. So the daughter of the poor musician of Cassel, after
many years of hard struggle and ill success (for she had sung in almost
every German capital), was made Frederick's chief court singer at the
age of twenty-two, and the road to fortune was fairly open to her. At
the age of four years she had showed such aptitude for music that she
quickly learned the violin, though her baby fingers could hardly span
the strings. She always retained her predilection for this instrument,
and maintained that it was the best guide in learning to sing. "For,"
said she, "how can you best convey a just notion of slight vibrations in
the pitch of a note? By a fixed instrument? No! By the voice? No! But,
by sliding the finger on the string, you instantly make the most minute
variation visibly as well as audibly perceptible." She owed her success
entirely to the charm of her art.

Elizabeth Schmäling's personal appearance was far from striking. She
was by no means handsome, being short and insignificant, with a rather
agreeable, good-natured countenance, the leading feature of which
was--terrible defect in a singer--a set of irregular teeth, which
projected, in defiance of order, out of their proper places. Her manner,
however, was prepossessing, though she was an indifferent actress.
But her voice atoned for everything: its compass was from G to E in
altissimo, which she ran with the greatest ease and force, the tones
being at once powerful and sweet. Both her _portamento di voce_ and
her volubility were declared to be unrivaled. It was remarked that she
seemed to take difficult music from choice, and she could sing fluently
at sight--rather a rare accomplishment among vocalists of that day.
Nothing taxed her powers. Her execution was easy and neat; her shake was
true, open, and liquid; and though she preferred brilliant, effective
pieces, her refined taste was well known. "Her voice, clear, sweet,
and distinct, was sufficiently powerful," remarked Lord Mount Edgcumbe
afterward, "though rather thin, and its agility and flexibility rendered
her a most excellent bravura singer, in which style she was unrivaled."
"Mara's divisions," observes another critic, "always seemed to convey
a meaning; they were vocal, not instrumental; they had light and shade,
and variety of tone."

Frederick was highly pleased with his musical acquisition, but a
more potent monarch than himself soon appeared to disturb his royal
complacency. Mlle. Schmäling, placed in a new position of ease and
luxury, found time to indulge her natural bent as a woman, and fell in
love with a handsome violoncellist, Jean Mara, who was in the service of
the King's brother. Mara was a showy, shallow, selfish man, and pushed
his suit with vigor, for success meant fortune and a life of luxurious
ease. The King forbade the match, so the enamored couple eloped, and,
being arrested by the King's guards, they were punished by Fritz with
solitary confinement for disobedience. At last the King relented, and
sanctioned the marriage which he suspected opposition would only delay,
probably fully aware that the lady would soon repent her infatuation.
Jean Mara did all in his power to effect this result, for the honeymoon
had hardly ended before he began to beat his bride at small provocation
with all the energy of a sturdy arm. Poor Mme. Mara had a hard life of
it thenceforward, but she never ceased to love Mara to the last;
and many years afterward, when a friend was severely reprobating his
brutality, she said, with a sigh of loving regret, "Ah! but you must
confess he was the handsomest man you ever saw."

The King frequently interposed to punish Mara for his harshness. On one
occasion he gave him a public caning and on another he sent him to a
field regiment, noted for the rigid severity of its discipline, to be
enrolled as a drummer for three months, accompanying the order with the
_mot_, "His propensity for beating shall have the fullest exercise
on the drum." A ludicrous sentence of the royal despot was that which
consigned him to the tender mercies of the body-guard, with strict
orders for his correction. No particular mode of punishment was
prescribed, so each soldier inflicted such chastisement as he considered
most fitting. They began by rigging him out in an old uniform and a
large pair of whiskers, loading him with the heaviest firelock they
could find, and forced him to go through the manual exercise for two
hours, accompanying their drill with the usual discipline of the cane.
They then made him dance and sing for two hours longer, and ended this
persecution by compelling the surgeon to take from him a large quantity
of blood. In a miserable condition they restored him to his disconsolate
wife, who had been essaying all her arts to persuade the officer of the
guard to mitigate the poor wretch's punishment.

The King's method of carrying on the opera was characteristic.
Performances were free, and commenced precisely at 6 p.m., when, prompt
to the minute, the King appeared and took his seat just behind the
conductor, where he could see the score, and notice every mistake,
either instrumental or vocal. A royal caning often repaid any unlucky
artist who made a blunder, much to the gratification of the audience.
Such a patron as this, however generous, could not be considered highly
desirable; and Mme. Mara, whose reputation had become world-wide, longed
more and more to accept some of the brilliant offers which came to
her from the great capitals of Europe. But Frederick would not let
his favorite prima donna go, and the royal passport was necessary for
getting beyond the limits of the kingdom. An example of Frederick's
method of dealing with his subjects and servants is found in the
following incident: The Grand Duke Paul of Russia was visiting Berlin,
and on a gala night a grand performance of opera was to be given. Mme.
Mara had sent an excuse that she was sick, but a laconic notice from her
royal patron insisted that she was to get well and sing her best. So the
prima donna took to her bed and grew worse and worse. Two hours before
the opera commenced, a carriage escorted by eight soldiers drew up
in front of the house, and the captain of the guard, unceremoniously
entering her room, intimated that she must go to the theatre dead or

"You can not take me," she said with tears of rage; "you see I am in

"That's of little consequence," was the imperturbable response; "we'll
take you bed and all."

Madame's eyes flashed fire, and she stormed with fury; but the obdurate
captain could not be moved, and, to avoid the disgrace of being taken by
force, she accepted an armistice. "I will go to the theatre," she said,
mentally resolving to sing as badly as, with a magnificent voice and
irreproachable taste, she could possibly manage. Resolutely she kept to
this idea till the curtain was about to descend on the first act, when a
thought suddenly seized her. Might she not be ruining herself in giving
the Grand Duke of Russia a bad opinion of her powers? In a bravura she
burst forth with all her power, distinguishing herself especially by a
marvelous shake, which she executed with such wonderful art as to call
down thunders of applause.

At last the Maras succeeded in effecting their escape by stratagem.
In passing through one city they were stopped by an officer of _gens
d'armes_, who demanded the requisite papers. Faltering with dread, yet
with quick self-possession, Mme. Mara handed him a letter in the royal
handwriting. The signature was enough, and the officer did not stop to
read the body of the letter, but turned out the guard to honor travelers
possessing such signal proofs of the King's favor. They had just
gained the gates of Dresden when they found that the Prussian _chargé
d'affaires_ resided in the city. "No one can conceive my agitation and
alarm," said Mme. Mara, "when, in one of the first streets we entered,
we encountered the said _charge d'affaires_, who rode directly up to
us. He had been apprised of our arrival, and the chaise was instantly
stopped. As to what took place between him and my good man, and how the
latter contrived to get out of the scrape, I was totally unconscious.
I had fallen into a swoon, from which I did not recover till we had
reached our inn." At length they reached the confines of Bohemia, and,
for the first time, supped in freedom and security.

The Austrian Empress, Maria Theresa, would have found enough motive
in patronizing Mara in the fact that her great Prussian rival had
persecuted her; but love of art was a further inducement which drew out
her kindliest feelings. The singer remained at the Viennese court
for two years, and left it for Paris, with autograph letters to the
ill-fated Marie Antoinette. She was most cordially welcomed both by
court and public, and soon became such a rival to the distinguished
Portuguese prima donna, Todi, then in the zenith of her fame, that the
devotees of music divided themselves into fierce factions respectively
named after the rival queens of song. Mara was honored with the title of
_première cantatrice de la reine_, and left Paris with regret, to begin
her English career under singularly favorable auspices, as she was
invited to share a partnership with Linley and Dr. Arnold for the
production of oratorios at Drury Lane.

She was fortunate in making her first appearance in the grand Handel
commemoration at Westminster Abbey, given under the patronage of George
III., who loved the memory of the great composer. Even in this day of
magnificent musical festivals, that Westminster assemblage of musicians
would have been a remarkable occasion. The following is an account of it
from a contemporary source: "The orchestra was led by the Cramers; the
conductors were Joah Bates, Dr. Arnold, and Dupuis. The band consisted
of several hundreds of performers. The singers were, in addition to
Mine. Mara, Signora Storace, Miss Abrams, Miss Poole (afterward Mrs.
Dickons), Rubinelli, Harrison, Bartleman, Sale, Parry, Nor-ris, Kelly,
etc.; and the chorus, collected from all parts of the kingdom, amounted
to hundreds of voices. The Abbey was arranged for the accommodation
of the public in a superb and commodious manner, and the tickets of
admission were one guinea each. The first performance took place on
May 20, 1784; and such was the anxiety to be in time, that ladies and
gentlemen had their hair dressed over night, and slept in arm-chairs.
The weather being very fine, eager crowds presented themselves at the
several doors of the Abbey at nine o'clock, although the door-keepers
were not at their posts, and the orchestra was not finished. At ten
o'clock the scene became almost terrifying to the visitors, who, being
in full dress, were every moment more incommoded and alarmed by the
violence of the crowds pressing forward to get near the doors. Several
of the ladies screamed; others fainted; and the general dismay increased
to such an extent that fatal consequences were anticipated. Some of the
more irascible among the gentlemen threatened to burst open the doors;
'a measure,' says Dr. Burney, 'which, if adopted, would probably have
cost many of the more feeble and helpless their lives, as they must,
in falling, have been thrown down and trampled on by the robust and
impatient part of the crowd.' However, except that some went in with
'disheveled hair and torn garments,' no real mischief seems to have been
done. The spectacle was gorgeous. The King, Queen, and all the royal
family, were ushered to a superb box, opposite the orchestra, by the
directors, wearing full court suits, the medal of Handel struck for the
occasion, suspended by white-satin rosettes to their breasts, and having
white wands in their hands. The body of the cathedral, the galleries,
and every corner were crowded with beauty, rank, and fashion, listening
with almost devout silence to the grand creations of the great composer,
not the faintest token of applause disturbing the impressive ceremony."

The splendid and solemn tones of Mara's voice enraptured every heart,
and her style was the theme of universal admiration. A few, however,
resisted the charm of her singing. Miss Seward was breakfasting one
morning with Mr. Joah Bates, one of the conductors, and delicately
flattered his wife's singing of the Handelian music by saying that Mara
put too much gold and fringe upon that solemn robe of melody, "I know
that my Redeemer liveth." "Do not say gold, ma-dame," answered the tart
musician; "it was despicable tinsel."

At one of these Westminster Abbey performances a striking coincidence
occurred. The morning had been threatening a storm; but instantly the
grand chorus "Let there be light, and light was over all" commenced, the
sun burst forth and gilded every dark nook of the solemn old Abbey with
a flood of splendor. On another occasion, while a chorus descriptive of
a storm was being sung, a hurricane burst over the Abbey, and the fierce
rattling of hailstones, accompanied by peals of thunder, kept time to
the grand music of Handel. During the performance of the chorus "The
Lord God Omnipotent Reigneth," the audience was so moved that King,
Queen, royal family, and all present, rose by a common impulse to their
feet--a practice which has been preserved in English audiences to this
day during the singing of this mightiest of all musical choruses. Mme.
Mara gave great offense by remaining seated.

Shortly afterward she sang at a musical festival of Oxford University,
whither the report of her supposed bad temper and intractability had
preceded her. The gownsmen were as riotous then as now; and as one or
two things happened to irritate their lively temper, a row soon became
imminent. Mara got angry and flung a book at the head of one of the
orchestra, when Dr. Chapman, the Vice-Chancellor, arose and said that
Mme. Mara had conducted herself too ill to be allowed to sing before
such an audience. Instantly a wicked wag cried out, "A riot, by
permission of the Vice-Chancellor!" A scene of the utmost confusion
ensued, and the agitated cantatrice quitted the theatre, amid hisses and
yells, in high dudgeon. A deputation of gentlemen waited upon her, and
promised that she should do exactly as she pleased if she would only
return. She did return, and sang the airs allotted to her, but remained
seated as usual while the choruses were being sung. A cry arose of "Turn
Mara out!" Not comprehending, she smiled, which provoked the audience
still more; upon which the Vice-Chancellor said that it was always the
rule for every vocalist to join in the choruses. Miss George, one of the
singers, explained this to the prima donna, who, staring in bewilderment
and vexation, exclaimed, "Oh! me does not know his rules; me vill go
home"; which resolution she immediately carried into effect.

This great singer's numerous quarrels and controversies in England were
very amusing. Yet, in spite of the personal bitterness growing out of
her own irritable temper and professional rivalry, she remained a great
artistic favorite with the public. Underneath the asperity and obstinacy
of her character there was a vein of deep tenderness and generosity,
which she showed in various cases, especially in forwarding the
interests of struggling artists. Michael Kelly, the Irish composer, in
his "Reminiscences," gives the following instance. He himself, then a
young man, had aroused Mara's dislike by some inadvertent praise of
a rival. Watching his opportunity, he brought into the greenroom
one night, when she came off the stage fatigued and panting with her
efforts, a pot of foaming porter, which she drank with a sigh of deepest
pleasure. Touched by the young Irishman's thoughtfulness, she pledged
herself to help him whenever the opportunity came, and soon after sang
at his benefit. Mara had resolved not to sing again on the lyric stage,
and her condescension was a godsend to Kelly, who was then very much out
at elbows. Speaking of her proffer, he says: "I was thunderstruck at her
kindness and liberality, and thankfully accepted. She fixed on _Mandane_
in 'Artaxerxes,' and brought the greatest receipts ever known at that
house, as the whole pit, with the exception of two benches, was railed
into boxes. So much," he adds sententiously, "for a little German
proficiency, a little common civility, and a pot of porter."


Mme. Mara made such a brilliant hit in opera that the public clamor
for her continuance on the stage overcame her old resolutions. The
opera-house was reopened, and Sir John Gallini, with this popular
favorite at the head of his enterprise, had a most prosperous season.
Both as a lyric cantatrice and as the matchless singer of oratorio, she
was the delight of the public for two years. In 1788 she went to Turin
to sing at the Carnival, where it was the custom to open the gala season
with a fresh artist, who supplied the place of the departing vocalist,
whether a soprano or tenor. Her predecessor, a tenor, was piqued at his
dismissal, and tried to prejudice the public against her by representing
her as alike-ugly in person and faulty in art. Mara's shrewdness of
resource turned the tables on the Italian. On her first appearance her
manner was purposely full of _gaucherie_, her costume badly considered
and all awry, her singing careless and out of time. The maligner was
triumphant, and said to all, "Didn't I say so? See how ugly she is; and
as for singing--did you ever hear such a vile jargon of sounds?" On the
second night Mara appeared most charmingly dressed, and she sang like
an angel--a surprise to the audience which drove the excitable Italians
into the most passionate uproar of applause and delight. Mara was
crowned on the stage, and was received by the King and Queen with the
heartiest kindness and a profusion of costly gifts. A similar reception
at Venice tempted her to prolong her Italian tour, but she preferred to
return to London, where she sang under Wyatt at the Pantheon, which
was transformed into a temporary opera-house. She now sang with
Pacchierotti, the successor of Farinelli and Caffarelli, and the last
inheritor of their grand large style. "His duettos with Mara were
the most perfect pieces of execution I ever heard," said Lord Mount
Edgcumbe. One of the most pathetic experiences of Mara's life was her
passage through Paris in 1792 on her way to Germany, when she saw her
former patroness Marie Antoinette, whom she remembered in all the glory
of her youth, popularity, and loveliness, seated in an open chariot,
pale, wan, and grief-stricken, surrounded by a guard of troopers with
drawn swords and hooted at by a mob of howling _sans-culottes_. Better
far to be a mimic queen than to be hurled from the most radiant and
splendid place in European royalty, to be the scorn and plaything of the
ragged ruffians of Paris, and to finish with the guillotine in the Place
de la Grève! About this time she was freed from the _bête noire_ of her
life, her drunken worthless husband, who agreed to trouble her no more
if she would settle an annuity on him. Thenceforward they never met,
though she always spoke of him with affection.

Harris, of the Theatre Royal of Dublin, engaged Mara to sing in English
opera in 1797. Despite the fact that her English was so faulty, that her
person was unprepossessing, and that the part was associated with
some of the most beautiful and accomplished singers on the stage, her
performance of _Polly Peachum_ in the "Beggars' Opera" was a masterpiece
of delicious simplicity and archness. The perfection of her art
vanquished all obstacles, and she was acknowledged the equal of Mrs.
Crouch, and even of the resplendent Billington, in the part. Dr. Arnold
records that, in spite of the dancing and violent action of the _rôle_,
her tones were as free, smooth, and perfect as if she had been standing
in the orchestra. Mrs. Billington, who was just to her professional
rivals, said she regarded Mara's execution as superior to her own in
genuine effect, though not in compass and complication. If the rapid
vocalization of a singer was praised, Mara would significantly ask, "Can
she sing six plain notes?"

As time passed, Mme. Mara's voice began to decline, and in 1802 she
took advantage of an annoying controversy to bid farewell to the English
public; for the artist who could sing solemn music with such thrilling
effect had the temper of a shrew, though it was easily placated. Mrs.
Billington generously offered her services to assist at her farewell
concert; and Mara, bursting into tears, threw her arms about the neck
of the greatest of her professional rivals. She did not sing again in
England till 1820. Speaking of this event, Kelly says, "It was truly
grievous to see such transcendent talents as she once possessed so sunk,
so fallen. I used every effort in my power to prevent her committing
herself, but in vain."

"When the incomparable Mme. Mara took leave of me on her return to the
Continent," says Dr. Kitchener, "I could not help expressing my regret
that she had not taken my advice to publish those songs of Handel (her
matchless performance of which gained her that undisputed preeminence
which she enjoyed), with the embellishments, etc., with which she
enriched them. This inimitable singer replied, 'Indeed, my good friend,
you attribute my success to a very different source than the real one.
It was not what I did, but the manner in which I did it. I could sing
six simple notes and produce every effect I could wish; another singer
may sing those very same notes with very different effect. I am sure
it was to my expression of the words that I owe everything. People have
often said to me, "Madame Mara, why do you not introduce more pretty
things, and passages, and graces in your singing?" I say, "These pretty
things are very pretty, to be sure, but the proper expression of the
words and the music is a great deal better."' This and her extraordinary
industry were the secrets of her undisputed sovereignty. She told me
that when she was encored in a song, which she very often was, on her
return home she seldom retired to rest without first inventing a new
cadence for the next performance of it. Here is an example for young

Mme. Mara continued to sing for many years in different cities of
Europe, though the recollections and traditions of her marvelous prime
were more attractive than the then active powers of her voice. But her
consummate art never deserted her, in spite of the fact that her voice
became more and more a wreck. She appeared in public occasionally till
her seventy-second year, when she retired to Cassel, her birthplace,
where she died in 1833, at the age of eighty.


Another of Mrs. Billington's most brilliant rivals and contemporaries
was the lovely Giuseppa Grassini, a wayward, indolent, fascinating
beauty, who had taken France and Italy by storm before she attempted to
subdue the more obdurate and phlegmatic Britons. The daughter of a
small farmer in Lombardy, the charm of her voice and appearance induced
General Belgioso to pay the cost of her musical training, and at the age
of nineteen she sprang into popularity at a bound with her _début_ at La
Scala in 1794. In spite of the fact that she was associated with two of
the greatest Italian singers of the time--Crescentini, one of the last
of the male sopranos, and Marchesi--she became the cynosure of public
admiration. She was surrounded by homage and flattery sufficient to have
turned a more sedate temperament and wiser head than her own, and her
name became mixed with some of the most piquant scandals of the period.

In spite of ignorance, indolence, and a caprice which she never
attempted to control, Grassini was an exquisite artist; and, though dull
and shallow intellectually in all matters apart from her profession, she
was a most beautiful and fascinating woman. She mastered all the graces
of her art, but could never give an intelligent reason for what she did.
Her voice, originally a soprano, became under training a contralto
of delicious quality, as well as of great volume and power, though not
remarkable for extent. She excelled in the _cantabile_ style, and rarely
attempted ornament, though what she did was always in perfect taste
and proportion. Her dramatic instincts were remarkable, and as an
interpreter of both heroic and the softer passions she speedily acquired
a European reputation. Her figure was tall and commanding, her head
noble, her hair and eyes of the deepest black, and her whole appearance
a singular union of grace and majesty.

After the battle of Marengo, the presence of the youthful conqueror
of Italy at Milan inspired that capital with a spasm of extraordinary
gayety. The finest singers in Italy gathered to do honor to the rising
sun of Napoleon's greatness. The French general was fascinated by
the irresistible attractions of the prima donna, and asked for an
introduction. Grassini's coquetry did not let the occasion slip. Las
Cases has given a sketch of the interview, in which he tells us she
reminded Napoleon that she "had made her _début_ precisely during the
early achievements of the General of the Army of Italy." "I was then,"
said she, "in the full luster of my beauty and talent. I fascinated
every eye and inflamed every heart. The young general alone was
insensible to my charms, and yet he alone was the object of my wishes.
What caprice--what singularity! When I possessed some value, when all
Italy was at my feet, and I heroically disdained its admiration for
one glance from you, I was unable to obtain it; and now, how strange
an alteration! You condescend to notice me now when I am not worth
the trouble, and am no longer worthy of you." Las Cases has not proved
himself the most veracious of chroniclers in more important matters, and
we may be permitted to doubt the truth of this speech as coming from the
mouth of a woman extraordinarily beautiful and not less vain. But at all
events Grassini accompanied the French general to Paris, ambitious to
play the _rôle_ of Cleopatra to this modern Cæsar. Josephine's
jealousy and dislike proved an obstacle difficult to meet, and this, in
connection with the fact that the French opera did not prove suited to
her style, made her first residence in Paris a short one, in spite of
the brilliant success of her concerts. One of these was the crowning
feature of the grand _fête_ given at the Invalides Church in honor of
the battle of Marengo; and as Grassini sang before the bronzed veterans
of the Italian campaign she seemed inspired. Circumstances, however,
obliged her to leave France, laden with magnificent presents from

In November, 1801, the Italian prima donna was in Berlin, where she
announced concerts which seem never to have taken place. In 1802 she
returned to France, and Napoleon made her directress of the Opera in
1804. At first Josephine had permitted her to appear at her private
concerts at the Tuileries, but she did not detest the beautiful singer
less cordially than heretofore. It was whispered that the cantatrice
did in reality seek to attract the attention of Napoleon, and that she
turned her eyes fixedly toward the throne of the Dictator.

"I hear, madame, that our Grassini is a favorite with the great
Napoleon," said Count Sommaglia to Josephine one morning. "Yes,"
answered the irate wife of the First Consul, hardly-able to disguise her
spite, "the ridiculous vanity of the creature amuses us amazingly.
Since she has been made directress of the Italian Opera, there is more
intriguing going on among these gentry than there is with the diplomats:
in the midst of a serious conversation, she will break out into a
horse-laugh, throw herself on a sofa, and, fancying herself Semiramis on
the throne of Nineveh, burst forth in a great style with 'Son Regina,
e son amata!'" ("I am a queen, and I am beloved!") "One day," says
Fouché, "Bonaparte observed that, considering my acknowledged ability,
he was astonished I did not perform my functions better--that there
were several things of which I was ignorant. 'Yes,' replied I, 'there
certainly are things of which I was ignorant, but which I now know
well enough. For instance, a little man, muffled in a gray cloak, and
accompanied by a single servant, often steals out on a dark evening from
a secret door of the Tuileries, enters a closed carriage, and drives off
to Signora G------. This little man is yourself, and yet this fanciful
songstress jilts you continually for Rode the fiddler.' The Consul
answered not a word; he turned his back, rang, and immediately

In 1804 Grassini was engaged to sing in London alternately with Mrs.
Billington. At her first benefit she sang in conjunction with the
English _diva_ in Winter's new opera, "Il Ratto di Proserpina,"
Billington as _Ceres_, and Grassini as _Proserpina_. The respective
voices of the two singers were admirably fitted for the music of the
_rôles_, each exquisite of its sort and inspired by the ambition of
rivalry. The deep tones of the one combined with the bird-like notes of
the other to produce a most thrilling effect. Lord Mount Edgcumbe, who
had a prejudice for _bravura_ singing, said: "No doubt the deaf would
have been charmed with Grassini, but the blind must have been delighted
with Mrs. Billington": a malicious comment on the Italian singer, which
this distinguished amateur, when in a less cynical mood, revoked by
cordial admiration of Grassini's remarkable gifts both as vocalist and
actress. Many interesting anecdotes are told of this singer while in
London, one of which, related by Kelly, then stage-manager, illustrates
the difficulties of operatic management. Mrs. Billington was too sick
to sing on one of her own nights, and Grassini was implored to take her
place. But she obstinately refused to make the change, until the cunning
Irishman resorted to a trick. He called on her in the morning, and began
talking carelessly on the subject. "My dear Grassini," said he, in an
off-hand way, "as manager I ought to prevail upon you to perform; but as
a performer myself, I enter entirely into your feelings, and think you
perfectly right not to sing out of your turn. The Saturday is yours; but
what I say to you I trust you will not repeat to Mr. Goold, as it might
be of serious injury to me." "Depend upon it, my dear Kelly," answered
Grassini, "I will not; I look upon you, by what you have just said, to
be my sincere friend." As he was leaving the room, he turned, as with
a sudden thought. "To be sure, it is rather unlucky you do not sing
to-night, for this morning a message came from the Lord Chamberlain's
office to announce the Queen's intention to come _incognita_,
accompanied by the princesses, purposely to see you perform; and a large
_grillée_ is actually ordered to be prepared for them, where they can
perfectly see and hear without being seen by the audience; but I'll step
myself to the Lord Chamberlain's office, say that you are confined to
your bed, and express your mortification at disappointing the royal
party." "Stop, Kelly," cried the cantatrice, all in a flutter; "what you
now say alters the case. If her Majesty Queen Charlotte wishes to see
'La Vergine del Sole,' and to hear me, I am bound to obey her Majesty's
commands. Go to Goold and say I _will_ sing." "When I went into her
dressing-room after the first act," says Kelly, "her Majesty not having
arrived, Grassini, suspicious that I had made up a trick to cajole her,
taxed me with it; and when I confessed, she took it good-naturedly and
laughed at her own credulity." The popularity of Grassini in London
remained unabated during several seasons; and when she reengaged for
the French opera, in 1808, it was to the great regret of musical London.
Talma was a warm admirer of her dramatic genius, and he used to say that
no other actress, not even Mars, Darval, or Duchesnois, possessed so
expressive and mutable a face. The Grecian outline of her face, her
beautiful forehead, rich black hair and eyebrows, superb dark eyes, "now
flashing with tragedy's fiery passions, then softly languishing with
love," and finally "that astonishing _ensemble_ of perfections which
Nature had collected in her as if to review all her gifts in one
woman--all these qualities together exercised on the spectator such
a charm as none could resist. Pasta herself might have looked on and
learned, when Grassini had to portray either indignation, grief, anger,
or despair."

Her performance in "Romeo e Giulietta" was so fine that Napoleon
sprang to his feet, forgetting his marble coldness, and shouted like a
school-boy, while Talma's eyes streamed with tears; for, as the latter
afterward confessed, he had never before been so deeply touched.
Napoleon sent her a check for twenty thousand francs as a testimonial of
his admiration, and to Crescentini he sent the order of the Iron Cross.
Many years after, in St. Helena, the dethroned Cæsar alluded to this as
an illustration of his policy. "In conformity with my system," observed
he, "of amalgamating all kinds of merit, and of rendering one and the
same reward universal, I had an idea of presenting the Cross of
the Legion of Honor to Talma; but I refrained from doing this, in
consideration of our capricious manners and absurd prejudices. I
wished to make a first experiment in an affair that was out of date and
unimportant, and I accordingly gave the Iron Crown to Crescentini.
The decoration was foreign, and so was the individual on whom it was
conferred. This circumstance was less likely to attract public notice or
to render my conduct the subject of discussion; at worst, it could only
give rise to a few malicious jokes. Such," continued the Emperor, "is
the influence of public opinion. I distributed scepters at will, and
thousands readily bowed beneath their sway; and yet I could not give
away a ribbon without the chance of incurring disapprobation, for I
believe my experiment with regard to Crescentini proved unsuccessful."
"It did, sire," observed some one present. "The circumstance occasioned
a great outcry in Paris; it drew forth a general anathema in all
the drawing-rooms of the metropolis, and afforded full scope for the
expression of malignant feeling. However, at one of the evening parties
of the Faubourg St. Germain, a _bon mot_ had the effect of completely
stemming the current of indignation. A pompous orator was holding
forth in an eloquent strain on the subject of the honor that had been
conferred on Crescentini. He declared it to be a disgrace, a horror, a
perfect profanation, and inquired by what right Crescentini was entitled
to such a distinction. Mme. Grassini, who was present, rose majestically
from her chair, with a theatrical tone and gesture exclaiming, 'Et sa
blessure, monsieur?' This produced a general burst of laughter, amid
which Grassini sat down, embarrassed by her own success."

Mme. Grassini remained on the stage till about 1823 when, having lost
the beauty of her voice, she retired to private life with a comfortable
fortune, spending her last years in Paris. She died in 1850, in her
eighty-fifth year, preserving her beauty and freshness in a marvelous
degree. The effect of Grassini's singing on people of refined taste was
even greater than the impression made on regular musicians. Thomas De
Quincey speaks of her in his "Autobiographical Sketches" as having a
voice delightful beyond all that he had ever heard. Sir Charles Bell
thought it was "only Grassini who conveyed the idea of the united power
of music and action. She did not act only without being ridiculous, but
with an effect equal to Mrs. Siddons. The 'O Dio' of Mrs. Billington was
a bar of music, but in the strange, almost unnatural voice of Grassini,
it went to the soul." Elsewhere he speaks of "her dignity, truth, and
affecting simplicity."


About the time of Mara's departure from England Mrs. Billington was
wonderfully popular. No fashionable concert was complete without her,
and the constant demand for her services enabled her to fix her own
price. Her income averaged fifteen thousand pounds a year, and at one
time she was reckoned as worth nearly one hundred thousand pounds. She
spent her large means with a judicious liberality, and the greatest
people in the land were glad to be her guests. She settled a liberal
annuity on her father. Having no children, she adopted two, one the
daughter of an old friend named Madocks, who afterward became her
principal legatee. Her hospitality crowded her house with the most
brilliant men in art, literature, and politics; and it was said that the
stranger who would see all the great people of the London world brought
together should get a card to one of Billington's receptions. Her
affability and kindness sometimes got her into scrapes. An eminent
barrister who was at her house one night gave her some advice on a
legal matter, and sent in a bill for services amounting to three hundred
pounds. Mrs. Billington paid it promptly, but the lawyer ceased to be
her guest. As a hostess she was said to have been irresistibly charming,
alike from her personal beauty and the witchery of her manners.

Her kindness and good nature in dealing with her sister artists Avere
proverbial. When Grassini, who at first was unpopular in England, was
in despair as to how she should make an impression, Mrs. Billington
proposed to sing with her in Winter's opera of "Il Ratto di Proserpina,"
from which time dated the success of the Italian singer. Toward Mara
she had exerted similar good will, ignoring all professional jealousies.
Miss Parke, a concert-singer, was once angry because Billington's name
was in bigger type. The latter ordered her name to be printed in the
smallest letters used; "and much Miss Parke gained by her corpulent
type," says the narrator. Lord Mount Edgcumbe tells us that the operas
in which she specially excelled were "La Clemenza di Scipione," composed
for her by John Christian Bach; Paesiello's "Elfrida"; "Armida,"
"Castore e Polluce," and others by Winter; and Mozart's "Clemenza di
Tito." For her farewell benefit, when she quitted the stage, March 30,
1806, she selected the last-named opera, which had never been given in
England, and existed only in manuscript form. The Prince of Wales had
the only copy, and she played through the whole score on the pianoforte
at rehearsal, to give the orchestra an idea of the music. The final
performance was immensely successful, and the departing _diva_ sang so
splendidly as to prove that it was not on account of failing powers that
she withdrew from professional life. It is true that Mrs. Billington
continued to appear frequently in concert for three years longer, but
her dramatic career was ended. A curious instance of woman's infatuation
was Mrs. Billington's longing to be reunited to her brutal husband; and
so in 1817 she invited him to join her in England. Felican was too
glad to gain fresh control over the victim of his conjugal tyranny, and
persuaded her to leave England for a permanent residence in Italy. Mrs.
Billington realized all her property, and with her jewels and plate,
of which she possessed a great quantity, departed for the land of song,
taking with her Miss Madocks. She paid a bitter penalty for her revived
tenderness toward Felican, for the ruffian subjected her to such
treatment that she died from the effects of it, August 25, 1818. In such
an ignoble fashion one of the most brilliant and beautiful women in the
history of song departed from this life.


The Girlhood of Catalani.--She makes her _Début_ in
Florence.--Description of her Marvelous Vocalism.--The Romance of Love
and Marriage.--Her Preference for the Concert Stage.--She meets Napoleon
in Paris.--Her Escape from France and Appearance in London.--Opinions
of Lord Mount Edgcumbe and other Critics.--Anecdotes of herself and
Husband.--The Great Prima Donna's Character.--Her Gradual Divergence
from Good Taste in singing.--_Bon Mots_ of the Wits of the Day.--The
Opera-house Riot.--Her Husband's Avarice.--Grand Concert Tour through
Europe.--She meets Goethe.--Her Return to England and Brilliant
Reception.--She sings with the Tenor Braham.--John Braham' s Artistic
Career.--The Davides.--Catalani's Last English Appearance, and the
Opinions of Critics.--Her Retirement and Death.

About the year 1790 the convent of Santa Lucia at Gubbio, in the duchy
of Urbino, was the subject of a queer kind of scandal. Complaint was
made to the bishop that one of the novices sang with such extraordinary
brilliancy and beauty of voice that throngs gathered to the chapel from
miles around, and that the religious services were transformed into a
sort of theatrical entertainment» so entranced were all hearers by the
charm of the singing, and so forgetful of the religious purport of these
occasions in the fascination of the music. His Reverence ordered the
lady abbess to abate the scandal; so the young Angelica Catalani was
no longer permitted to sing alone, but only in concert with the other
novices. Her voice at the age of twelve, when she began to sing, already
possessed a volume, compass, and sweetness which made her a phenomenon.
The young girl, who had been destined for conventual life, studied so
hard that she became ill, and her father, a magistrate of Sinigaglia,
was obliged to take her home. Signor Catalani was a man of bigoted
piety, and it was with great difficulty that he could be induced to
forego the plan which he had arranged for Angelica's future. The idea
of her going on the stage was repulsive to him, and only his straitened
circumstances wrung from him a reluctant consent that she should abandon
the thought of the convent and become a singer. From a teacher and
composer of some reputation the young girl received preliminary
instruction for two years, and from the hands of this master passed into
those of the celebrated Marchesi, who had succeeded Porpora as chief of
the teaching _maestri_. This virtuoso had himself been a distinguished
singer, and his finishing lessons placed Angelica in a position to
rank with the most brilliant vocalists of the age. It was somewhat
unfortunate that she did not learn under Marchesi, who taught her when
her voice was in the most plastic condition, to control that profuse
luxuriance of vocalization which was alike the greatest glory and
greatest defect in her art.

While studying, Angelica went to hear a celebrated cantatrice of the
day, and wept at the vanishing strains. "Alas!" she said with sorrowing
_naivete_. "I shall never be able to sing like that." The kind prima
donna heard the lamentation and asked her to sing; whereupon she said,
"Be reassured, my child; in a few years you will surpass me, and I
shall weep at your superiority." At the age of sixteen she succeeded in
getting an engagement at La Fenice in Venice to sing in Mayer's opera of
"Lodoiska" during the Carnival season. Carus, the director, accepted her
in despair at the very last moment on account of the sudden death of
his prima donna. What were his surprise and delight in finding that the
_debutante_ was the loveliest who had come forward for years, and
the possessor of an almost unparalleled voice. Of tall and majestic
presence, a dazzling complexion, large beautiful blue eyes, and features
of ideal symmetry, she was one to entrance the eye as well as the ear.
Her face was so flexible as to express each shade of feeling from grave
to gay with equal facility; and indeed all the personal characteristics
of this extraordinary woman were such as Nature could only have bestowed
in her most lavish mood. Her voice was a soprano of the purest quality,
embracing a compass of nearly three octaves, from G to F, and so
powerful that no band could overwhelm its tones, which thrilled through
every fiber of the hearer. Full, rich, and magnificent beyond any other
voice ever heard, "it bore no resemblance," said one writer, "to any
instrument, except we could imagine the tone of musical glasses to be
magnified in volume to the same gradation of power." She could ascend
at will--though she was ignorant of the rules of art--from the smallest
perceptible sound to the loudest and most magnificent crescendo, exactly
as she pleased. One of her favorite caprices of ornament was to imitate
the swell and fall of a bell, making her tones sweep through the air
with the most delicious undulation, and, using her voice at pleasure,
she would shower her graces in an absolutely wasteful profusion. Her
greatest defect was that, while the ear was bewildered with the beauty
and tremendous power of her voice, the feelings were untouched: she
never touched the heart. She could not, like Mara, thrill, nor, like
Billington, captivate her hearers by a birdlike softness and brilliancy;
she simply astonished. "She was a florid singer, and nothing but a
florid singer, whether grave or airy, in the church, orchestra, or
upon the stage." With a prodigious volume and richness of tone, and a
marvelous rapidity of vocalization, she could execute brilliantly the
most florid notation, leaving her audience in breathless amazement; but
her intonation was very uncertain. However, this did not trouble her

In the season of 1798 she sang at Leghorn with Crivelli, Marchesi, and
Mrs. Billington, and thence she made a triumphal tour through Italy.
From the first she had met with an unequaled success. Her full,
powerful, clear tones, her delivery so pure and true, her instinctive
execution of the most difficult music, carried all before her. Without
much art or method, that superb voice, capable by nature of all the
things which the most of even gifted singers are obliged to learn by
hard work and long experience, was sufficient for the most daring feats.
The Prince Regent of Portugal, attracted by her fame, engaged her, with
Crescentini and Mme. Gafforini, for the Italian opera at Lisbon, where
she arrived in the year 1804.

The romance of Catalani's life connects itself, not with those escapades
which furnish the most piquant tidbits for the gossip-monger, but with
her marriage, which occurred at Lisbon. Throughout her long career no
breath of scandal touched the character of this extraordinary artist.
Her private and domestic life was as exemplary as her public career was
dazzling. One night, as Angelica was singing on the stage, her eyes
met those of a handsome man in full French uniform, and especially
distinguished by the diamond aigrette in his cap, who sat in full sight
in one of the boxes. When she went off the stage she found the military
stranger in the greenroom, waiting for an introduction. This was M. de
Vallebrègue, captain in the Eighth Hussars and _attache_ of the
French embassy, who in after years received his highest recognition of
distinction as the husband of the chief of living singers. They were
both in the full flush of youth and beauty, and they fell passionately
in love with each other at first sight. When the lover asked Signor
Catalani's consent, the latter frowned on the scheme, for the golden
harvest was too rich to be yielded up lightly for the asking. He coldly
refused, and bade the suitor think of his love as hopeless, though
he found no objection to M. Vallebrègue personally. Poor Angelica
was thoroughly wretched, and day after day pined for her young
soldier-lover, who had been forbidden the house by the father. For
several days she was in such dejection that she could not sing, and
the romance became the talk of Lisbon. One day an anonymous letter
was received by Papa Catalani charging M. Vallebrègue with being a
proscribed man, who had committed some mysterious crime vaguely hinted
at. Armed with this, her father sought to reason Angelica out of
her passion; but she clung to her lover with more eagerness, and was
rewarded, to her great joy, by learning that the crime was only having
fought a duel with and severely wounded his superior officer--an offense
against discipline, which had been punished by temporary relief from
military duty and a pleasant exile to Lisbon. The young beauty
wept, sighed, pouted, and could be persuaded to sing only with much
difficulty. All day long she said with deep mournfulness, "_Ma che bel
uffiziale_" and pined with genuine heart-sickness. At last Vallebrègue
smuggled a letter to his discouraged mistress, in which he said in
ardent words that no one had a right to separate them, and urged her
to lend all her energies to her professional work, so that, being a
favorite at court, she might induce the Prince to intercede in the
matter. Angelica tried in vain to get an interview with the Prince, and
found that he was at his country villa twenty miles away. Her accustomed
energy was equal to the difficult. Calling a coach, she drove out to the
royal villa. Trembling with emotion and fatigue, she threw herself at
the feet of the good-natured Prince, whom she found in the garden, and
told her story as soon as her timidity could find words. He could hardly
resist the temptation to badinage which the lively Angelica had hitherto
been so ready to meet with brilliant repartee, but the anxious girl
could only weep and plead. It was such a genuine love romance that
the Prince's heart was touched, and, after some argument and advice to
return to her father, he yielded and gave his sanction to the match. He
accompanied the now radiant Angelica back to Lisbon, and in an hour's
time a ceremony in the court chapel made her Madame de Vallebrègue,
in presence of General Lannes, the French envoy, and himself. Signor
Catalani was enraged at the turn which things had taken, but he could
only acquiesce in the inevitable, especially as his daughter and her
husband settled on him a country estate in Italy and a comfortable
annuity for life.

Mme. Catalani returned to Italy with a reputation which made her name
the first in everybody's mouth. Yet at this time her appearance on
the dramatic stage always occasioned a feeling of pain, her excessive
timidity and nervousness made her action spasmodic, and deprived her
of that easy dignity which must be united with passion and sentiment to
produce a good artistic personation. It was in concert that her grand
voice at this period shone at its best. Her intimate friends were wont
to say that it was as disagreeable and agitating for her to sing in
opera, as it was delightful in the concert-room; for here she poured
forth her notes with such a genuine ecstasy in her own performance as
that which seems to thrill the skylark or the nightingale. Though the
circumstances of her marriage were of such a romantic kind, and she
seems to have been deeply attached to her husband through life, M.
Valle-brègue appears to have been a stupid, ignorant soldier, and, as is
common with those who make similar matrimonial speculations, to have had
no eyes beyond helping his talented wife to make all the money possible
and spend it with the utmost freedom afterward. Mme. Catalani made a
brief visit to Paris in the spring of 1806, sang twice at St. Cloud, and
gave three public concerts, each of which produced twenty-four thousand
francs, the price being doubled for these occasions.

Napoleon was always anxious to make Paris the center of European art,
and to assemble within its borders all the attractions of the civilized
world. He spared no temptation to induce the Italian cantatrice to
remain. When she attended his commands at the Tuileries she trembled
like a leaf before the stern tyrant, under whose gracious demeanor she
detected the workings of an unbending purpose. "Où allez vous, madame?"
said he, smilingly. "To London, sire," was the reply. "Remain in Paris.
I will pay you well, and your talents will be appreciated. You shall
receive a hundred thousand francs per annum, and two months for _congé_.
So that is settled. Adieu, madame." Such was the brusque and imperious
interview, which seemed to fix the fate of the artist. But Mme.
Catalani, anxious to get to London, to which she looked as a rich
harvest-field, and regarding the grim Napoleon as the foe of the
legitimate King, was determined not to stay. "When at Paris I was
denied a passport," she afterward said; "however, I got introduced
to Talleyrand, and, by the aid of a handful of gold, I was put into
a government boat, and ordered to lie down to avoid being shot; and
wonderful to relate, I got over in safety, with my little boy seven
months old."


Catalani had already signed a contract with Goold and Taylor, the
managers of the King's Theatre, Haymarket, at a salary of two thousand
pounds a month and her expenses, besides various other emoluments. At
the time of her arrival there was no competitor for the public favor,
Grassini and Mrs. Billington having both retired from the stage a short
time previously. Lord Mount Edgcumbe tells us: "The great and far-famed
Catalani supplied the place of both, and for many years reigned alone;
for she would bear no rival, nor any singer sufficiently good to divide
the applause. It is well known," he says, "that her voice is of a most
uncommon quality; and capable of bearing exertions almost superhuman.
Her throat seems endowed (as is remarked by medical men) with a power of
expansion and muscular motion by no means usual; and when she throws
out all her voice to the utmost, it has a volume and strength quite
surprising; while its agility in divisions running up and down the scale
in semi-tones, and its compass in jumping over two octaves at once, are
equally astonishing. It were to be wished that she was less lavish in
the display of these wonderful powers, and sought to please more than
to surprise; but her taste is vicious, her excessive love of ornament
spoiling every simple air, and her greatest delight being in songs of
a bold and spirited character, where much is left to her discretion or
indiscretion, without being confined by the accompaniment, but in
which she can indulge in _ad libitum_ passages with a luxuriance
and redundance no other singer ever possessed, or if possessing ever
practiced, and which she carries to a fantastical excess."

Her London _début_ was on the 15th of December, 1806, in Portogallo's
opera of "La Semi-ramide," composed for the occasion. The music of
this work was of the most ephemeral nature, but Catalani's magnificent
singing and acting gave it a heroic dignity. She lavished all the
resources of her art on it. In one passage she dropped a double octave,
and finally sealed her reputation "by running up and down the chromatic
scale for the first time in the recollection of opera-goers.... It was
then new, although it has since been repeated to satiety, and even
noted down as an _obbligato_ division by Rossini, Meyerbeer, and others.
Rounds of applause rewarded this daring exhibition of bad taste." She
had one peculiar effect, which it is said has never been equaled. This
was an undulating tone like that of a musical glass, the vibrating note
being higher than the highest note on the pianoforte. "She appeared
to make a sort of preparation previous to its utterance, and never
approached it by the regular scale. It began with an inconceivably fine
tone, which gradually swelled both in volume and power, till it made the
ears vibrate and the heart thrill. It particularly resembled the highest
note of the nightingale, that is reiterated each time more intensely,
and which with a sort of ventriloquism seems scarcely to proceed from
the same bird that a moment before poured his delicate warblings at an
interval so disjointed."

There are many racy anecdotes related of Catalani's London career,
to which the stupid, avaricious, but good-natured character of M.
Vallebrègue lent much of their flavor. Speaking of Mrs. Salmon's
singing, he said with vehemence, "Mrs. Salmon, sare, she is as that,"
extending the little finger of his left hand and placing his thumb at
the root of it; "but ma femme! Voilà! she is that"--stretching out his
whole arm at full length and touching the shoulder-joint with the other.
His stupidity extended to an utter ignorance of music, which he only
prized as the means of gaining the large sums which his extravagance
craved. His wife once complained of the piano, saying, "I can not
possibly sing to that piano; I shall crack my voice: the piano is
absurdly high." "Do not fret, my dear," interposed the husband,
soothingly; "it shall be lowered before evening: I will attend to
it myself." Evening came, and the house was crowded; but, to the
consternation of the cantatrice, the pianoforte was as high as ever. She
sang, but the strain was excessive and painful; and she went behind the
scenes in a very bad humor. "Really, my dear," said her lord, "I can not
conceive of the piano being too high; I had the carpenter in with his
saw, and made him take six inches off each leg in my presence!"

When she made her engagement for the second season, M. Vallebrogue
demanded such exorbitant terms that the manager tore his hair with
vexation, saying that such a salary to one singer would actually disable
him from employing any other artists of talent. "Talent!" repeated the
husband; "have you not Mme. Cata-lani? What would you have? If you
want an opera company, my wife with four or five puppets is quite
sufficient." So, during the season of 1808, Catalani actually was
the whole company, the other performers being literally puppets. She
appeared chiefly in operas composed expressly for her, in which the part
for the prima donna was carefully adapted to the display of her
various powers. In "Semiramide" particularly she made an extraordinary
impression, as it afforded room for the finest tragic action; and
the music, trivial as it was, gave full scope for the extraordinary
perfection of her voice. She also appeared in comic operas, and in
Paesiello's "La Frascatana" particularly delighted the public by the
graceful lightness and gayety of her comedy. But in them as in tragedies
she stood alone and furnished the sole attraction. Her astonishing
dexterity seemed rather the result of the natural aptitude of genius
than of study and labor, and her most brilliant ornaments more the
fanciful improvisations of the moment than the roulades of the composer.
Of her elocution in singing it is said: "She was articulate, forcible,
and powerful; occasionally light, pleasing, and playful, but never
awfully grand or tenderly touching to the degree that the art may be
carried." Her marvelous strains seemed to distant auditors poured forth
with the fluent ease of a bird; but those who were near saw that her
efforts were so great as to "call into full and violent action the
muscular powers of the head, throat, and chest." In the execution of
rapid passages the under jaw was in a continual state of agitation,
"in a manner, too, generally thought incompatible with the production of
pure tone from the chest, and inconsistent with a legitimate execution.
This extreme motion was also visible during the shake, which Catalani
used sparingly, however, and with little effect."

In spite of the reputation for rapacity which the avarice and arrogance
of her husband helped to create, Catalani won golden opinions by her
sweet temper, liberality, and benevolence. Her purse-strings were always
opened to relieve want or encourage struggling merit. Her gayety and
light-heartedness were proverbial. It is recorded that at Bangor once
she heard for the first time the strains of a Welsh harp, the player
being a poor blind itinerant. The music sounding in the kitchen of the
inn filled the world-renowned singer with an almost infantile glee, and,
rushing in among the pots and pans, she danced as madly as if she had
been bitten by the tarantula, till, all panting and breathless, she
threw the harper two guineas, and said she had never heard anything
which gave her more delight. The claims on her purse kept pace with the
enormous gains which seemed to increase from year to year. To her large
charities and her extravagant habits of living, her husband added the
heavy losses to which his passion for the gaming table led him. It was
said in after years that Mme. Catalani should have been worth not less
than half a million sterling, so immense had been her gains. Mr. Waters,
in a pamphlet published in 1807, says that her receipts from all sources
for that year had been nearly seventeen thousand pounds. She frequently
was paid two hundred pounds for singing "Rule Britannia," a song in
which she became celebrated; and one thousand pounds was the usual
_honorarium_ given for her services at a festival.

Mme. Catalani, in addition to her operatic performances, frequently sang
at the Ancient Concerts and in oratorio; but she lacked the devotional
pathos and tenderness which had given Mara and Mrs. Billington their
power in sacred music. Yet she possessed strong religious sentiments,
and always prayed before entering a theatre. Her somewhat ostentatious
piety provoked the following scandalous anecdote: She was observed
reading a prayer from her missal prior to going before the audience one
night, and some one, taking the book from the attendant, found it to be
a copy of Metastasio. This story is probably apocryphal, however, like
many of the most amusing incidents related of artists and authors.
Certain it is that Catalani never shone in oratorio, or even in the
rendering of dramatic pathos; but in bold and brilliant music the world
has probably never seen her peer. To some the immense volume of her
voice was not pleasant. Queen Charlotte criticised it by wishing for a
little cotton to put in her ears. Some wit, being asked if he would
go to York to hear her, replied he could hear better where he was.
"Whenever I hear such an outrageous display of execution," said Lord
Mount Edgcumbe, in his "Musical Reminiscences," "I never fail to
recollect and cordially join in the opinion of a late noble statesman,
more famous for his wit than for his love of music, who, hearing a
remark on the extreme difficulty of some performance, observed that he
wished it was impossible." It was this same nobleman, Lord North, who
perpetrated the following _mot_: Being asked why he did not subscribe
to the Ancient Concerts, and reminded that his brother, the Bishop of
Winchester, had done so, he said, "Oh, if I was as deaf as the good
Bishop, I would subscribe too."

During the period of her operatic career in England, Catalani
illustrated the works of a wide variety of composers, both serious and
comic; for her dramatic talents were equal to both, and there was no
music which she did not master as if by inspiration, though she was such
a bad reader that to learn a part perfectly she was obliged to hear it
played on the piano. It was with great unwillingness that she essayed
the music of Mozart, however, who had just become a great favorite in
England. The strict time, the severe form, and the importance of the
accompaniments were not suited to her splendid and luxuriant style,
which disdained all trammels and rules. Yet she was the first singer who
introduced "Le Nozze di Figaro" to the English stage. Besides _Susanna_
in "Le Nozze," she appeared as _Vitellia_ in "La Clemenza di Tito," a
serious _rôle_; and both in acting and singing these interpretations
were praised by the most intelligent connoisseurs--who had previously
attacked the vicious redundancy of her style severely--as nearly
matchless. Arch and piquant as the waiting-woman, lofty, impassioned,
and haughty as the patrician dame of old Rome, she rendered each as
if her sole talent were in the one direction. Tremmazani, a delightful
tenor, who had just arrived in England, and possessed a voice of that
rich, touching Cremona tone so rare even in Italy, it may be remarked
in passing, refused the part of Count Almaviva as lacking sufficient
importance, and because he regarded it as beneath his dignity to appear
in comic opera.


The year 1813 was the last season of Catalani's regular engagement on
the operatic stage. She continued to sing in "Tito" and "Figaro,"
but her principal pleasure was in the most extravagant and bizarre
show-pieces, such, for example, as variations composed for the violin
on popular airs like "God save the King," "Rule Britannia," "Cease your
Funning." She carried her departure from the true limits of art to such
an outrageous degree as to draw on her head the severest reprobation of
all good judges, though the public listened to her wonderful execution
with unbounded delight and astonishment. Toward the latter part of the
season an extraordinary riot took place in consequence of Catalani's
failure to appear two successive evenings. The managers were in arrears,
and the _diva_ by the advice of her husband adopted this plan to
force payment. There were mutterings of the thunder on the first
non-appearance; but when on the following night Catalani was still
absent, the storm broke. The opera which had been substituted was half
finished when the clamor drowned all the artistic noise behind the
footlights. A military guard who had been called in to protect the stage
from invasion were overpowered by a throng of gentlemen who leaped on
from the auditorium, many of them men of high rank, and the guns and
bayonets wrested from the soldiers' hands. Bloodshed seemed imminent;
and had it not been for the moderation of the soldiers, who permitted
themselves to be disarmed rather than fire, the result would have
been very serious. The chandeliers and mirrors were all broken into
a thousand pieces, and the musical instruments hurled around in the
wildest confusion. Fiddles, flutes, horns, drums, swords, bayonets,
muskets, operatic costumes, and stage properties generally were hurled
in a heap on the stage. The gentlemen Mohocks, who signalized themselves
on this occasion, did damage to the amount of nearly one thousand
pounds, though it is said they made it up to the manager afterward by
subscription. The theatre was closed for a week; and when it reopened,
so great was the magnificent Italian's power over the audience that,
though they came prepared to condemn, they received her with the loudest
demonstration of applause. But still such conduct toward audiences, if
followed up, could not but beget dissatisfaction and wrangling, and the
growing impatience of her managers as well as the more judicious public
could not be mistaken.

In spite of the fact that several brilliant singers were in England, and
of the desire of the public that the splendid talents of Catalani should
be appropriately supported, her jealousy and her exorbitant claims
prevented such a desirable combination. She offered to buy the theatre
and thus become sole proprietor, sole manager, and sole performer;
but, of course, the proposition was refused, luckily for the enraged
cantatrice, who would certainly have paid dearly for her experiment.

Catalani on closing her English engagement proceeded to Paris. She had
been known as an ardent friend of the Bourbon exiles, and so, during the
occupation of Paris by the Allies in 1814, she found herself in great
favor. After the Hundred Days had passed and the royal house seemed to
be firmly seated, she received a government subvention of one hundred
and sixty thousand francs and the privilege of the Opera. Catalani's
passion for absorbing everything within the radius of her own vanity and
her jealousy of rivals operated against her success in Paris, as they
had injured her in London; and she was obliged to yield up her privilege
in the course of three years, with the additional loss of five hundred
thousand francs of her own private fortune, and the loss of good will on
the part of the Paris public.

Her grand concert tour through Europe, undertaken with the purpose of
repairing her losses, was one of the most interesting portions of her
life. Everywhere she was received with abounding enthusiasm, and the
concerts were so thronged that there was rarely ever standing-room. She
sang in nearly every important city on the Continent, was the object of
the most flattering attention everywhere, and was loaded down with
the costliest presents, jewels, medals, and testimonials, everywhere.
Sovereigns vied with each other in showing their admiration by gorgeous
offerings, and her arrival in a city was looked on as a gala-day. In
the midst, however, of these the most trying circumstances in which
a beautiful and captivating woman could be placed, surrounded by
temptation and flattery, her course was marked by undeviating propriety,
and not the faintest breath tarnished her fair fame. Such an idol of
popular admiration would be sure to exhibit an overweening vanity. When
in Hamburg in 1819, M. Schevenke, a great musician, criticised her vocal
feats with severity. Mme. Catalani shrugged her beautiful shoulders and
called him "an impious man." "For," said she, "when God has given to a
mortal so extraordinary a talent as I possess, people ought to applaud
and honor it as a miracle; it is profane to depreciate the gifts of

It was during this tour that she met the poet Goethe at the court of
Weimar, where she was made an honored guest, as she had been treated
everywhere in royal and princely circles. At a court dinner-party where
she was present, the great German poet was as usual the cynosure of the
company. His imperial and splendid presence and world-wide fame marked
him out from all others. Catalani was struck by the appearance of this
modern Olympian god, and asked who he was. To a mind innocent of
all culture except such as touched her art merely, the name "Goethe"
conveyed but little significance. "Pray, on what instrument does he
play?" "He is no performer, madame--he is the renowned author of
'Werter.'" "Oh yes, yes, I remember," she said; then turning to the
venerable poet, she addressed him in her vivacious manner. "Ah! sir,
what an admirer I am of 'Werter!'" Flattered by her evident sincerity
and ardor, the poet bowed profoundly. "I never," continued she, in the
same lively strain, "I never read anything half so laughable in all
my life. What a capital farce it is, sir!" The poet, astounded, could
scarcely believe the evidence of his ears. "'The Sorrows of Werter' a
farce!" he murmured faintly. "Oh yes, never was anything so exquisitely
ridiculous," rejoined Catalani, with a ringing burst of laughter. It
turned out that she had been talking all the while of a ridiculous
parody of "Werter" which had been performed at one of the vaudeville
theatres of Paris, in which the sentimentality of Goethe's tale had been
most savagely ridiculed. We can fancy what Goethe's mortification was,
and how the fair _diva's_ credit was impaired at the court of Weimar by
her ignorance of the illustrious poet and of the novel whose fame had
rung through all Europe.

Mme. Catalani returned to England in 1821, and found herself the subject
of an enthusiasm little less than that which had greeted her in her
earlier prime. Her concert tour extended through all the cities of
the British kingdom. In this tour she was supported by the great tenor
Braham, as remarkable a singer in some respects as Catalani herself, and
probably the most finished artist of English birth who ever ornamented
the lyric stage. Braham had been brilliantly associated with the lyric
triumphs of Mara, Billington, and Grassini, and had been welcomed in
Italy itself as one of the finest singers in the world. When Catalani's
dramatic career in England commenced Braham had supported her, though
her jealousy soon rid her of so brilliant a competitor for the public
plaudits. Braham's part in Catalani's English concert tour was a very
important one, and some cynical wags professed to believe that as many
went to hear the great tenor as to listen to Catalani.

The electrical effect of her singing was very well shown at one of these
concerts. She introduced a song, "Delia Superba Roma," declamatory in
its nature, written for her by Marquis Sampieri. The younger Linley,
brother-in-law of Sheridan, who was playing in the orchestra, was so
moved that he forgot his own part, and on receiving a severe whispered
rebuke from the singer fainted away in his place. Mme. Catalani returned
again on finishing her English engagement to Russia, where she realized
fifteen thousand guineas in four months. Concert-rooms were too small
to hold her audiences, and she was obliged to use the great hall of the
Public Exchange, which would hold more than four thousand people. At her
last concert the Emperor and Empress loaded her with costly gifts, among
them being a girdle of magnificent diamonds.


The career of John Braham must always be of interest to those who love
the traditions of English music. The associate and contemporary of a
host of distinguished singers, and himself not least, his connection
with the musical life of Cata-lani would seem to make some brief sketch
of the greatest of English tenor-singers singularly fitting in this
place. He was born in London in 1773, of Jewish parentage, his real name
being Abrams, and was so wretchedly poor that he sold pencils on the
street to get a scanty living. Leoni, an Italian teacher of repute,
discovered by accident that he had a fine voice, and took the friendless
lad under his tutelage. He appeared at the age of thirteen at the Covent
Garden Theatre, the song "The Soldier tired of War's Alarms" being the
first he sang in public. One of the papers spoke of him as a youthful
prodigy, saying, "He promises fair to attain every perfection,
possessing every requisite necessary to form a good singer." Braham at
one time lost his voice utterly, and his prospect seemed a gloomy
one, as his master Leoni also died about the same time. He now found a
generous patron in Abraham Goldsmith, however, and became a professor of
the piano, for which instrument he developed remarkable talent.

An Italian master named Rauzzini seems to have been of great service to
Braham when he was about twenty years of age, and under him he fitted
himself for the Italian stage, and secured an opening under Storace,
father of the brilliant Nancy Storace, at Drury Lane. His success was
so marked that the following season found him reengaged and his
professional life well opened to him. Braham's ambition, however,
would not permit him to rest on his laurels, or rest contented with the
artistic fitness already acquired. He determined to find in Italy that
finishing culture which then as now made that country the Mecca of
artists anxious to perfect their education. He visited Florence, Genoa,
Milan, Naples, and Rome, studying under the most famous masters. Not
content with his training in executive music, Braham studied composition
and counterpoint under Isola, and laid the foundation for the knowledge
which afterward gave him a place among notable English composers as well
as singers.

While in England Braham had shown proof s of a transcendent talent. His
singing both in oratorio and opera was of such a stamp as to place him
in the van with the most accomplished Italian singers. With the added
finish of method which he gained by his Italian studies, he made a most
favorable impression in the various cities when he sang in Italy, and
his name was freely quoted as being one of the very greatest living
singers. The elder Davide, whose reputation at that time had no equal,
even Crescentini being placed second to him, said on hearing him sing,
"There are only two singers in the world, I and the Englishman." Braham
had one great advantage over his rivals in this, that his knowledge of
the science of music in all its most abstruse difficulties was thorough.
Skillful adept as he was in all the refinements of executive technique,
his profound musical grasp and insight made all difficulties of
interpretation perfect child's-play. Our readers will recall an
illustration of Braham's readiness and quickness of resource in the
anecdote of him told in connection with Mrs. Billington's life.

Refusing the most flattering offers from Italian impressarii, who were
eager to retain him for a while in Italy, Braham returned to England in
1801, and for the most part during a number of years devoted himself to
English opera. Though he had approved himself a brilliant master in the
Italian school, his taste and talents also peculiarly fitted him--like
Sims Reeves, who seems to have taken Braham for a model--for the
simple and affecting ballad-music with which English opera is so
characteristically marked. His only appearances in Italian opera in
England after his return were in the seasons of 1804, 1805,1800, and
1816. These seasons were marked by the performance of the fine operas
of Winter, of some of the masterpieces of Cimarosa, and by the first
introduction into England of the music of Mozart, the "Clemenza di
Tito," in which Mrs. Billington and Braham appeared, having been the
earliest acquaintance of the English public with the greatest of the
German operatic composers. The production of this opera was at the
suggestion of George IV., then Prince of Wales, who had a manuscript
score of the work, with instrumental parts, sent to him as a gift by the
great Haydn several years before, as a memorial of the kindness shown by
the Prince to the composer of the "Creation," when in London conducting
the celebrated Salaman symphonic concerts. The characters of _Vittellia_
and _Cesto_ were splendidly performed by the two singers; but the
Italian part of the company did not perform the difficult and exacting
music _con amore_, neither were the audiences of that day trained up
to the appreciation of the glorious music of Mozart which has obtained
since that time.

Braham's career as a singer of English opera is that with which his
glory in art is chiefly associated. His first appearance was in a
somewhat feeble work called the "Chains of the Heart," and this was
succeeded by the "Cabinet," a production in which Braham composed all
the music of his own part, both solo and the concerted portions in which
he had to appear--a custom which he continued for a number of years.
Seldom has music been more popular than that in which Braham appeared,
for he knew how to suit all the subtile qualities of his own voice.
Among the more celebrated operas in which he appeared, now unknown
except by tradition, may be mentioned "Family Quarrels," "Thirty
Thousand," "English Fleet," "Out of Place," "False Alarms," "Kars,
or Love in a Desert," and "Devil's Bridge." As Braham grew older he
attained a prodigious reputation, never before equaled in England. In
theatre, concert-room, and church he had scarcely a rival; and whether
in singing a simple ballad, in oratorio, or in the grandest dramatic
music, the largeness and nobility of his style were matched by a voice
which in its prime was almost peerless. His compass extended over
nineteen notes, and his falsetto from D to A was so perfect that it was
difficult to tell where the natural voice ended. When Weber composed his
opera "Oberon" for the English stage in 1826, Braham was the original
_Sir Huon_.

Braham had made a large fortune by his genius and industry, the
copyright on the many beautiful ballads and songs which he contributed
to the musical treasures of the language amounting alone to a handsome
competence. But, following the example of so many great artists, he
aspired to be manager also. In conjunction with Yates, in 1831 he
purchased the Colosseum in Regent's Park for forty thousand pounds, and
five years afterward he spent twenty-six thousand pounds in building
the St. James's theatre. These speculations were unfortunate, and Braham
found himself compelled to renew his professional exertions at a period
when musical artists generally think of retiring from the stage. He made
a concert and operatic tour in America in 1840, and it was while playing
with him in "Guy Manner-ing" that Charlotte Cushman, who then performed
singing parts, conceived the remarkable _rôle_ of _Meg Merrlies_, which
she made one of the most picturesque and vivid memories of the stage.
Francis Wemyss, in his "Theatrical Biography," refers to Braham's
appearance at the National Theatre, Philadelphia: "Who that heard
'Jephthall's Rash Vow' could ever forget the volume of voice which
issued from that diminutive frame, or the ecstasy with which 'Waft
her, angels, through the skies' thrilled every nerve of the attentive
listener? He ought to have visited the United States twenty years
sooner, or not have risked his reputation by coming at all. Like
Incledon, he was only heard by Americans when his powers of voice were
so impaired as to leave them to conjecture what he had been, and mourn
the wreck that all had once admired." Such an impression as this seems
to have been common with the American public--an experience afterward in
recent years repeated in the last visit of the once great Mario.

In private life Braham was much admired, and was always received in
the most conservative and fastidious circles. As a man of culture, a
humorist, and a raconteur, he was the life of society; and he will be
remembered as the composer who has left more popular songs, duets, etc.,
than almost any other English musician. He died in 1856, after living to
see his daughter Lady Walde-grave, and one of the most brilliant leaders
of London high life.

The Davides, father and son, also belonged to the Catalani period, the
elder having sung with her in Italy, and the younger in after years both
in opera and concert. Giacomo Davide, the elder, whose prime was between
1770 and 1800, was pronounced by Lord Mount Edgecumbe the first tenor of
his time, possessing a powerful and well-toned voice, great execution as
well as knowledge of music, and an excellent style of singing. His son
Giovanni, who became better known than himself, was his pupil. Though
singing with a faulty method, Giovanni Davide had a voice of such
magnificent compass and quality as to produce with it the most
electrical effects. M. Edouard Bertin gives an interesting account
of him in a letter from Venice dated 1823: "Davide excites among the
dilletanti of this town an enthusiasm and delight which can hardly
be conceived without having been witnessed. He is a singer of the new
school, full of mannerism, affectation, and display, abusing like
Martin his magnificent voice with its prodigious compass (three octaves
comprised between four B flats). He crushes the principal motive of
an air beneath the luxuriance of his ornamentation, which has no other
merit than that of a difficulty conquered. But he is also a singer full
of warmth, _verve_, expression, energy, and musical sentiment. Alone
he can fill up and give life to a scene: it is impossible for another
singer to carry away an audience as he does, and when he will only be
simple he is admirable. He is the Rossini of song. He is the greatest
singer I ever heard. Doubtless the way in which Garcia* plays and sings
the part of _Otello_ is preferable, taking it all together, to that of
Davide; it is pure, more severe, more constantly dramatic; but with all
his faults Davide produces more effect, a great deal more effect.
There is something in him, I can not say what, which, even when he is
ridiculous, entrances attention. He never leaves you cold, and when he
does not move he astonishes you. In a word, before hearing him, I did
not know what the power of singing really was. The enthusiasm he excites
is without limit."

     * The father of Mlle. Mulibran and Viardot-Garcia.

This remarkable singer died in St. Petersburg in 1851, being then
manager of an Imperial Opera in that city of enthusiastic music-lovers.


In 1824 Mme. Catalani again filled an engagement in England, making her
reappearance in Mayer's comic _pasticcio_, "Il Fanatico per la Mu-sica,"
the airs of which had been expressly selected for the display of her
vocal _tours de force_. Crowded audiences again welcomed her whom
absence had made an idol dearer than ever, and her transcendent power as
a singer seemed to have rise even beyond the old pitch in her electrical
_bravura_ style of execution. Yet some critics thought they detected
tokens of the destroying hand of time. One critic spoke of the
"fragrance" of her tone as having evaporated. Another compared her
voice to a pianoforte the hammers of which had grown hard by use. In
her appearance she had become even more beautiful than ever, with some
slight accession of _embonpoint_, and was conceded to be the handsomest
woman in Europe. For a while her popularity was unbounded among all
classes, and probably no singer that ever lived rode on a higher wave
of public adoration. But the critics began to be very much dissatisfied
with the vicious uses to which she put her magnificent voice. In Paris
the wags had called her _l'instrument Catalani_. In London they said her
style had become a caricature of its former grandeur, so exaggerated and
affected had it grown.

"When she begins one of the interminable roulades up the scale," says
a writer in "Knight's Quarterly Magazine," "she gradually raises her
body, which she had before stooped to almost a level with the ground,
until, having won her way with a quivering lip and chattering chin to
the very topmost note, she tosses back her head and all its nodding
feathers with an air of triumph; then suddenly falls to a note two
octaves and a half lower with incredible aplomb, and smiles like a
victorious Amazon over a conquered enemy." A throng of flatterers joined
in encouraging her in all her defects. "No sooner does Catalani quit
the orchestra," says the same writer, "than she is beset by a host of
foreign sycophants, who load her with exaggerated praise. I was present
at a scene of this kind in the refreshment-room at Bath, and heard
reiterated on all sides, 'Ah! madame, la dernière fois toujours la
meilleure!' Thus is poor Mme. Catalani led to strive to excel herself
every time she sings, until she exposes herself to the ridicule
most probably of those very flatterers; for I have heard that on
the Continent she is mimicked by a man dressed in female attire,
who represents, by extravagant terms and gestures, Mme. Catalani
_surpassing_ herself." Occasionally, however, she showed that her genius
had not forsaken her. Her singing of Luther's Hymn is thus described by
an appreciative listener: "She admits in this grandly simple composition
no ornament whatever but a pure shake at the conclusion. The majesty of
her sustained tones, so rich, so ample as not only to fill but overflow
the cathedral where I heard her, the solemnity of her manner, and the
St. Cecilia-like expression of her raised eyes and rapt countenance,
produced a thrilling effect through the united medium of sight and
hearing. Whoever has heard Catalani sing this, accompanied by Schmidt
on the trumpet, has heard the utmost that music can do. Then in the
succeeding chorus, when the same awful words, 'The trumpet sounds; the
graves restore the dead which they contained before,' are repeated by
the whole choral strength, her voice, piercing through the clang of
instruments and the burst of other voices, is heard as distinctly as if
it were alone! During the encore I found my way to the top of a tower on
the outside of the cathedral, and could still distinguish her wonderful

A charming incident is told of Mme. Catalani while in Brighton. Captain
Montague, cruising off that port, invited her and some other ladies to a
_fête_ on his ship, and the ladies were escorted on board by the Captain
in a boat manned by twenty men. The prima donna suddenly burst forth
with her pet song, "Rule Britannia," singing with electrical fire and
the full power of her magnificent voice. The tars dropped their oars,
and tears rolled down their weatherbeaten cheeks, while the Captain
said: "You see, madame, the effect this favorite air has on these brave
men when sung by the finest voice in the world. I have been in many
victorious battles, but never felt an excitement equal to this."

Mme. Catalani retired from the stage in 1831. Young and brilliant
rivals, such as Pasta and Son-tag, were rising to contest her
sovereignty, and for several years the critics had been dropping pretty
plain hints that it would be the most judicious and dignified course.
She settled on a magnificent estate near Lake Como, where she lived
with her two eldest children--a son and daughter--the younger son being
absent on military duty in the French army. This latter afterward became
an equerry to Napoleon III., and the other children occupied positions
of rank and honor. Mme. Catalani founded a school of gratuitous
instruction for young girls near her beautiful villa, and exacted that
all who graduated from this school should adopt her own name. One,
Signora Masilli-Catalani, became quite an eminent singer. Mrs. Trollope
tells us something of Catalani's latter days as she visited her in
Italy: "Nothing could be more amiable than the reception she gave us."
She expressed a great admiration and love for the English. Her beauty
was little injured. "Her eyes and teeth are still magnificent," says
Mrs. Trollope, "and I am told that, when seen in evening full dress
by candlelight, no stranger can see her for the first time without
inquiring who that charming-looking woman is." Mrs. Trollope hinted to
Mlle, de Valle-brèque that she would like to hear her mother sing; and
in a moment Mme. Catalani was at the piano, smiling at the whispered
request from her daughter. "I know not what it was she sang, but
scarcely had she permitted her voice to swell into one of those bravura
passages, of which her execution was so very peculiar and so perfectly
unequaled, than I felt as if some magic process was being performed
upon me, which took me back again to something--I know not what to
call it--which I had neither heard nor felt for nearly twenty years.
Involuntarily, unconsciously, my eyes filled with tears, and I felt as
much embarrassed as a young lady of fifteen might be who suddenly found
herself in the act of betraying emotions which she was far indeed from
wishing to display." William Gardiner visited Mme. Catalani in 1846. "I
was surprised at the vigor of Mme. Catalani," he says, "and how
little she was altered since I saw her at Derby in 1828. I paid her a
compliment upon her good looks. 'Ah!' said she, 'I am growing old and
ugly.' I would not allow it. 'Why, man,' she said, 'I'm sixty-six!' She
has lost none of that commanding expression which gave her such dignity
on the stage. She is without a wrinkle, and appears to be no more than
forty. Her breadth of chest is still remarkable; it was this which
endowed her with the finest voice that ever sang. Her speaking voice and
dramatic air are still charming, and not in the least impaired."

About the year 1848 Catalani and her family left Italy for fear of
the cholera, which was then raging, and sought refuge in Paris. While
residing there she heard Jenny Lind. One morning, a few days after, the
servant announced a strange visitor, who would not give her name. On
being ushered in, the timid stranger, who showed a plain but pleasant
face, knelt at her feet and said falteringly, "I am Jenny Lind,
madame--I am come to ask your blessing." A few days afterward Catalani
was stricken with the cholera, which she so much dreaded, and died on
June 12th, at the age of sixty-nine.

It is not a marvel that the public was captivated with Catalani. She
had every splendid gift that Nature could lavish--surpassing physical
beauty, a matchless voice, energy of spirit, sweetness of temper, and
warm affections. Her whole private life was marked by the utmost purity
and propriety, and she was the soul of generosity and unselfishness.
The many business troubles in which she was involved were caused by
her husband's rapacity and narrowness of judgment, and not by her own
disposition to take advantage of the necessities of her managers--a
charge her enemies at one time brought against her.

Her unrivaled endowments (for that taken all in all they were unrivaled
is now pretty well acknowledged) ought to have raised her much higher
in rank as an artist. Her education even as a singer was extremely
superficial, and she became an object of universal admiration without
ever knowing anything about music. As she advanced in her career, her
whole ambition seemed to be narrowed down to surprising the world by
displays of vocal power. As long as these displays would dazzle and
astonish, it made little difference how absurd and unmeaning they were.
Had she assiduously cultivated the dramatic part of her profession, such
were the powers of her voice, her sense of the beautiful, her histrionic
passion and energy, her charms of person, that she might have been the
greatest lyric artist that ever lived. Many of the songs she selected as
vehicles of display were unsuitable to a female voice. For instance,
she would take the martial song for a bass voice, "Non piu Andrai," in
"Figaro," and overpower by the force and volume of her organ all
the brass instruments of the orchestra. A craving for such sort of
admiration from unthinking crowds turned her aside from the true path of
her art, where she might have reached the top peak of greatness, and has
handed down her memory a shining beacon rather than as a model to her


Greatness of Genius overcoming Disqualification.--The Characteristic
Lesson of Pasta's Life.--Her First Appearance and Failure.--Pasta
returns to Italy and devotes herself to Study.--Her First Great
Successes in 1819.--Characteristics of her Voice and Singing.--Chorley's
Review of the Impressions made on him by Pasta.--She makes her Triumphal
_Début_ in Paris.--Talma on Pasta's Acting.--Her Performances of
"Giulietta" and "Tancredi."--Medea, Pasta's Grandest Impersonation, is
given to the World.--Description of the Performance.--Enthusiasm of the
Critics and the Public.--Introduction of Pasta to the English Public in
Rossini's "Otello."--The Impression made in England.--Recognized as
the Greatest Dramatic Prima Donna in the World.--Glances at the Salient
Facts of her English Career.--The Performance of "Il Crociato in
Egitto."--She plays the Male _Rôle_ in "Otello."--Rivalry with Malibran
and Sontag.--The Founder of a New School of Singing.--Pasta creates the
Leading _Rôles_ in Bellini's "Sonnambula" and "Norma" and Donizetti's
"Anna Bolena."--Decadence and Retirement.


As an artist who could transform natural faults into the rarest
beauties, who could make the world forgive the presence of other
deficiencies which could not thus be glorified by the presence of
genius, thought, and truth--as one who engraved deeper impressions
on the memory of her hearers than any other even in an age of great
singers--Mme. Pasta must be placed in the very front rank of art.
The way by which this gifted woman arrived at her throne was long and
toilsome. Nature had denied her the ninety-nine requisites of the
singer (according to the old Italian adage). Her voice at the origin was
limited, husky, and weak, without charm, without flexibility. Though her
countenance _spoke_, its features were cast in a coarse mold. Her figure
was ungraceful, her movements were awkward. No candidate for musical
sovereignty ever presented herself with what must have appeared a more
meager catalogue of pretensions at the outset of her career. What she
became let our sketch reveal.

She was the daughter of a Jewish family named Negri, born at Saronno,
near Milan, in the year 1798. The records of her childhood are slight,
and beyond the fact that she received her first musical lessons at the
Cathedral of Como and her latter training at the Milan Conservatory,
and that she essayed her feeble wings at second-rate Italian theatres
in subordinate parts for the first year, there is but little of
significance to relate. In 1816 she sang in the train of the haughty
and peerless Catalani at the Favart in Paris, but did not succeed
in attracting attention. But it happened that Ayrton, of the King's
Theatre, London, heard her sing at the house of Paer, the composer,
and liked her well enough to engage herself and husband at a moderate
salary. When Pasta's glimmering little light first shone in London,
Fodor and Camporese were in the full blaze of their reputation--both
brilliant singers, but destined to pale into insignificance afterward
before the intense splendor of Pasta's perfected genius. One of the
notices of the opening performance at the King's Theatre, when Mme.
Camporese sang the leading _rôle_ of Cimarosa's "Penelope," followed up
a lavish eulogium on the prima donna with the contemptuous remark, "Two
subordinate singers named Pasta and Mari came forward in the characters
of _Telamuco_ and _Arsi-noë_, but their musical talent does not require
minute delineation." There is every reason to believe that Pasta was
openly flouted both by the critics and the members of her own profession
during her first London experience, but a magnificent revenge was in
store for her. Among the parts she sang at this chrysalis period were
_Cherubino_ in the "Nozze di Figaro," _Servilia_ in "La Clemenza di
Tito," and the _rôle_ of the pretended shrew in Ferrari's "Il Shaglio
Fortunato." Mme. Pasta found herself at the end of the season a dire
failure. But she had the searching self-insight which stamps the highest
forms of genius, and she determined to correct her faults, and develop
her great but latent powers. Suddenly she disappeared from the view of
the operatic world, and buried herself in a retired Italian city,
where she studied with intelligent and tireless zeal under M. Scappa,
a _maestro_ noted for his power of kindling the material of genius.
Occasionally she tested herself in public. An English nobleman who heard
her casually at this time said: "Other singers find themselves endowed
with a voice and leave everything to chance. This woman leaves nothing
to chance, and her success is therefore certain." She subjected herself
to a course of severe and incessant study to subdue her voice. To
equalize it was impossible. There was a portion of the scale which
differed from the rest in quality, and remained to the last "under a
veil," to use the Italian term. Some of her notes were always out of
time, especially at the beginning of a performance, until the vocalizing
machinery became warmed and mellowed by passion and excitement. Out
of these uncouth and rebellious materials she had to compose her
instrument, and then to give it flexibility. Chor-ley, in speaking of
these difficulties, says: "The volubility and brilliancy, when acquired,
gained a character of their own from the resisting peculiarities of her
organ. There were a breadth, an expressiveness in her _roulades_, an
evenness and solidity in her shake, which imparted to every passage a
significance beyond the reach of more spontaneous singers." But,
after all, the true secret of her greatness was in the intellect and
imagination which lay behind the voice, and made every tone quiver with
dramatic sensibility.

The lyric Siddons of her age was now on the verge of making her real
_début_. When she reappeared in Venice, in 1819, she made a great
impression, which was strengthened by her subsequent performances
in Rome, Milan, and Trieste, during that and the following year. The
fastidious Parisians recognized her power in the autumn of 1821, when
she sang at the Théâtre Italien; and at Verona, during the Congress of
1822, she was received with tremendous enthusiasm. She returned to Paris
the same year, and in the opera of "Romeo e Giulietta" she exhibited
such power, both in singing and acting, as to call from the French
critics the most extravagant terms of praise. Mme. Pasta was then laying
the foundation of one of the most dazzling reputations ever gained by
prima donna. By sheer industry she had extended the range of her voice
to two octaves and a half--from A above the bass clef note to C flat,
and even to D in alt. Her tones had become rich and sweet, except when
she attempted to force them beyond their limits; her intonation was,
however, never quite perfect, being occasionally a little flat. Her
singing was pure and totally divested of all spurious finery; she added
little to what was set down by the composer, and that little was not
only in good taste, but had a great deal of originality to recommend
it. She possessed deep feeling and correct judgment. Her shake was
most beautiful; Signor Pacini's well-known cavatina, "Il soave e bel
contento"--the peculiar feature of which consisted in the solidity and
power of a sudden shake, contrasted with the detached staccato of the
first bar--was written for Mme. Pasta. Some of her notes were sharp
almost to harshness, but this defect with the greatness of genius she
overcame, and even converted into a beauty; for in passages of profound
passion her guttural tones were thrilling. The irregularity of her lower
notes, governed thus by a perfect taste and musical tact, aided to a
great extent in giving that depth of expression which was one of
the principal charms of her singing; indeed, these lower tones were
peculiarly suited for the utterance of vehement passion, producing an
extraordinary effect by the splendid and unexpected contrast which they
enabled her to give to the sweetness of the upper tones, causing a
kind of musical discordance indescribably pathetic and melancholy. Her
accents were so plaintive, so penetrating, so profoundly tragical, that
no one could resist their influence.

Her genius as a tragedienne surpassed her talent as a singer. When on
the stage she was no longer Pasta, but Tancredi, Romeo, Desdemona,
Medea, or Semiramide. Ebers tells us in his "Seven Years of the King's
Theatre": "Nothing could have been more free from trick or affectation
than Pasta's performance. There is no perceptible effort to resemble a
character she plays; on the contrary, she enters the stage the character
itself; transposed into the situation, excited by the hopes and fears,
breathing the life and spirit of the being she represents." Mme.
Pasta was a slow reader, but she had in perfection the sense for the
measurement and proportion of time, a most essential musical quality.
This gave her an instinctive feeling for propriety, which no lessons
could teach; that due recognition of accent and phrase, that absence
of flurry and exaggeration, such as makes the discourse and behavior of
some people memorable, apart from the value of matter and occasion; that
intelligent composure, without coldness, which impresses and reassures
those who see and hear. A quotation from a distinguished critic already
cited gives a vivid idea of Pasta's influence on the most cold and
fastidious judges:

"The greatest grace of all, depth and reality of expression, was
possessed by this remarkable artist as few (I suspect) before her--as
none whom I have since admired--have possessed it. The best of her
audience were held in thrall, without being able to analyze what made up
the spell, what produced the effect, so soon as she opened her lips.
Her recitative, from the moment she entered, was riveting by its truth.
People accustomed to object to the conventionalities of opera (just as
loudly as if all drama was not conventional too), forgave the singing
and the strange language for the sake of the direct and dignified appeal
made by her declamation. Mme. Pasta never changed her readings, her
effects, her ornaments. What was to her true, when once arrived at,
remained true for ever. To arrive at what stood with her for truth, she
labored, made experiments, rejected with an elaborate care, the result
of which, in one meaner or more meager, must have been monotony. But the
impression made on me was that of being always subdued and surprised for
the first time. Though I knew what was coming, when the passion broke
out, or when the phrase was sung, it seemed as if they were something
new, electrical, immediate. The effect to me is at present, in the
moment of writing, as the impression made by the first sight of the sea,
by the first snow mountain, by any of those first emotions which
never entirely pass away. These things are utterly different from the
fanaticism of a _laudator temporis acti_."

When Talma heard her declaim, at the time of her earliest celebrity in
Paris, he said: "Here is a woman of whom I can still learn. One turn of
her beautiful head, one glance of her eye, one light motion of her hand,
is, with her, sufficient to express a passion. She can raise the soul
of the spectator to the highest pitch of astonishment and delight by one
tone of her voice. 'O Dio!' as it comes from her breast, swelling over
her lips, is of indescribable effect." Poetical and enthusiastic by
temperament, the crowning excellence of her art was a grand simplicity.
There was a sublimity in her expressions of vehement passion which was
the result of measured force, energy which was never wasted, exalted
pathos that never overshot the limits of art. Vigorous without violence,
graceful without artifice, she was always greatest when the greatest
emergency taxed her powers.

Pasta's second great part at the Theatre Italien was in Rossini's
"Tancredi," an impersonation which was one of the most enchanting and
finished of her lighter _rôles_. "She looked resplendent in the casque
and cuirass of the Red Cross Knight. No one could ever sing the part of
_Tancredi_ like Mine. Pasta: her pure taste enabled her to add grace to
the original composition by elegant and irreproachable ornaments. 'Di
tanti palpiti' had been first presented to the Parisians by Mme. Fodor,
who covered it with rich and brilliant embroidery, and gave it what
an English critic, Lord Mount Edgcumbe, afterward termed its
country-dance-like character. Mine. Pasta, on the contrary, infused into
this air its true color and expression, and the effect was ravishing."

"Tancredi" was quickly followed by "Otello," and the impassioned
spirit, energy, delicacy, and tenderness with which Pasta infused the
character of _Desdemona_ furnished the theme for the most lavish praises
on the part of the critics. It was especially in the last act that her
acting electrified her audiences. Her transition from hope to terror,
from supplication to scorn, culminating in the vehement outburst "_sono
innocente_," her last frenzied looks, when, blinded by her disheveled
hair and bewildered with her conflicting emotions, she seems to seek
fruitlessly the means of flight, were awful. The varied resources of the
great art of tragedy were consummately drawn forth by her _Desdemona_,
in this opera, though she was yet to astonish the world with that
impersonation imperishably linked with her name in the history of art.
"Elisabetta" and "Mosè in Egitto" were also revived for her, and she
filled the leading characters in both with _éclat_.


In January, 1824, Mme. Pasta gave to the world what by all concurrent
accounts must have been the grandest lyric impersonation in the
records of art, the character of _Medea_ in Simon May-er's opera.
This masterpiece was composed musically and dramatically by the artist
herself on the weak foundation of a wretched play and correct but
commonplace music. In a more literal and truthful sense than that in
which the term is so often travestied by operatic singers, the part
was _created_ by Pasta, reconstructed in form and meaning, as well as
inspired by a matchless executive genius. In the language of one writer,
whose enthusiasm seems not to have been excessive: "It was a triumph of
histrionic art, and afforded every opportunity for the display of all
the resources of her genius--the varied powers which had been called
forth and combined in _Medea_, the passionate tenderness of _Romeo_, the
spirit and animation of _Tancredi_, the majesty of _Semi-ramide_, the
mournful beauty of _Nina_, the dignity and sweetness of _Desdemona_.
It is difficult to conceive a character more highly dramatic or more
intensely impassioned than that of _Medea_; and in the successive scenes
Pasta appeared as if torn by the conflict of contending passions, until
at last her anguish rose to sublimity. The conflict of human affection
and supernatural power, the tenderness of the wife, the agonies of the
mother, and the rage of the woman scorned, were portrayed with a truth,
a power, a grandeur of effect unequaled before or since by any actress
or singer. Every attitude, each movement and look, became a study for a
painter; for in the storm of furious passion the grace and beauty of her
gestures were never marred by extravagance. Indeed, her impersonation
of _Medea_ was one of the finest illustrations of classic grandeur
the stage has ever presented. In the scene where _Medea_ murders her
children, the acting of Pasta rose to the sublime. Her self-abandonment,
her horror at the contemplation of the deed she is about to perpetrate,
the irrepressible affection which comes welling up in her breast, were
pictured with a magnificent power, yet with such natural pathos, that
the agony of the distracted mother was never lost sight of in the fury
of the priestess. Folding her arms across her bosom, she contracted her
form, as, cowering, she shrunk from the approach of her children; then
grief, love, despair, rage, madness, alternately wrung her heart, until
at last her soul seemed appalled at the crime she contemplated.
Starting forward, she pursued the innocent creatures, while the audience
involuntarily closed their eyes and recoiled before the harrowing
spectacle, which almost elicited a stifled cry of horror. But her fine
genius invested the character with that classic dignity and beauty
which, as in the Niobe group, veils the excess of human agony in the
drapery of ideal art."

Chorley, whose warmth of admiration is always tempered by accurate
art-knowledge and the keenest insight, recurs in later years to
Pas-ta's _Medea_ in these eloquent words: "The air of quiet concentrated
vengeance, seeming to fill every fiber of her frame--as though deadly
poison were flowing through her veins--with which she stood alone
wrapped in her scarlet mantle, as the bridal procession of _Jason_ and
_Creusa_ swept by, is never to be forgotten. It must have been hard
for those on the stage with her to pass that draped statue with folded
arms--that countenance lit up with awful fire, but as still as death and
inexorable as doom. Where again has ever been seen an exhibition of art
grander than her _Medea's_ struggle with herself ere she consents to
murder her children?--than her hiding the dagger with its fell purpose
in her bosom under the strings of her distracted hair?--than of her
steps to and fro as of one drunken with frenzy--torn with the agonies
of natural pity, yet still resolved on her awful triumph? These memories
are so many possessions to those who have seen them so long as reason
shall last; and their reality is all the more assured to me because I
have not yet fallen into the old man's habit of denying or doubting
new sensations." The Paris public, it need not be said, even more
susceptible to the charm of great acting than that of great singing,
were in a frenzy of admiration over this wonderful new picture added to
the portrait-gallery of art. In this performance Pasta had the advantage
of absorbing the whole interest of the opera; in her other great
Parisian successes she was obliged to share the admiration of the public
with the tenor Garcia (Malibran's father), the barytone Bordogni, and
Levasseur the basso, next to Lablache the greatest of his artistic kind.

A story is told of a distinguished critic that he persuaded himself
that, with such power of portraying _Medea's_ emotions, Pasta must
possess Medea's features. Having been told that the features of the
Colchian sorceress had been found in the ruins of Herculaneum cut on an
antique gem, his fantastic enthusiasm so overcame his judgment that
he took a journey to Italy expressly to inspect this visionary cameo,
which, it need not be said, existed only in the imagination of a
practical joker.

In 1824 Pasta made her first English appearance at the King's Theatre,
at which was engaged an extraordinary assemblage of talent, Mesdames
Colbran-Rossini, Catalani, Konzi di Begnis, "Vestris, Caradori, and
Pasta. The great tragedienne made her first appearance in _Desdemona_,
and, as all Europe was ringing with her fame, the curiosity to see and
hear her was almost unparalleled. Long before the beginning of the opera
the house was packed with an intensely expectant throng. For an English
audience, idolizing the memory of Shakespeare, even Rossini's fine
music, conducted by that great composer himself, could hardly under
ordinary circumstances condone the insult offered to a species of
literary religion by the wretched stuff pitchforked together and called
a libretto. But the genius of Pasta made them forget even this, and
London bowed at her feet with as devout a recognition as that offered
by the more fickle Parisians. Her chaste and noble style, untortured by
meretricious ornament, excited the deepest admiration. Count Stendhal,
the biographer of Rossini, seems to have heard her for the first time at
London, and writes of her in the following fashion:

"Moderate in the use of embellishments, Mme. Pasta never employs them
but to heighten the force of the expression; and, what is more, her
embellishments last only just so long as they are found to be useful."
In this respect her manner formed a very strong contrast with that of
the generality of Italian singers at the time, who were more desirous of
creating astonishment than of giving pleasure. It was not from any
lack of technical knowledge and vocal skill that Mme. Pasta avoided
extravagant ornamentation, for in many of the concerted pieces--in which
she chiefly shone--her execution united clearness and rapidity. "Mme.
Pasta is certainly less exuberant in point of ornament, and more
expressive in point of majesty and simplicity," observed one critic,
"than any of the first-class singers who have visited England for a long
period.... She is also a mistress of art," continues the same writer,
"and, being limited by nature, she makes no extravagant use of her
powers, but employs them with the tact and judgment that can proceed
only from an extraordinary mind. This constitutes her highest praise;
for never did intellect and industry become such perfect substitutes for
organic superiority. Notwithstanding her fine vein of imagination and
the beauty of her execution, she cultivates high and deep passions, and
is never so great as in the adaptation of art to the purest purposes of

The production of "Tancredi" and of Zingarelli's "Romeo e Giulietta"
followed as the vehicles of Pasta's genius for the pleasure of the
English public, and the season was closed with "Semiramide," in which
her regal majesty seemed to embody the ideal conception of the Assyrian
queen. The scene in the first act where the specter of her murdered
consort appears she made so thrilling and impressive that some of the
older opera-goers compared it to the wonderful acting of Garrick in the
"ghost-scene" of "Hamlet"; and those when she learns that _Arsace_ is
her son, and when she falls by his hand before the tomb of _Ninus_,
were recounted in after-years as among the most startling memories of
a lifetime. During her London season Mme. Pasta went much into society,
and her exalted fame, united with her amiable manners, made her
everywhere sought after. Immense sums were paid her at private concerts,
and her subscription concerts at Almack's were the rage of the town. Her
operatic salary of £14,000 was nearly doubled by her income from other


The following year the management of the King's Theatre again endeavored
to secure Pasta, who had returned to Paris. Before she would finally
consent she stipulated that the new manager should pay her all the
arrears of salary left unsettled by his predecessor, for, in spite of
its artistic excellence, the late season had not proved a pecuniary
success. After much negotiation the difficulty was arranged, and Mme.
Pasta, binding herself to fill her Parisian engagements at the close of
her leave of absence, received her _congé_ for England. Her reappearance
in "Otello" was greeted with fervid applause, and it was decided that
her singing had gained in finish and beauty, while her acting was as
powerful as before. It was during this season that Pasta first sang with
Malibran. Ronzi di Begnis had lost her voice, Caradori had seceded in
a pet, and the manager in despair tried the trembling and inexperienced
daughter of the great Spanish tenor to fill up the gap. She was a
failure, as Pasta had been at first in England, but time was to bring
her a glorious recompense, as it had done to her elder rival. For the
next two years Pasta sang alternately in London and Paris, and her
popularity on the lyric stage exceeded that of any of the contemporary
singers, for Catalini, whose genius turned in another direction, seemed
to care only for the concert room. But some disagreement with Rossini
caused her to leave Paris and spend a year in Italy. During this time
her English reputation stood at its highest point. No one had ever
appeared on the English stage who commanded such exalted artistic
respect and admiration. Ebers tells us, speaking of her last engagement
before going to Italy: "At no period of Pasta's career had she been
more fashionable. She had literally worked her way up to eminence,
and, having attained the height, she stood on it firm and secure; no
performer has owed less to caprice or fashion; her reputation has been
earned, and, what is more, deserved."

On her reappearance in London in 1827 Pasta was engaged for twenty-three
nights at a salary of 3,000 guineas, with a free benefit, which yielded
her 1,500 guineas more. Her opening performance was that of _Desdemona_,
in which Mme. Malibran also appeared during the same season, thus
affording the critics an opportunity for comparison. It was admitted
that the younger diva had the advantage in vocalization and execution,
but that Pasta's conception was incontestably superior, and her reading
of the part characterized by far greater nobility and grandeur. The
novelty of the season was Signor Coccia's opera of "Maria Stuarda,"
in which Pasta created the part of the beautiful Scottish queen. Her
interpretation possessed an "impassioned dignity, with an eloquence of
voice, of look, and of action which defies description and challenges
the severest criticism." It was a piece of acting which great natural
genius, extensive powers of observation, peculiar sensibility of
feeling, and those acquirements of art which are the results of sedulous
study, combined to make perfect. It is said that Mme. Pasta felt this
part so intensely that, when summoned before the audience at the close,
tears could be seen rolling down her cheeks, and her form to tremble
with the scarcely-subsiding swell of agitation.

During a short Dublin engagement the same year the following incident
occurred, showing how passionate were her sensibilities in real life as
well as on the stage: One day, while walking with some friends, a ragged
child about three years of age approached and asked charity for her
blind mother in such artless and touching accents that the prima donna
burst into tears and put into the child's hands all the money she had.
Her friends began extolling her charity and the goodness of her heart.
"I will not accept your compliments," said she, wiping the tears from
her eyes. "This child demanded charity in a sublime manner. I have seen,
at one glance, all the miseries of the mother, the wretchedness of their
home, the want of clothing, the cold which they suffer. I should indeed
be a great actress if at any time I could find a gesture expressing
profound misery with such truth."

Pasta's next remarkable impersonation was that of _Armando_ in "Il
Crociato in Egitto," written by Meyerbeer for Signor Velluti, the last
of the race of male sopranos. She had already performed it in Paris, and
been overwhelmed with abuse by Velluti's partisans, who were enraged to
see their favorite's strong part taken from him by one so much superior
in genius, however inferior in mere executive vocalism. Velluti had
disfigured his performance by introducing a perfect cascade of roulades
and _fiorituri_, but Pasta's delivery of the music, while inspired by
her great tragic sensibility, was marked by such breadth and fidelity
that many thought they heard the music for the first time. A ludicrous
story is told of the first performance in London. Pasta had flown to her
dressing-room at the end of one of the scenes to change her costume, but
the audience demanding a repetition of the trio with Mme. Caradori and
Mile. Brambilla, Pasta was obliged to appear, amid shouts of laughter,
half Crusader, half Mameluke.

On the occasion of her benefit the same season, the opera being
"Otello," Mme. Pasta essayed the daring experiment of singing and
playing the _rôle_ of the Moor, Mile. Sontag singing _Desdemona_. Though
the transposition of the music from a tenor to a mezzo-soprano voice
injured the effect of the concerted pieces, the passionate acting
redeemed the innovation. In the last act, where she, as _Otello_, seized
_Desdemona_ and dragged her by the hair to the bed that she might
stab her, the effect was one of such tragic horror that many left the
theatre. She thus united the most cultivated vocal excellence with
dramatic genius of unequaled power. "Mme. Pasta," said a clever writer,
"is in fact the founder of a new school, and after her the possession
of vocal talent alone is insufficient to secure high favor, or to excite
the same degree of interest for any length of time. Even in Italy, where
the mixture of dramatic with musical science was long neglected, and not
appreciated for want of persons equally gifted with both attainments,
Mme. Pasta has exhibited to her countrymen the beauty of a school too
long neglected, in such a manner that they will no longer admit the
notion of lyric tragedy being properly spoken without dramatic as well
as vocal qualifications in its representative." The presence of Malibran
and Sontag during this season inspired Pasta to almost superhuman
efforts to maintain her threatened supremacy. In her efforts to surpass
these brilliant young rivals in all respects, she laid herself open to
criticism by departing somewhat from the severe and classic school of
delivery which had always distinguished her, and overloading her singing
with ornament.

Honors were showered on Pasta in different parts of Europe. She was made
first court singer in 1829 by the Emperor of Austria, and presented by
him with a superb diadem of rubies and diamonds. At Bologna, where she
performed in twelve of the Rossinian operas under the _bâton_ of the
composer himself, a medal was struck in her honor by the Società del
Casino, and all the different cities of her native land vied in doing
honor to the greatest of lyric tragediennes. At Milan in 1830 she sang
with Rubini, Galli, Mme. Pisaroni, Lablache, and David. Donizetti at
this time wrote the opera of "Anna Bolena," with the special view
of suiting the dominant qualities of Pasta, Rubini, and Galli. The
following season Pasta sang at Milan, at a salary of 40,000 francs for
twenty representations, and was obliged to divide the admiration of
the public with Mali-bran, who was rapidly rising to the brilliant rank
which she afterward held against all comers. Vincenzo Bellini now wrote
for Pasta his charming opera of "La Sonnambula," and it was produced
with Rubini, Mariano, and Mme. Taccani in the cast. Pasta and Rubini
surpassed themselves in the splendor of their performance. "Emulating
each other in wishing to display the merits of the opera, they were
both equally successful," said a critic of the day, "and those who
participated in the delight of hearing them will never forget the magic
effect of their execution. But exquisite as were, undoubtedly, Mme.
Pasta's vocal exertions, her histrionic powers, if possible, surpassed
them. It would be difficult for those who have seen her represent, in
Donizetti's excellent opera, the unfortunate _Amina_, with a grandeur
and a dignity above all praise, to conceive that she could so change
(if the expression may be allowed) her nature as to enact the part of a
simple country girl. But she has proved her powers to be unrivaled;
she personates a simple rustic as easily as she identifies herself with
_Medea, Semiramide, Tancredi, and Anna Bolena_."


After an absence of three years Mme. Pasta returned to England, and
her opening performance of Medea was aided by the talents of Rubini,
Lablache, and Fanny Ayton. Rubini performed the character of _Egeus_,
and the duets between the king of tenors and Pasta were so remarkable
in a musical sense as to rival the dramatic impression made by her great
acting. She was no exception to the rule that very great tragic actors
are rarely devoid of a strong comic individuality. In Erreco's "Prova
d'un Opera Seria," an opera caricaturing the rehearsals of a serious
opera at the house of the prima donna and at the theatre, her
performance was so arch, whimsical, playful, and capricious, that its
drollery kept the audience in a roar of laughter, while Lablache, as
"the composer," seconded her humor by that talent for comedy which
Ronconi alone has ever approached. Lablache also appeared with Pasta in
"Anna Bolena," and the great basso, mighty in bulk, mighty in voice,
and mighty in genius, fairly startled the public by his extraordinary
resemblance to Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII.

After singing a farewell engagement in Paris, Mme. Pasta went to Milan
to enjoy the last great triumph of her life in 1832 at La Scala.

She was supported by an admirable company, among whom were Donizetti
the tenor and Giulia Grisi, then youthful and inexperienced, but giving
promise of what she became in her splendid prime of beauty and genius.
Bellini had written for these artists the opera of "Norma," and the
first performance was directed by the composer himself. Pasta's singing
and acting alone made the work successful, for at the outset it was not
warmly liked by the public. Several years afterward in London she also
saved the work from becoming a _fiasco_, the singular fact being that
"Norma," now one of the great standard works of the lyric stage, took
a number of years to establish itself firmly in critical and popular

We have now reached a period of Pasta's life where its chronicle becomes
painful. It is never pleasant to watch the details of the decadence
which comes to almost all art-careers. Her warmest admirers could not
deny that Pasta was losing her voice. Her consummate art shone undimmed,
but her vocal powers, especially in respect of intonation, displayed the
signs of wear. For several years, indeed, she sang in Paris, Italy, and
London with great _eclat_, but the indescribable luster of her singing
had lost its bloom and freshness. She continued to receive Continental
honors, and in 1840, after a splendid season in St. Petersburg, she was
dismissed by the Czar with magnificent presents. In Berlin, about this
time, she was received with the deepest interest and commiseration, for
she lost nearly all her entire fortune by the failure of Engmuller,
a banker of Vienna. She filled a long engagement in Berlin, which was
generously patronized by the public, not merely out of admiration of
the talents of the artist, but with the wish of repairing in some small
measure her great losses. After 1841 Pasta retired from the stage,
spending her winters at Milan, her summers at Lake Como, and devoting
herself to training pupils in the higher walks of the lyric art.

We can not better close this sketch than by giving an account of one of
the very last public appearances of her life, when she allowed herself
to be seduced into giving a concert in London for the benefit of the
Italian cause. Mme. Pasta had long since dismissed all the belongings
of the stage, and her voice, which at its best had required ceaseless
watching and study, had been given up by her. Even her person had
lost all that stately dignity and queenlfness which had made her stage
appearance so remarkable. It was altogether a painful and disastrous
occasion. There were artists present who then for the first time were
to get their impression of a great singer, prepared of course to believe
that that reputation had been exaggerated. Among these was Rachel, who
sat enjoying the humiliation of decayed grandeur with a cynical and
bitter sneer on her face, drawing the attention of the theatre by her
exhibition of satirical malevolence.

Malibran's great sister, Mme. Pauline Viardot, was also present,
watching with the quick, sympathetic response of a noble heart every
turn of the singer's voice and action. Hoarse, broken, and destroyed as
was the voice, her grand style spoke to the sensibilities of the great
artist. The opera was "Anna Bolena," and from time to time the old
spirit and fire burned in her tones and gestures. In the final mad scene
Pasta rallied into something like her former grandeur of acting; and in
the last song with its roulades and its scales of shakes ascending by a
semitone, this consummate vocalist and tragedienne, able to combine form
with meaning--dramatic grasp and insight with such musical display as
enter into the lyric art--was indicated at least to the apprehension
of the younger artist. "You are right!" was Mme. Viardot's quick and
heartfelt response to a friend by her side, while her eyes streamed with
tears--"you are right. It is like the 'Cenacolo' of Leonardo da Vinci at
Milan, a wreck of a picture, but the picture is the greatest picture in
the world."


The Greatest German Singer of the Century.--Her Characteristics as an
Artist.--Her Childhood and Early Training.--Her Early Appearances in
Weimar, Berlin, and Leipsic,--She becomes the Idol of the Public.--Her
Charms as a Woman and Romantic Incidents of her Youth.--Becomes
affianced to Count Rossi.--Prejudice against her in Paris, and her
Victory over the Public Hostility.--She becomes the Pet of Aristocratic
_Salons_.--Rivalry with Malibran.--Her _Début_ in London, where she is
welcomed with Great Enthusiasm.--Returns to Paris.--Anecdotes of her
Career in the French Capital.--She becomes reconciled with Malibran in
London.--Her Secret Marriage with Count Rossi.--She retires from the
Stage as the Wife of an Ambassador.--Return to her Profession after
Eighteen Years of Absence.--The Wonderful Success of her Youth
renewed.--Her American Tour,--Attacked with Cholera in Mexico and dies.


The career of Henrietta Sontag, born at Cob-lenz on the Rhine in 1805,
the child of actors, was so picturesque in its chances and changes that
had she not been a beautiful and fascinating woman and the greatest
German singer of the century, the vicissitudes of her life would have
furnished rich material for a romance. Nature gave her a pure soprano
voice of rare and delicate quality united with incomparable sweetness.
Essentially a singer and not a declamatory artist, the sentiment of
grace was carried to such a height in her art, that it became equivalent
to the more robust passion and force which distinguished some of her
great contemporaries. As years perfected her excellence into its mellow
prime, emotion and warmth animated her art work. But at the outset Mile.
Sontag did little more than look lovely and pour forth such a flood
of silvery and delicious notes, that the Italians called her the
"nightingale of the North." The fanatical enthusiasm of the German youth
ran into wild excesses, and we hear of a party of university students
drinking her health at a joyous supper in champagne out of one of her
satin shoes stolen for the purpose.

When Mile. Sontag commenced her brilliant career the taste of operatic
amateurs was excessively fastidious. Nearly all outside of Germany
shared Frederick the Great's prejudice against German singers. Yet when
she appeared in Paris, in spite of hostile anticipation, in spite of her
reserve, timidity, and coldness on the histrionic side of her art, she
soon made good her place by the side of such remarkable artists as
Mme. Pasta and Maria Malibran. She never transformed herself into
an impassioned tragedienne, but through the spell of great personal
attraction, of an exquisite voice, and of exceptional sensibility,
taste, and propriety in her art methods, she advanced herself to a high
place in public favor.

Her parents designed Henrietta for their own profession, and in her
eighth year her voice had acquired such steadiness that she sang minor
parts at the theatre. A distinguished traveler relates having heard her
sing the grand aria of the _Queen of the Night_ in the "Zauberflote" at
this age, "her arms hanging beside her and her eye following the flight
of a butterfly, while her voice, pure, penetrating, and of angelic tone,
flowed as unconsciously as a limpid rill from the mountain-side." The
year after this Henrietta lost her father, and she went to Prague with
her mother, where she played children's parts under Weber, then _chef
d'orchestre_. When she had attained the proper age she was admitted to
the Prague Conservatory, and spent four years studying vocalization, the
piano, and the elements of harmony. An accident gave the young singer
the chance for a _début_ in the sudden illness of the prima donna, who
was cast to sing the part of the _Princesse de Navarre_ in Boïeldieu's
"Jean de Paris." The little vocalist of fifteen had to wear heels four
inches high, but she sang none the less well, and the audience seemed
to feel that they had heard a prodigy. She also took the part of the
heroine in Paer's opera of "Sargino," and her brilliant success decided
her career, as she was invited to take a position in the Viennese Opera.
Here she met the brilliant Mme. Fodor, then singing an engagement in the
Austrian capital. So great was this distinguished singer's admiration of
the young girl's talents that she said, "Had I her voice I should hold
the whole world at my feet."

Mlle. Sontag had the advantage at this period of singing with great
artists who took much interest in her career and gave her valuable hints
and help. Singing alternately in German and English opera, and always an
ardent student of music, she learned to unite all the brilliancy of
the Italian style and method to the solidity of the German school. The
beautiful young cantatrice was beset with ardent admirers, not the least
important being the English Ambassador Earl Clan William. He followed
her to theatre, to convents, church, and seemed like her shadow. Sontag
in German means Sunday; so the Viennese wits, then as now as wicked
and satirical as those of Paris, nicknamed the nobleman Earl Montag, as
Monday always follows Sunday. It was during this Vienna engagement that
Weber wrote the opera of "Euryanthe," and designed the principal
part for Sontag. But the public failed to fancy it, and called it
"L'Ennuyante." The serious part of her art life commenced at Leipsic in
1824, where she interpreted the "Freischutz" and "Euryanthe," then in
the flush of newness, and made a reputation that passed the bounds
of Germany, though foreign critics discredited the reports of her
excellence till they heard her.

"Henrietta's voice was a pure soprano, reaching perhaps from A or B to D
in alt, and, though uniform in its quality, it was a little reedy in the
lower notes, but its flexibility was marvelous: in the high octave, from
F to C in alt, her notes rang out like the tones of a silver bell. The
clearness of her notes, the precision of her intonation, the fertility
of her invention, and the facility of her execution, were displayed in
brilliant flights and lavish fioriture; her rare flexibility being a
natural gift, cultivated by taste and incessant study. It was to the
example of Mme. Fodor that Mile. Sontag was indebted for the blooming
of those dormant qualities which had till then remained undeveloped. The
ease with which she sang was perfectly captivating; and the neatness and
elegance of her enunciation combined with the sweetness and brilliancy
of her voice and her perfect intonation to render her execution
faultless, and its effect ravishing. She appeared to sing with the
volubility of a bird, and to experience the pleasure she imparted." To
use the language of a critic of that day: "All passages are alike to
her, but she has appropriated some that were hitherto believed to
belong to instruments--to the piano-forte and the violin, for instance.
Arpeggios and chromatic scales, passages ascending and descending,
she executed in the same manner that the ablest performers on these
instruments execute them. There were the firmness and the neatness
that appertain to the piano-forte, while she would go through a scale
_staccato_ with the precision of the bow. Her great art, however, lay
in rendering whatever she did pleasing. The ear was never disturbed by
a harsh note. The velocity of her passages was sometimes uncontrollable,
for it has been observed that in a division, say, of four groups of
quadruplets, she would execute the first in exact time, the second and
third would increase in rapidity so much that in the fourth she was
compelled to decrease the speed perceptibly, in order to give the band
the means of recovering the time she had gained."

Mile. Sontag was of middle height, beautifully formed, and had a face
beaming with sensibility, delicacy, and modesty. Beautiful light-brown
hair, large blue eyes, finely molded mouth, and perfect teeth completed
an _ensemble_ little short of bewitching. Her elegant figure and
the delicacy of her features were matched by hands and feet of such
exquisite proportions that sculptors besought the privilege of modeling
them, and poets raved about them in their verses. Artlessness and
_naivete_ were joined with such fine breeding of manner that it seemed
as if the blue blood of centuries must have coursed in her veins instead
of the blood of obscure actors, whose only honor was to have given
to the world one of the paragons of song. Sontag never aspired to the
higher walks of lyric tragedy, as she knew her own limitation, but in
light and elegant comedy, the _Mosinas_ and _Susannas_, she has never
been excelled, whether as actress or singer. It was said of her that she
could render with equal skill the works of Rossini, Mozart, Weber,
and Spohr, uniting the originality of her own people with the artistic
method and facility of the French and Italian schools. From Leipsic
Mile. Sontag went to Berlin, where the demonstrations of delight which
greeted her singing rose to fever-heat as the performances continued.
Expressions of rapture greeted heron the streets; even the rigid
etiquette of the Prussian court gave way to receive the low-born singer
as a royal guest, an honor which all the aristocratic houses were prompt
to emulate. It was at Berlin that Sontag made the acquaintance of Count
Rossi, a Piedmontese nobleman attached to the Sardinian Legation. An
ardent attachment sprang up between them, and they became affianced.

Not content with her supremacy at home, she sighed for other worlds to
conquer, and after two years at Berlin she obtained leave of absence
with great difficulty, and went to Paris. French connoisseurs laughed
at the idea of this German barbarian--for some of the critics were rude
enough to use this harsh term--becoming the rival of Pasta, Cinti,
and Fodor, and the idea of her singing Rossini's music seemed purely
preposterous. On the 15th of June, 1826, she made her bow to the French
public. The victory was partly won by the shy, blushing beauty of the
young German, who seemed the very incarnation of maidenly modesty and
innocence, and when she had finished her first song thunders of applause
shook the house. Her execution of Rode's variations surpassed even
that of Catalani, and "La Petite Allemande" became an instant favorite.
Twenty-three succeeding concerts made Henrietta Sontag an idol of the
Paris public, which she continued to be during her art career. She also
appeared with brilliant distinction in opera, the principal ones being
"Il Barbiere," "La Donna del Lago," and "L'Italiani in Alghieri." Her
benefit-night was marked by a demonstration on the part of her admirers,
and she was crowned on the stage.


The beautiful singer became a great pet of the Parisian aristocracy, and
was welcomed in the highest circles, not simply as an artist, but as a
woman. She was honored with a state dinner at the Prussian Ambassador's,
and the most distinguished people were eager to be presented to her.
At the house of Talleyrand, having been introduced to the Duchess von
Lothringen, that haughty dame said, "I would not desire that my daughter
were other than you." It was almost unheard of that a German cantatrice
without social antecedents should be sedulously courted by the most
brilliant women of rank and fashion, and her presence sought as an
ornament at the most exclusive _salons_. It was at this time that
Catalani met her and declared, "_Elle est la première de son genre, mais
son genre n'est pas le premier_," and a celebrated flute-player on her
being introduced to him by a musical professor was accosted with the
words, "_Ecco il tuo rivale_."

In Paris, as was the case afterward in London, the most romantic stories
were in circulation about the adoration lavished on her by princes
and bankers, artists and musicians. The most exalted personages were
supposed to be sighing for her love, and it was reported that no singer
had ever had so many offers of marriage from people of high rank and
consideration. Indeed, it was well known that about the same time
Charles de Beriot, the great violinist, and a nobleman of almost
princely birth, laid their hearts and hands at her feet. Mile. Sontag,
it need not be said, was true to her promise to Count Rossi, and refused
all the flattering overtures made her by her admirers. A singular
link connects the careers of Sontag and Malibran personally as well as
musically. It was during the early melancholy and suffering of De
Beriot at Sontag's rejection of his love that he first met Malibran.
His profound dejection aroused her sympathy, and she exerted herself to
soothe him and rouse him from his state of languor and lassitude. The
result can easily be fancied. De Beriot's heart recovered from the
shock, and was kindled into a fresh flame by the consolations of the
beautiful and gifted Spanish singer, whence ensued a connection which
was consummated in marriage as soon as Malibran was able to break the
unfortunate tie into which she had been inveigled in America.

The Parisian managers offered the most extravagant terms to keep the
new favorite of the public, but her heart and duty alike prompted her to
return to Berlin. On the route, at the different towns where she
sang, she was received with brilliant demonstrations of admiration and
respect, and it was said at the time that her return journey on this
occasion was such a triumphal march as has rarely been vouchsafed to
an artist, touching in the spontaneity of its enthusiasm as it was
brilliant and impressive in its forms. Berlin welcomed her with great
warmth, and, though Cata-lani herself was among the singers at the
theatre, Sontag fully shared her glory in the German estimation.
The King made her first singer at his chapel, at a yearly salary of
twenty-four thousand francs, and rich gifts were showered on her by her
hosts of wealthy and ardent admirers.

She sang again in Paris in 1828, appearing in "La Cenerentola" as a
novelty, though the music had to be transposed for her. Malibran was
singing the same season, and a bitter rivalry sprang up between the
blonde and serene German beauty and the brilliant Spanish brunette. It
was whispered afterward, by those who knew Malibran well, that she never
forgave Henrietta Sontag for having been the first to be beloved by De
Beriot. The voices of the two singers differed as much as their persons.
The one was distinguished for exquisite sweetness and quality of tone,
and perfection of execution, for a polished and graceful correctness
which never did anything alien to good taste and made finish of form
compensate for lack of fire. The other's splendid voice was marred by
irregularity and unevenness, but possessed a passionate warmth in its
notes which stirred the hearts of the hearers. Full of extraordinary
expedients, an audience was always dazzled by some unexpected beauties
of Malibran's performance, and her original and daring conceptions gave
her work a unique character which set her apart from her contemporaries.
The Parisian public took pleasure in fomenting the dispute between the
rival queens of song, and each one was spurred to the utmost by the hot
discord which raged between them.

On April 16th of the same year Mile. Sontag made her first appearance
before the London public in the character of _Mosina_ in Rossini's "Il
Barbiere," a part peculiarly suited to the grace of her style and
the _timbre_ of her voice. One of her biographers thus sketches the
expectations and impressions of the London public:

"Since Mrs. Billington, never had such high promise been made, or so
much expectation excited: her talents had been exaggerated by report,
and her beauty and charms extolled as matchless; she was declared to
possess all the qualities of every singer in perfection, and as an
actress to be the very personification of grace and power. Stories
of the romantic attachments of foreign princes and English lords were
afloat in all directions; she was going to be married to a personage of
the loftiest rank--to a German prince--to an ambassador; she was pursued
by the ardent love of men of fashion. Among other stories in circulation
was one of a duel between two imaginary rival candidates for a ticket
of admission to her performance; but the most affecting and trustworthy
story was that of an early attachment between the beautiful Henrietta
and a young student of good family, which was broken off in consequence
of his passion for gambling.

"Mile. Sontag, before she appeared at the opera, sang at the houses of
Prince Esterhazy and the Duke of Devonshire. An immense crowd assembled
in front of the theatre on the evening of her _début_ at the opera. The
crush was dreadful; and when at length the half-stifled crowd managed
to find seats, 'shoes were held up in all directions to be owned.' The
audience waited in breathless suspense for the rising of the curtain;
and when the fair cantatrice appeared, the excited throng could scarcely
realize that the simple English-looking girl before them was the
celebrated Sontag. On recovering from their astonishment, they applauded
her warmly, and her lightness, brilliancy, volubility, and graceful
manner made her at once popular. Her style was more florid than that
of any other singer in Europe, not even excepting Catalani, whom she
excelled in fluency, though not in volume; and it was decided that she
resembled Fodor more than any other singer--which was natural, as she
had in early life imitated that cantatrice. Her taste was so cultivated
that the redundancy of ornament, especially the obligato passages
which the part of _Rosina_ presents, never, in her hands, appeared
overcharged; and she sang the cavatina 'Una voce poco fà' in a style as
new as it was exquisitely tasteful. 'Two passages, introduced by her in
this air, executed in a _staccato_ manner, could not have been surpassed
in perfection by the spirited bow of the finest violin-player.' In the
lesson-scene she gave Rode's variations, and her execution of the second
variation in arpeggios was pronounced infinitely superior to Catalani's.

"At first the _cognoscenti_ were haunted by a fear that Sontag would
permit herself to degenerate, like Catalani, into a mere imitator of
instrumental performers, and endeavor to astonish instead of pleasing
the public by executing such things as Rode's variations. But it was
soon observed that, while indulging in almost unlimited, luxuriance
of embellishment in singing Rossini's music, she showed herself a good
musician, and never fell into the fault, common with florid singers,
of introducing ornaments at variance with the spirit of the air or the
harmony of the accomplishments. In singing the music of Mozart or Weber,
she paid the utmost deference to the text, restraining the exuberance of
her fancy, and confining herself within the limits set by the
composer. Her success was tested by a most substantial proof of her
popularity--her benefit produced the enormous sum of three thousand

Laurent, the manager of the Theatre Italien, succeeded in making a
contract by which Sontag was to sing in Paris for fifty thousand francs
a year, with a _congé_ of three months. It was at this period that she
commenced seriously to study tragic characters, and, though she at first
failed in making a strong impression on her audiences, her assiduous
attention to sentiment and passion wrought such fruits as to prove
how far study and good taste may create the effect of something like
inspiration, even on the part of an artist so cool and placid as the
great German cantatrice. Her efforts were stimulated by the rivalry of
Mali-bran, and this contest was the absorbing theme of discussion in the
Paris salons and journals. It reached such a height that the two singers
refused to meet each other socially, and on the stage when they
sang together their jealousy and dislike showed itself in the most
undisguised fashion. Among the incidents related of this interesting
operatic episode, the following are specially worthy of mention: An
Italian connoisseur, who had never heard Sontag, and who firmly believed
that no German could sing, was induced to go one night by a friend to
a performance in which she appeared. After listening five minutes he
started up hastily in act to go. "Stay," urged his friend; "you will be
convinced presently." "I know it," replied the Italian, "and therefore I

One evening, at the termination of the performance, the two rivals
were called out, and a number of wreaths and bouquets were flung on the
stage. Malibran stooped and picked up one of the coronals, supposing it
designed for her, when a stern voice cried out: "Rendez-la; ce n'est pas
pour vous!" "I would not deprive Mlle. Sontag of a single wreath," said
the haughty Spaniard in a loud voice which could be heard everywhere
through the listening house. "I would sooner bestow one on her!"

This quarrel was afterward made up between them when they were engaged
together in London the following year, 1828. This reconciliation was
brought about by M. Fetis, who had accompanied them from Paris. He
proposed to them that they should sing for one of the pieces at a
concert in which they were both engaged, the _duo_ of _Semiramide_ and
_Arsace_, in Rossini's opera. For the first time in London their voices
were heard together. Each outdid herself in the desire to excel, and the
exquisite fusion of the two voices, so different in tone and character,
was so fine that the hearts of the rivals melted toward each other, and
they professed mutual friendship. The London public got the benefit of
this amity, for the manager of the King's Theatre was able to produce
operas in which they sang together, among them being "Semiramide," "Don
Giovanni," "Nozze di Figaro," and "Romeo e Giulietta"--Malibran playing
the hero in the latter opera. The following year Sontag also sang
with Malibran in London, her greatest success being in _Carolina_, the
principal character of Cimarosa's "Il Matrimonio Segreto."

Mile. Sontag was now for the first time assailed by the voice of
calumny. Her union with Count Rossi, consummated more than a year
before, had been kept secret on account of the dislike of his family
to the match. Born in Corsica, Count Rossi was a near relative of the
family of Napoleon Bonaparte, and his sister was the Princess de Salm.
His relations were opposed to his marriage with one whom they considered
a plebeian, though she had been ennobled by the Prussian King, under
the name of Von Lauenstein, with a full patent and all the formalities
observed on such occasions. Mile. Sontag determined to make a farewell
tour through Europe, and retire from the stage. She paid her adieux
to her public in the different great cities of Europe--London, Paris,
Berlin, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Leipsic, etc.--with incredible
success, and the sums she realized are said to have been enormous. On
returning from Russia she gave a concert at Hamburg; and it was here
that she took the occasion at a great banquet given her by a wealthy
merchant to make the public and formal announcement of her marriage to
Count Rossi. It was remarked that during this farewell concert tour
her powers, far from having declined, seemed to have gained in compass,
brilliancy, and expression.

Countess Rossi first lived at the Hague, and then for a short time at
Frankfort. Here she took precedence of all the ladies of the diplomatic
corps, her husband being Minister Plenipotentiary to the Germanic Diet.
In Berlin she was a familiar guest of the royal family, and sang duets
and trios with the princes and princesses. She devoted her leisure hours
to the study of composition, and at the houses of Prince Esterhazy and
Prince Metternich, in 1841, at Vienna, she executed a cantata of her
own for soprano and chorus with most brilliant success. The Empress
herself invited the Countess to repeat it at her own palace with all the
imperial family for listeners. Thus courted and flattered, possessed
of ample wealth and rank, idolized by her friends and respected by the
great world, Henrietta Sontag passed nearly twenty swift, happy years
at the different European capitals to which her husband was successively


Countess Rossi was never entirely forgotten in her brilliant retirement.
Her story, gossips said, was intended to be shadowed forth "with a
difference" in "L'Ambassadrice" of Scribe and Auber, written for Mme.
Cinti Damoreau, whose voice resembled that of Sontag. Travelers, who got
glimpses of the august life wherein she lived, brought home tales of her
popularity, of her beauty not faded but only mellowed by time, and of
her lovely voice, which she had watched and cultivated in her titled
leisure. It can be fancied, then, what a thrill of interest and surprise
ran through the London public when it was announced in 1848 that the
Countess Rossi, owing to family circumstances, was about to resume her
profession. A small, luxuriantly bound book in green and gold, devoted
to her former and more recent history, was put on sale in London, and
circulated like wildfire. The situation in London was peculiar. Jenny
Lind had created a furor in that city almost unparalleled in its musical
history, and to announce that the "Swedish nightingale" was not the
greatest singer that ever lived or ever could live, before a company of
her admirers, was sufficient to invite personal assault. Mlle. Lind had
just departed for America. It was an adventure little short of desperate
for a singer to emerge from a retirement of a score of years and measure
her musical and dramatic accomplishments against those of a predecessor
whose tantalizing disappearance from the stage had rendered her on so
many grounds more than ever the object of fanatical worship.

The political storm of 1848 had swept away the fortune of Countess
Rossi, and when she announced her intention of returning to the stage,
the director of Her Majesty's Theatre was prompt to make her an offer
of seventeen thousand pounds for the season. She had not been idle or
careless during the time when the Grisis, the Persianis, and the
Linds were delighting the world with the magic of their art. She had
assiduously kept up the culture of her delicious voice, and stepped
again before the foot-lights with all the ease, steadiness, and _aplomb_
of one who had never suffered an interregnum in her lyric reign. She
came back to the stage under new and trying musical conditions, to an
orchestra far stronger than that to which her youth had been accustomed,
to a new world of operas. The intrepidity and industry with which she
met these difficulties are deserving of the greatest respect. Not merely
did she go through the entire range of her old parts, _Susanna, Moslna,
Desdemona, Donna Anna_, etc., but she presented herself in a number of
new works which did not exist at her farewell to the stage--Bellini's
"Sonnambula," Donizetti's "Linda," "La Figlia del Reggimento," "Don
Pasquale," "Le Tre Nozze" of Alary, and Ilalévy's "La Tempesta";
indeed, in the latter two creating the principal _rôles_. Her former
companions had disappeared. Malibran had been dead for thirteen years,
Mme. Pisaroni had also departed from the earthly scene, and a galaxy of
new stars were glittering in the musical horizon. Giulia Grisi, Clara
Novello, Pauline Viardot, Fanny Per-siani, Jenny Lind, Maretta Alboni,
Nantier Didier, Sophie Cruvelli, Catherine Hayes, Louisa Pyne, Duprez,
Mario, Ronconi, and others--all these had arisen since the day she had
left the art world as Countess Rossi. Only the joyous and warmhearted
Lablache was left of her old comrades to welcome her back to the scene
of her old triumphs.

Her reappearance as _Linda_, on July 7, 1849, was the occasion of a
cordial and sympathetic reception on the part of a very brilliant
and distinguished audience. The first notes of the "polacca" were
sufficient to show that the great artist was in her true place
again, and that the mature woman had lost but little of the artistic
fascinations of the gifted girl. Of course, time had robbed her of one
or two upper notes, but the skill, grace, and precision with which she
utilized every atom of her power, the incomparable steadiness and finish
with which she wrought out the composer's intentions, the marvelous
flexibility of her execution, she retained in all their pristine
excellence. The loss of youthful freshness was atoned for by the deeper
passion and feeling which in an indefinable way permeated all her
efforts, and gave them a dramatic glow lacking in earlier days. She was
rapturously greeted as a dear friend come back in the later sunny days.
In "La Figlia del Reggimento," which Jenny Lind had brought to England
and made her own peculiar property, Mme. Sontag was adjudged to be by
far the greater, both vocally and dramatically. As a singer of Mozart's
music she was incomparably superior to all. Her taste, steadiness,
suavity, and solid knowledge suited a style very difficult for a
southern singer to acquire. Chorley repeated the musical opinion of
his time in saying: "The easy, equable flow demanded by Mozart's
compositions, so melodious, so wondrously sustained, so sentimental
(dare I say so rarely impassioned?); that assertion of individuality
which distinguishes a singer from a machine when dealing with singers'
music; that charm which belongs to a keen appreciation of elegance, but
which can only be perfected when Nature has been genial, have never been
so perfectly combined (in my experience) as in her." If Sontag did not
possess the highest genius of the lyric artist, she had un-equaled grace
and sense of artistic propriety, and with that grace an untiring desire
and energy in giving her very best to the public on all occasions when
she appeared. Her constancy and loyalty to her audience were moral
qualities which wonderfully enhanced her value and charm as a singer.

During this season Mme. Sontag appeared in her favorite character of
_Rosina_, with Lablache and Gardoni; she also performed _Amina_ and
_Desdemona_. Had it not been that the attention of the public was
absorbed by "the Swedish Nightingale" and the "glorious Alboni," Mme.
Sontag would have renewed the triumphs of 1828. The next season she
sang again at Her Majesty's Theatre as _Norina, Elvira_ ("I Puritani"),
_Zerlina_, and _Maria_ (in "La Figlia del Reggimento"). The chief
novelty was "La Tempestà," written by Scribe, and composed by Halévy
expressly for Her Majesty's Theatre, the drama having been translated
into Italian from the French original. It was got up with extraordinary
splendor, and had a considerable run. Mme. Sontag sang charmingly in
the character of _Miranda_; but the greatest effect was created by
Lablache's magnificent impersonation of _Caliban_. No small share of the
success of the piece was due to the famous danseuse Carlotta Grisi, who
seemed to take the most appropriate part ever designed for ballerina
when she undertook to represent _Ariel_.

At the close of the season of 1850 Mme. Sontag went to Paris with Mr.
Lumley, who took the Théâtre Italien, and she was warmly welcomed by
her French audiences. "Even amid the loud applause with which the crowd
greeted her appearance on the stage," says a French writer, "it was easy
to distinguish the respect which was entertained for the virtuous lady,
the devoted wife and mother."

Before her acceptance of the offer to go to America, in 1852, she
appeared in successive engagements at London, Vienna, and Berlin, where
her reception was of the most satisfying nature both to the artist and
the woman. On her arrival in New York, on September 19th, she commenced
a series of concerts with Salvi and Signo-ra Blangini. At New York,
Boston, Philadelphia, and the larger cities of the South, she quickly
established herself as one of the greatest favorites who had ever sung
in this country, in spite of the fact that people had hardly recovered
from the Lind mania which had swept the country like wildfire, a fact
apt to provoke petulant comparisons. Her pecuniary returns from her
American tour were very great, and she was enabled to buy a château and
domain in Germany, a home which she was unfortunately destined never to

In New Orleans, in 1854, she entered into an engagement with M. Masson,
director of opera in the city of Mexico, to sing for a fixed period
of two months, with the privilege of three months longer. This was
the closing appearance in opera, as she contemplated, for the task of
reinstating her family fortunes was almost done. Fate fulfilled her
expectations with a malign sarcasm; for while her agent, M. Ullman,
was absent in Europe gathering a company, Mme. Sontag was seized
with cholera and died in a few hours, on June 17, 1854. Such was the
lamentable end of one of the noblest women that ever adorned the
lyric stage. Her funeral was a magnificent one, in presence of a great
concourse of people, including the diplomatic corps. The service was
celebrated by the orchestras of the two Italian theatres; the nuns of
St. Francis sang the cantata; the prayer to the Virgin was intoned by
the German Philharmonic Society, who also sang Lindpainter's chorus,
"Ne m'oubliez pa "; and the leading Mexican poet, M. Pantaleon Tovar,
declaimed a beautiful tribute in sonorous Spanish verse. The body was
taken to Germany and buried in the abbey of Makenstern, in Lausitz.


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