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From a painting by Winterhalter




Author of "Thirty Years of Musical
Life in London," etc.


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Copyright, 1920, by
Tin: Century Co.








THE Reign of Patti should be dated from her conquest of
the London public at the Royal Italian Opera, Covent
Garden, in May, 1861. It ended, properly speaking, with her
final appearances in opera at the same house in 1895, a period
covering thirty-four years. But if we include her subsequent
labors as a concert singer, until her ultimate farewell at the
Royal Albert Hall in December, 1906, her reign must be said
to have lasted for more than forty-five years.

Again, if we reckon the interval precedent to the actual
"reign," from the date when she made her New York debut as
a child prodigy (cctat 7) in 1850, it will be seen that the total
length of Adelina Patti 's active and unbroken career as a pub-
lic singer extended over no fewer than fifty-six years. In
any or either case, she beat every record for legitimate artis-
tic longevity known to musical history, including those of
John Braham and Sims Reeves.

Her preeminence as a vocalist was no less pronounced.
Catalani, Pasta, Malibran, Jenny Lind, Grisi, may have been
singers as great as Patti. That no critic now living is in a
position to determine. But, at best, those famous artists only
divided between them the honors due to "queens of opera"
during the first half of the nineteenth century. The honors
of the second half were wholly and exclusively monopolized by
Patti. Alike as to the particular quality of her genius, its
versatility, the natural beauty of her organ, the perfection of
her technique, the universality of her fame, and the undying
strength of her popularity, she stood alone, utterly beyond the
pale of rivalry. The "Queen of Song," as she was commonly
called, was equally the solitary "Queen of Opera" of her time.

For the suggestion of the title of this book I am indebted



indirectly to ray friend Mr. II. E. Krehbiel, so long the emi-
nent musical critic of the New York Tribune. In the course
of an "Appreciation of Patti" — not the least eloquent page
in his interesting "Chapters of Opera," 1 — he speaks of a
"period which ought to be referred to for all time in the
annals of music as the Reign of Patti." The hint has been
taken with thanks.

Many years ago, during one of my earlier visits to Craig-y-
Nos Castle, I asked Mme. Patti whether she meant ever to give
to the world the story of her life. "Yes," she said, "I am
going to do so very shortly"; then added in one of her quaint
whispers: "I will tell you in confidence that our friend
Beatty Kingston is going to help me to write it."

Time went on. Beatty Kingston died; and there came no
sign of the autobiography. So far as I could ascertain, he
had never written a line or even begun to collate his material.
One day I put the question anew: "What about this story
of your life?" "It is not yet written," answered Mme. Patti,
"but I am determined that it shall be done, and now I am
going to ask you if you will be my collaborateur?" Unhesi-
tatingly and with alacrity I accepted a task that I regarded at
once as a duty and an honor.

Notwithstanding this, delays occurred, and the work still
remained unstarted. First there was the illness and death of
Nicolini. Not long afterward came the nuptial event related
in the twentieth chapter of this book; and from that day
there was no further chance of writing a life of Patti from
her own notes and personal recollections. These would as-
suredly have constituted a precious fountain of biographical
detail, anecdote, and incident. On the other hand, her letters,
penned in an Italian hand of characteristic neatness, while

iNew York: Henry Holt & Co., 1909. See Appendix U.


remarkable always for their depth of cordial sentiment or their
affectionate warmth, reveal no features of absorbing interest.

It was not only because Mme. Patti had designated me as
her " collaborateur" that I decided six years ago, on my own
initiative, to undertake this work. It was also because I had
in my possession much of the material essential for it ; because
I had closely followed the course of her unique career from
its zenith to its close; because I had been her friend as well
as her critic, had listened "many a time and oft" to her own
viva-voce remarks about the people and the events of her
epoch. Thus I have quoted her; I have quoted the men who
wrote of her; I have even ventured to quote myself. Not
least of all, where opinion or statement has been controversial,
I have carefully weighed the evidence on both sides and
striven to arrive at a true and impartial judgment.

Only two serious difficulties beset me in the fulfilment of this
" labor of love." One was the sparseness of either authentic
or reliable information concerning Patti 's childhood and her
juvenile career. The whole story has never been set forth in
coherent form or with the minuteness of detail that it deserved.
The ascertainable facts had to be pieced together for the
first time.

The other difficulty was to limit the use of superlatives and
avoid the semblance of hyperbole in writing about the life
and achievements of a most extraordinary artist. In this re-
spect she was the despair of every journalist who tried to do
her justice during her crowded half-century of public tri-
umphs. Eepetition has in the circumstances been inevitable.
To a charge of exaggeration, however, the author would refuse
to plead guilty. The reader of these pages who is too young
to have heard Patti in her best days, and who cannot conceive
the wonder of the miracle that she was, must be content now
to "mark, learn, and inwardly" — believe.

London, November, 1919.


Mme. Patti as Rosina Frontispiece


Adelina Patti at the Age of Nine 32

Adelina Patti at the Age of Ten 36

Adelina Patti with her Father 45

In London, 1861 56

Amina, 1862 56

Rosina, 1862 80

Violetta, 1862 80

Dinorah, 1862 . 97

Martha, 1863 97

In Paris, 1862 112

Lucia, 1863 129

Norma, 1863 129

Marguerite, 1864 148

Patti, Mario, and Faure in "Faust" 157

La Caterina, 1866 161

Leonora, 1866 161

Adina, 1866 164

Patti and Mario 164

Mario as Faust 168

Linda Di Chamouni, 1867 173

Giovanna D'Areo, 1868 173

In St. Petersburg, 1869 176

In Paris, 1869 180

La Reine, 1870 184

In Paris, 1870 189



Desdemona, 1871 193

Marie, 1871 196

Aida, 1876 205

Ernest Nicolini, 1887 208

At Craig-y-Nos 224

Mrae. Patti with her Niece Carlina, 1887 241

Juliette, 1888 256

Craig-y-Nos Castle, Mme. Patti's Welsh Home 273

The "Lost Gainsborough" 296

Line of Music Improvised by Mme. Patti 309

In the Late Sixties 316

The Elixir of Youth, 1898 336

Casket Presented with the Freedom of Brecon 353

Casket Presented with the Freedom of Swansea .... 353




Parentage and Birth (1843) — Story of the Patti Family — Hereditary
Vocal Influences — "Norma" and Her New Baby — The Opera and Its
Sequel — The Fiction of the Green-Room — The Madrid Baptismal
Register — A Call to America — The Patti Family Emigrates — Italian
Opera in New York (1845-47) — Max Maretzek — Managerial Fiasco —
The Child at the Opera

< < iy M Y father was a Sicilian ; my mother a native of Rome ; I
1YJ. saw the light of the world in Madrid, where they were
both singing during the Italian season, and I was brought up
in New York."

Here, in her own words, uttered in 1877 to her friend
Eduard Hanslick, the famous Viennese critic, 1 stands the brief
record of the nationality and parentage of Adelina Patti, the
greatest singer of her time, and, as many have thought, the
greatest operatic soprano of all time. It was her fortunate
destiny to be able to look back upon a half a century of tri-
umphs more brilliant, more numerous than ever before fell to
the lot of prima donna. Her public career, which began in
1850 and terminated in 1906, has had no parallel in the annals
of musical history.

The story of the Patti family reads like a romance. Its
main interest starts, of course, with the epoch-making event
that occurred at Madrid in the spring of 1843. Still, it is
worth tracing a little farther back, if only for the sake of
noting the source of those hereditary influences which played
so important a part in the growth and development of a very

i "Musikalische Stationen," Berlin, 1880.



remarkable genius. One hears commonly enough, the term ' ' a
born singer." As a matter of fact, the singer to whom it can
be justly applied is a rara avis indeed; and the particular
gifts that warranted it in the case of Adelina Patti must be
attributed to an especial degree to causes with which heredity
and family surroundings are intimately connected.

To what extent her ancestors were musical there is no
evidence to show. All we know is that her parents were of
pure Italian blood — Sicilian on the paternal, Roman and
Venetian on the maternal side. It has bpen stated, with ap-
parent good reason, that through the mother's family there
had descended a strain of decided artistic temperament; but
whether tending in the direction of the theatre it is hard to
say. Enough that in the generation which concerns us —
namely, those two worthy opera singers whose chief claim to
distinction in this world lay in the fact that they were the
father and mother of Adelina Patti — musical talent revealed
itself with unmistakable opulence.

Salvatore Patti was a native of Catania. Trained for the
operatic stage, he became an acceptable tenore robusto and
found plentiful occupation in the principal Sicilian towns.
There, in 1837, he fell in love with the leading prima donna
of the troupe in which he was singing. Dark, good-looking,
not yet out of his twenties, a first-rate hand at love-making
both on and off the stage, he seems to have proved quite irre-
sistible to his fair colleague. Indeed, everybody liked Salva-
tore Patti. Forty years later Dr. Hanslick, speaking of him
to his famous daughter, described him, on the occasion of her
first visit to Vienna, as "the calm, good-natured chairman,
serving out the soup at the head of your small family table. ' ' x
Only then he was a "tall and stately man with long white hair
and black eyes." Here in Catania he was the young, hot-

i "Musikalische Stationen."


blooded Sicilian tenor, courting a proud Roman matron upon
his native heath.

Truth to tell, Signora Caterina Barili, nee Chiesa, was no
longer in the first flush of youth, but a widow with three boys
and a girl. These were the children of her brief but happy
marriage with a well-known singing master and composer
named Barili. He had seen her one day when, like another
Rebecca, she was drawing water from a well (otherwise a
Roman fountain) and singing blithely over her task. Struck
by her voice and good looks, he married her and trained her
for opera. She quickly made her debut and won an emphatic

Then Barili died, leaving behind him only a name and the
aforesaid children, Ettore, Antonio, Nicolo, and Clotilda.
With such a burden upon her shoulders, the widow was only
too glad to continue the pursuit of her profession. Fortu-
nately, hers was an increasing reputation, especially in south-
ern Italy. In Naples she was a favorite; so much so that (ac-
cording to a proud family tradition) she made even the
illustrious Grisi jealous, and the latter, "having on one ocea-
' sion been thrown into the shade by her, would not again ap-
pear in the same town with her. ' ' Be this as it may, history
vouches for the fact that when Donizetti produced his opera,
"The Siege of Calais," at Naples in 1836, he wrote the part
of the heroine for Signora Barili, who duly created it.

In the following year she married Salvatore Patti. The
two artists continued their careers for three or four years in
Italy, where their first two children, Amalia and Carlotta,
were born. Later they began an annual engagement for the
season of Italian opera at Madrid ; and there, in 1842, Signora
Barili-Patti gave birth to her son Carlo, 1 who, with the four

* Destined to become a violinist and conductor of some repute in the
United States. After many wanderings he settled down at Memphis,
and died at St. Louis in 1873.


small Barili children and the Patti girl babies, brought the
juvenile family up to a total of seven.

Happily, the tale was not to end at the magic number. In
February of 1843 this industrious mother was again singing
in opera at Madrid, and even now another addition to the
growing circle was known to be close at hand. However, little
affairs of this kind seem to have made no difference to her;
so long as her voice remained in good order — and evidently
it did — nothing else mattered. The shadow of the coming
event did not deter her from undertaking, on the evening of
the 9th, the tolerably exacting role of Norma.

Otherwise the appropriateness of the character was beyond
question. Xorma is essentially a motherly sort of person;
albeit at one moment of the opera an unkind fate well-nigh
impels her to the desperate expedient of taking her children's
lives. Whether the latter were represented in this instance by
a couple of the Barili boys or by the usual borrowed mites
fAmalia and Carlotta being slill too tiny for the purpose),
history does not relate. But it is certain that the excellent
prima donna went through her part with courage and her
wonted energy to the end — or very nearly to the end — of the
opera. It was only then that trouble began.

Many pretty variations have been invented to lend color to
a sufficiently interesting episode. One of these, which ob-
tained considerable currency in the sixties, declared that
"the diva was actually born in the green-room of an opera-
house. Her mother, a prima donna of some talent, was sing-
ing with the celebrated Signor Sinico, when she was suddenly
taken ill and carried to the green-room, where Adelina Patti
was born. Sinico has related how in haste he tore up his
wardrobe to find wraps for the infant, little guessing it would
be the greatest singer in the world. ' '

It is scarcely necessary to say that the "celebrated" author


of this story evolved it from what Americans call "whole
cloth"; and, for a person of such vivid imagination, it is a
wonder his "guessing" powers were not yet more enterpris-
ing. When he related this version of the occurrence Signor
Sinico x had for some years been a teacher of singing in
London, and possibly his memory had begun to play him
tricks. The legend at the wraps, apart from its inherent im-
probability, was as far from the truth as the statement re-
garding the locale of the event itself.

For, to be strictly accurate, the baby was not born until
four o'clock on the following afternoon. That "Norma" was
first of all carried to the green-room, there is no reason to
doubt ; but it passes the limits of ordinary credence that she
should be allowed to remain there for some sixteen or seven-
teen hours, even with the resources of Signor Sinico and his
wardrobe at hand. As a matter of fact, the worthy
Salvatore was also on the spot, and lost no time in having his
wife removed to their lodgings — a proceeding fraught with
little risk in the case of so robust a mere de famille. And
there, on the afternoon of the 10th of February, the tiny
stranger duly made her first appearance and improvised her
first cadenza on the world's stage.

Naturally, an event of such engrossing interest and im-
portance, taking place under unusual conditions, was narrated
in after years by others besides Signor Sinico. His account,
however, is noted here not merely because of its picturesque-
ness, but because he, of all men, was most under a moral
obligation to state the exact facts and not glorify himself at
the expense of truth. The reason for this is that some two
months after the birth of the wonder-child whose future he
could not "guess," Sinico and his wife were standing as spon-
sors for her at the baptismal font of a neighboring church.

1 He was the father (by a second marriage) of the well-known so-
prano, Madame Sinico, who sang in London for many seasons under
Mapleson's management at Her Majesty's and Drury Lane.


The date of Adelina Patti's birth was for many years in-
correctly given in every published musical dictionary. In the
earlier editions of "Fetis" the name of Patti was not even
included among existing singers. The second edition, printed
in 1868, still ignored an artist who had for seven years been
creating a sensation all over Europe, yet spared thirteen pages
for a biography of Paganini ! In the first edition of "Grove"
the date was wrongly stated as February' 19, 1843 ; and, curi-
ously enough (thus perhaps accounting for the mistake), the
19th was the day of the month which for a long while Mme.
Patti herself observed as her jour de fete. Others have men-
tioned April 8; but that was the date of the ceremony of

Dr. Hugo Ptiemann, in his Dictionary of Music, was the first
authority to give the correct date, namely, February 10. It
may be assumed that he derived it from the copy of the bap-
tismal register which was made in Madrid and first published
some five-and-twenty years ago. Anyhow, a translation of
this unimpeachable document shall be given here:

Book of Baptisms, No. 42, page 153. In the City of Madrid, Prov-
ince of the same name, on April 8, 1843, I, Don Josef Losada,
Vicar of the Parish of St. Louis, solemnly baptized a girl, born at
four o'clock in the afternoon of the 10th February of the current
year, the legitimate daughter of Salvatore Patti, professor of music,
born at Catania, in Sicily, and of Caterina Chiesa, born in Rome.
The paternal .Grandparents were Pietro Patti and Concepcion
Marino, and the maternal were John Chiesa, born at Venice, and
Louise Caselli, born at Marino, in the Pontifical States.

The child was given the names of Adela Juana Maria.

There assisted at the baptism as godfather Giuseppe Sinico, of
Venice, professor of music, and, as godmother, his wife, Rosa Monara
Sinico, born at Cremona, in Lombardy, whom I have warned of the
spiritual duties they have contracted to fulfil by this act ; and as
witnesses Julien Huezal and Casimir Garcia, born at Madrid, sacris-
tans of this parish.


In witness whereof I have signed and delivered the present cer-
tificate, 8th April, etc.

Josef Losada.

The Madrid opera season terminated at Easter, when the
Patti family-^went back to Italy and settled down for a time
at Milan. (jThere the tiny Adelina grew into a strong, healthy
child, developing fresh lung-power every day, though not as
yet with tonal results indicative of the voice that was soon
to delight the world. ^ It was, however, the New World, not
the old land of song, that was to have the privilege of furnish-
ing the cradle and home for the rearing of the new prodigy.
How this came about must now be told.

In the early forties New York was fond of flirting with
opera. Its citizens still preserved the taste for it that the
incomparable Garcias had some twenty years before inoculated
them withal. But their support was rather capricious, and
when, in the winter of 1843-4, a ci-devant restaurant-keeper
named Palmo, built a small opera house in Chambers Street,
in which to give Italian opera on a modern scale (it only held
eight hundred persons), he found it more than he could do to
make it pay. The first season saw him a heavy loser ; the sec-
ond was disastrous. In January, 1845, the theatre closed and
was taken over by one Sanquirico, a buffo singer — but not
alone. It occurred to this enterprising artist to ask his old
friend Salvatore Patti to come over to New York and join him-
self and another Italian named Pogliagno in the exploitation
of Palmo 's opera house.

The Pattis do not appear to have hesitated. Sanquirico
used powerful arguments, and the economy of the arrange-
ment was a recommendation in itself. The husband a tenor;
the wife a prima donna ; two of the Barili children already old
enough to be in the company — it was like securing the best
part of a troupe, to begin with. The important step was
quickly taken, and, almost before they knew it, Salvatore


Patti and his family were landing on the dock at New York,
ready to start their new lives in a new country. 1

The exact date of this emigration to America is not on rec-
ord. According to Mr. H. E. Krehbiel, 2 the Sanquirico-Patti
season at Palmo's came subsequently to the closing of the
house in January, 1845. On the other hand, an article printed
in Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization in 1860 asserts
that Adelina Patti 's parents brought her to America in 1844;
and there are reasons for concluding that this was the actual
year. It is more than likely that Sanquirico was able to fore-
see and inform his friend in good time how things were going
to end at Palmo's.

The idea of living in the United States was exceedingly
attractive to the Sicilian tenor; still more so was the anticipa-
tion that when his voice gave out he could make a good living
as an impresario. It seems practically certain, therefore,
that by the time the crisis came at the little opera house in
Chambers Street, Salvatore Patti and his family were already
permanently installed in their new dwelling, not far from
that spot.

But neither there nor elsewhere was his venture into the
domain of operatic management destined to be crowned with
good fortune. The season at Palmo's was a failure. Nothing
daunted. Messrs. Sanquirico and Patti undertook, in 1847, the
direction of the newly erected Astor Place Opera House, which
seated eighteen hundred people and was intended to accom-
modate the aristocracy of New York. For a time all went
well, and the operas mounted during the season included
Verdi's "Ernani" and "Xabucco," Mercadante's "II Giura-
mento, " Bellini's "Beatrice di Tenda, " and Donizetti's
"Lucrezia Borgia."

i According to one account, Amalia and Carlotta Patti were left be-
hind and placed in a boardinp-school at Milan.
a "Chapters of Opera." - by II. E. Krehbiel, 1909.


Before the end, however, troubles arose (of the usual pecu-
niary description), for which the easy-going Salvatore was
in no way responsible ; and eventually the new managers gave
way to a Mr. Edward Fry (brother of the then critic of the
Tribune), who directed the Astor Place opera season in 1848,
and afterwards in turn retired in favor of his conductor, Mr.
Max Maretzek. The advent of this gentleman was of interest
for reasons that will become apparent later on. He was to
devote himself to the cause of Italian opera in New York for
the next five-and-twenty years, and with more satisfactory re-
sults than had attended the efforts of his predecessors.

Thus terminated the vocation of Salvatore Patti as an oper-
atic manager. Who knows but that it was for the best ? Had
fortune smiled upon him, the whole history of his remarkable
family would probably have been different. His daughters

Online LibraryHermann KleinThe reign of Patti → online text (page 1 of 37)