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and must have been rather pleased than otherwise at the
prospect of a greater measure of freedom. Still, there was
no quarrel. Strakosch insists that their excellent relations
did not cease after the marriage, when, "in relinquishing
his duties as impresario, he placed in her hands contracts
signed by the directors of the chief European opera houses,
and the total of those contracts amount to the sum of
1,600,000 francs [about £64,000], extending over a period of
three years. ' ' 1

Maurice Strakosch foresaw trouble, and the event proved
him to have been right. We shall come to that soon enough.
.Meanwhile 1 he lune de miel was shining brightly, and the
seasons in Homburg, Paris, and Russia succeeded each other

1 'Souvenirs d'un Impresario," p. 60.



amid a steady crescendo of artistic and social triumphs.
During their stay in the French capital in the autumn of
1869 they were frequently guests of the Emperor and Em-
press at the Tuileries. They also entertained a good deal
at their own residence, and their receptions were attended
by the leading notabilities in the worlds of music, drama,
art and literature.

At one of these intime affairs the famous Alboni ap-
plauded the singing of her hostess; and Auber. being asked
what he thought of her, replied: "I have seen and heard
many singers. I remember Catalani, Pasta, Malibran,
Grisi, and Sontag. But I never heard so perfect an artist
as Patti. As for her voice, it is without a flaw." This was
a tremendous comparison to make; but the old French mas-
ter was no flatterer : he meant what he said.

They were staying that season at the Hotel du Rhin, in
the Place Vendome, and when the Prince of Orange (Crown
Prince of the Netherlands) came to Paris the Marquis and
Marquise de Caux gave a reception and entertainment in
his honor, which was attended by the flower of the French
nobility, then living their last few months of splendor ere
the sun set upon the glories of the Second Empire. It was
a memorable night ; the crowd was exceedingly brilliant,
and the Prince is said to have enjoyed the concert amaz-
ingly. No wonder. Not only did Patti herself sing, but
she provided a morceau d' ensemble of a wholly unique
description, in the shape of the trio from Cimarosa's opera
"II Matrimonio Segreto," the artists being the three sisters,
Amalia, Carlotta, and Adelina. They had never sung to-
gether before, and they were never to sing together again.

It is generally acknowledged that the period during which
Adelina Patti was the Marquise de Caux — in fact, the dec-
ade covering the whole of the seventies — marked the zenith


of her career. As good fortune would have it, it was during
he early part of that period, in 1872, that the writer of
his chronicle first heard her at Covent Garden It was
her twelfth season in Great Britain, and she had not yet
attained her thirtieth birthday. She was, in short, at the
very height of her powers.

This most memorable of all my operatic experiences hap-
pened on a Whit-Monday.^ The stalls and boxes were a
tofle less crowded than usual, on account of the holiday
Nevertheless, it presented a sufficiently brilliant and-to
my unaccustomed eyes-dazzling spectacle. Mr Gve in
his corner stage-box on the pit tier, was duly pointed' out
to me; and I recall the entry of a dapper little gentleman,
wearing a broad shirtfront and spotless white waistcoat
who took his place in the stalls near the orchestra during
the second scene of -Don Giovanni." I was informed thai
he was the Marquis de Caux. Be was just in time to
witness the entry of Zerlina when she danced on with Mas-
etto. And a lovelier picture than the dainty diva in her
piquant Spanish costume it would indeed have been hard
to conjure up.

m It is scarcely necessary to say that every incident of that
night became ineffaceably imprinted upon mv memorv Mv
impressions of the scene, the music, the singing, the whole
performance, in fact, still remain extraordinarily vivid
From boyhood upward (in my native city of Norwich and
later in London) I had listened to a good deal of opera I
had heard the best of Mr. Mapleson's vocal stars-Tietjens
Nilsson lima di Murska, Marimon, Trebelli. Although
only a lad of sixteen, my ear was sufficiently educated to

i I remember the day because I had been to Sheerness to see Rrnn P l'«

fou g n e d z tlme 7 mde /\i he areat Ea8te ™> - d « zt: 1 ;

•Z-ar n 'T', ? d ' Mr " Jo1 '" Mitchell > the ^11-known Bond Street

Th rr s ' iult time to S T* *" T^T ^^ *"" P * tti " Z °^
mera was just time to change and hurry off to the Opera.


appreciate the art of the greatest singer of the day ; at the same
time, I could fairly estimate the qualities which made her
the most ravishing Zerlina that Da Ponte or Mozart can ever
have conceived.

I recollect more especially the strange, dark, penetrating
timbre — the voix sombre, as Garcia classified it — of Patti's
voice. How unlike it sounded to any other I had heard —
so individual in quality, so perfectly in harmony with the
personality of the singer, so elusive in its witchery, so sat-
isfying and entrancing to the ear! Incomparable, too, were
her technique and art. Never before, of course, had I heard
the familiar "Batti, batti," or "Vedrai carino" sung with
this astounding perfection of easy grace, of persuasive
charm, of pellucid tone in uninterrupted flow, enhancing
even the intrinsic loveliness of Mozart's immortal melodies.

It was a joy to hear her in the concerted music, above
all in "La ci darem," partnered with that consummate
artist, Faure, king of French baritones and prince of Don
Giovannis! Nicolini was the Don Ottavio, Ciampi the Le-
porello, and a Dresden soprano, Emmy Zimmermann, the
Donna Anna. Otherwise not the least interesting member
of the cast was the subsequently famous Viennese singer,
Marianne Brandt, who in this same season made her first
London appearance as Donna Elvira. 1

Three years elapsed before I heard Patti again. It was in
May, 1875, and I recollect then sitting in the Daily Tele-
graph box with my friend and harmony teacher, A. H.
Thouless, who introduced me for the first time to Joseph
Bennett, the eminent critic, his future father-in-law.

The opera was Gounod's "Romeo e Giulietta" — so en-
titled because sung at this time in the Italian version only.

1 Mr. Gye had engaged her to create Elsa ; but "Lohengrin," although
it had been definitely promised in 1872, was not given until 1875, aix 1
then Emma Albani undertook the role.


It had not been heard at Covent Garden since Mario's re-
tirement, seven years before, when the rule of Giulietta was
filled by the same artist. It had failed to please every one
then. Bennett never cared for it. Writing in the Musical
Times of August, 1867, he said :

In the balcony scene occurs some of the best music in the opera.
A cavatina for Borneo would have produced more effect had Signor
Mario been iti better voice; but lie was hoarse throughout the eve-
ning, and it was an evident labour for him to sing at all. The duet
between the two lovers, although full of charming passages, breathes
little of the Southern warmth and impetuosity so exquisitely por-
trayed by Shakespeare; and, notwithstanding that Mile. Patti sang
like a finished artist throughout this trying scene, the music was
somewhat coldly received. . . . The opera was excellently placed
upon the stage; but, in spite of the reputation of M. Gounod, the
great success of the work in Paris, and the unquestionable merit of
much of the music, we do not predict for it a lasting popularity
with the English public.

Mario was too old for the part of Romeo; in 1867 he was
very nearly sixty. Moreover, his voice was beginning to
fail, and the statement that he was "hoarse 1 ' was only an-
other way of hinting at that regrettable fact. His place in
the present revival was filled by Ernest Nicolini, who had
now been singing at Covent Garden since 1873 and was gen-
erally regarded as the best available tenor for the Mario
parts. With Patti and Nicolini "Romeo e Giulietta" pleased
the public rather better, but still did not approach within
measurable distance of the popularity of "Faust," which,
with the same singers and Faure in the cast, would attract
overflowing houses.

Being now an impressionable youth of nineteen, I ought
presumably to have gone into raptures over this perform-
ance of "Romeo." Yet I must confess that it left me cold.
Nicolini 's delineation of the hero was disappointing. It

In "Diamants de la Couronne," 18/0


lacked manly dignity, robust spirit, the true ring of tragedy.
There was not sufficient tenderness in his rendering of the
music; he was lovesick enough, but his acting lacked color,
rariety, depth of character. Of Patti 's Giulietta I can only
say that she sang divinely, more especially in the waltz air
aid the duet of the balcony scene; but as a whole her per-
formance struck me as too calm, too restrained. This does
no'; mean that she did not satisfy her public. The Juli-
ettzs of a later day were adjudged admirable in the part,
notwithstanding that their acting exhibited precisely sim-
ilar deficiencies. But from Patti it was only natural to
expect a great deal, and at this period her delineation of this
role was assuredly not to be ranked with her Caterina, her
Violetta, her Leonora, or her Valentina.

Thirteen years later there was a different story to tell.
In November, 1888, "Romeo et Juliette" underwent a kind
of transformation in the city where it was first brought to
a hearing. Removed by order of the State from the Opera
Comiqie to the Paris Opera, provided with an entirely new
mise e% scene and cast, musically revised and added to by
the still energetic composer, it acquired a fresh lease of
life, and therewith a place in popular favor that it had
never filled before. On that memorable occasion Mme. Patti
was again the Juliette, and like the opera itself, improved
beyond recognition. But the incidents of this fragment of
musical history shall be duly related in their proper place. 1
First let us deal with a yet more notable creation belong-
ing to :his ripe "middle period" of the artist's career.

The great event of the London operatic season of 1876
was the production of Verdi's "A'ida," which I had the
good luck to witness from the front row of the Covent

iSee Chapter XVI: also the author's "Thirty Years of Musical Life
in London," pp. 259-265.


Garden gallery, after a patient "wait" of six hours at the
doors. The work was then four and a half years old. Writ
ten at the request of the Khedive Ismail, it was first givei
at the new Opera House in Cairo (as one of the celebration*
in connection with the opening of the Suez Canal) 0.1
December 24, 1871, and subsequently brought out at La
Scala, Milan, in February of the following year.

In each instance it was acclaimed with enthusiasm as a
work marking a fresh epoch not only in the composer's
career but in the history of Italian opera. The complete
change of style from Verdi's "second manner" was with von-
der noted, and in London at least opera-goers were prepared
to welcome a new musical development -. for in the previous
summer the}' had made acquaintance with Wagner's "Lohen-
grin," and in this same season of 1876 (six weeks earlier)
had enjoyed their first hearing of "Tannh;iuser. "

.Moreover, in the month of May Verdi himself had come
to London to conduct the first performance in England of
his noble "Requiem," bringing with him as soloists three
of the artists — Teresina Stolz, Waldmann. and Masini —
who had taken part (on April 22) in the production of
"Aida" at the Theatre-Ttalien in Paris. After affording
us this wonderful glimpse of the new Verdi, the master de-
clined an invitation to remain for the proniirc of "Aida"
at Covent Garden and took his departure.

He had long been aware, however, that the title-role was
to be created in London by Adelina Patti. She had, while
in Italy, visited him at his villa at Brussetto and carefully
gone through the part with him. Mr. Gye had duly an-
nounced the fact in his prospectus, together with the proud
statement that "The exclusive right of performance of
'Aida' in England has been secured by the director of the
Royal Italian Opera." All this was planned through the
medium of Verdi's Milan publishers, the house of Ricordi,


of which the late courteous and talented Giulio di Ricordi
was at that time the head.

Now, if the advent of "Aida" furnished a conspicuous
landmark in the onward progress of the composer's art, it
certainly indicated a similar advance in that of the accom-
plished prima donna who interpreted the principal role in
the initial London performance.

The wiseacres of the period did not expect to be satisfied.
They shook their heads and declared that they could not
see her in the character. "It is not," said one of them, "a
Patti part. Imagine the fragile and gracious Adelina with
her face and arms dyed black, or at least a rich copper
color — darker, anyhow, than Pauline Lucca made herself
as Selika in 'L'Africaine' !" Then the music — would it
suit her ? Portions of it, perhaps, such as the solo air ' ' Cieli
azzuri" in the third act; but as a whole was it not essen-
tially written for a dramatic soprano, for a singer with a
much heavier voice 1 As to whether she would rise to the de-
mands of the part in a histrionic sense — that being in her
case somewhat a question of mood — opinions were rather more

However, all doubts were set at rest, all sceptical prophe-
cies wholly belied, on June 22, 1876, when "Aida" was
performed at Covent Garden for the first time, with Vian-
esi as conductor. That production provided the occasion
not only for an unprecedented tribute to the genius of
Verdi, but for an all-round individual triumph such as
Adelina Patti had not yet won during her entire seventeen
years of operatic life. It stands easily first among the many
exciting Patti nights that remain indelibly engraved upon
the memory of the present writer.

There was a remarkable sense of newness about the whole
thing. To begin with, the Egyptian mise en scene — copying
almost exactly the original Khedival model, with its temples


of the Pharaohs, its palaces on the Nile, and its wonderful
two-storied interior "set' where the lovers are interned
alive — unfolded a series of pictures familiar enough to-day,
but at that time entirely unknown to the opera-goer. As
to the eye, so to the ear did "Aida" furnish a complete reve-
lation. The music, with its original Eastern coloring and
exotic atmosphere, its novel harmonies (so unlike the earlier
Verdi), its bold effects, such as the masterly combination
of themes in the second finale (not forgetting the specially de-
signed long trumpets), and the magnificent orchestration
throughout — all this, apart from the unique personality of
the central figure, sufficed to impart a new artistic quality
to the representation. The grim Egyptian tragedy, laid
out by the Frenchman Camille du Locle and set forth in
verse by the Italian Ghislanzoni, was considered equal to
the best grand opera libretto that Scribe had ever written
for Meyerbeer; and that was saying much.

Yet, amid all the novel features of the production, none
was more striking than the change that had come over
the art of the great singer who filled the title-role. There
was a new note of tragic feeling in the voice; there were
shades of poignant expression in the "Ritorna vincitor,"
the "Cieli azzuri," and the three superb duets in which
Aida takes part, that seemed to embrace the whole gamut
of human misery and passion. Such tragic depths Adelina
Patti had never plumbed before. And, of all the splendid
A'idas that have since appeared in London, not one has pre-
sented a more highly colored or less exaggerated picture.

She had personally superintended the preparation of her
costumes. It was suggested that she should order them from
Cairo, or Paris, but she insisted on their being made at
Covent Garden from fresh designs. "Fanciful dresses of
this sort," she declared, "are always best made for me in
the theatre." Naturally, very great trouble was taken to

IN PARIS, 1870


have everything right. She did not want Aida to look like
another Selika, but an African princess of a different and
more individual type. That she succeeded was the general
opinion. The light brown complexion of her skin seemed just
the right shade, neither excessively dark nor the opposite.
Still Aida was an entirely new figure in opera, and on the first
night at Covent Garden her aspect evoked sympathy for
the artist from no less august a critic than the Princess of
Wales (now Queen Alexandra). Turning to the equerry be-
side her in the royal box (he afterwards told Mme. Patti), her
Royal Highness exclaimed: "What a pity for the pretty
little face to be all smothered up with black!"

Nicolini was the Radames. He gave a far finer portrayal
of the Egyptian warrior than of the Teutonic Knight of
the Swan, whom he had also presented to an English au-
dience for the first time during the previous season. The
best tenor of his day in parts that suited him, Nicolini en-
tirely failed to comprehend either the poetry or the music
of "Lohengrin"; but he was a magnificent Radames. 1

Considering the unusual length of her career in opera,
the number of characters actually created by Mme. Patti
was comparatively insignificant. At Covent Garden she ap-

i "No one in London has ever sung the tenor part in 'Aida' as it
was sung for some years by Signor Nicolini." Thus writes Mr. Suther-
land Edwards in his book, "The Prima Donna." But it must be remem-
bered that this appreciation was published a few months before Jean de
Reszke made his debut as Radames at Drury Lane in 1887, and fifteen
years prior to Caruso's triumph in the same character at Covent Gar-
den. Mr. Kuhe, by the way, in his "Recollections," refers to Nicolini'a
remarkable resemblance to Mario, and adds: "He was very handsome;
his voice was a real tenor of exceeding beauty and most artistically
managed, while his acting was both manly and graceful. Nicolini had
been originally trained at the Paris Conservatoire as a pianist; but,
making the discovery that he possessed a voice of fine calibre, he wisely
devoted himself to its cultivation. He retired from public life far toq
soon, . . . but he prefers to lead the life of a country squire,"


peared altogether in eight new roles. Of these, however,
only two occurred in operas not already heard elsewhere:
namely, "Gelrnina," by Princess Poniatowski (June 4, 1872),
and "Velleda," a four-act opera by Charles Lenepveu, founded
upon Chateaubriand's "Les Martyrs" (July 4, 1882). The
others were Annetta in "Crispino e la Comare" (July
14, 1866); Juliet in "Romeo e Giulietta" (July 11, 1867);
Esmeralda in Campana's opera of that name (June 14,
1870) ; Caterina in Auber's "Les Diamants de la Cour-
onne" (July 3, 1873); Aida (June 22, 1876); and Estella
in Jules Cohen's "Les Bluets" (July 3, 1880), given in
Italian under the title of "Estella."

Of those not already mentioned, two characters only took
a conspicuous place in the singer's repertory, namely An-
netta and Caterina. 1 Campana's "Esmeralda" met with
some success, but survived only for a season or two. It was
originally produced in London in 1862, then heard of no
more until mounted at St. Petersburg for Mme. Patti in
December, 1869. "Gelrnina" and "Velleda" were both
written expressly for her. One remembers Prince Ponia-
towski 's merry ballad, "The Yeoman's Wedding," made
popular by Santley ; but of his opera every note has long

1 Noticing a revival of "Crispino," the Musical World observed that
it was "rendered especially attractive by the rich comic humour of
Signor Roneoni as the cobbler, and the exquisitely refined singing and
acting of illle. Adelina Patti as the cobbler's wife. . . . The wonder i8
that such a coarse lout as the cobbler Crispino should be possessed of
such a charming wife as the Annetta of Mile. Patti. However, if the
consistency of dramatic truth is hereby invaded, the effect of the opera
and the delight of the audience are immeasurably enhanced. Her con-
dolences with her husband in their wretched poverty, her effort to aid
him, her pleadings for pity at the hands of his creditors, her pettish
jealousy at Crisnino's description of the fairy's gift, her reconciliation
willi him, and that inimitable dance with which she accompanies the
brilliant roulades expressive of her exultation at their good fortune —
such a combination of exuberant animal spirits, refinement of manner,
and high vocal excellence is rarely found in one singer."


been forgotten. The music of "Velleda" was equally un-
inspired and made little or no impression, in spite of an
exceedingly good performance, wherein Mine. Patti was
supported by Mme. Valleria, Mile. Stahl, Nicolini, Cotogni,
and Edouard de Reszke. "Les Bluets" was first brought
out at the Theatre-Lyrique, Paris, in 1867, with Nilsson as
Estella. Neither the book nor M. Jules Cohen's music
proved particularly attractive then ; and, when given at
Covent Garden thirteen years later, it was generally agreed
that Mme. Patti would have done better to leave the opera
to the oblivion that it deserved. 1

On the whole, however, it must be admitted that admir-
able discretion was shown in the choice of her repertory.
For this, in the early days, the credit should go to her father
and to Maurice Strakosch. The parts that they picked out
for her were the parts she sang during the greater portion of
her career.

Even a heavy role like Valentino, in "Les Huguenots"
(which she first essayed when a girl at New Orleans, then
took up again at Liege on her return from Russia in 1870)
remained for some years her favorite tour de force on the
occasion of her "annual benefit" at Covent Garden. She
sang it there first in July, 1871, with no less distinguished a
Kaoul than Mario, who two or three nights later bade fare-

1 In a review of the opera season, shortly after the production of
"Velleda" at Covent Garden, the author wrote as follows in the Sunday
Times of July 23, 1882:

"As for 'Velleda,' we can only trust that its failure will prove a
lesson to Mme. Patti not to bring over any more unknown operas by
obscure Frenchmen for Mr. Gye to produce simply because they provide
soprano parts well suited to the diva's voice and means. Even the
genius of Mme. Patti cannot redeem from mediocrity music that would
not otherwise be thought worth taking out of a composer's portfolio;
but as yet not one of her numerous trouvailles has turned out a prize,
and the only result has been to exclude operas that have already gained
Continental fame or new works by native musicians who can write as
well as either M. Cohen or M. Lenepveu."


well to the stage as Fernando in "La Favorita"; but the
critics, albeit full of admiration for the talent displayed in this
effort, would not allow that it was entirely successful. Here
is a specimen of the guarded kind of language they wrote:

We are so convinced of the earnestness of Mine. Patti in what-
ever she attempts that we prefer awaiting another opportunity of
forming a judgment as to her capabilities for excelling in the new
sphere to which she is now apparently directing her strength.
Though a first experience does not justify a verdict of unqualified
approval, it is equally insufficient, on the other hand, to warrant
condemnation without appeal. The performances of no artist whom
we can call to mind have been worthier calm and deliberate con-
sideration than those of Mme. Patti.

Two years later the Musical World said:

Although the fresh effort, brilliant as it undoubtedly was, has not
changed our opinion that Valentina is among those characters which,
for certain reasons, do not lie easily within her means, there were
features in Mme. Patti's impersonation which placed it apart from
any other Valentino we have seen.

The allusion here was undoubtedly to the rare individuality,
the supreme beauty of her singing in this part. While abso-
lutely traditional as a reading, it yet seemed to impart a
new aspect to the music. Even Joseph Bennett was con-
strained to say in the Daily Telegraph: "Not in our rec-

Online LibraryHermann KleinThe reign of Patti → online text (page 15 of 37)