Hermann Klein.

The reign of Patti online

. (page 21 of 37)
Online LibraryHermann KleinThe reign of Patti → online text (page 21 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in it in England.

The main incidents of this American tour of 1889-90 have
been amusingly described by the late Mme. Arditi, an amiable
and witty Irish lady, who recounted them in a series of letters
to her daughter. 1 She tells how the company first assembled
at Chicago in December 1889, in time for the inauguration of
the new Auditorium — just completed at a cost of eight million
dollars. "The opening night is to be devoted to the dedica-
tion and to the making of sundry speeches, while Patti will
sing 'Home, sweet home' (the only musical item), for which
she will be paid £800!"

From Chicago they travelled direct to Mexico :

As we approached Texas it seemed as though the roads were
garnished with cactus plants, and all along the line the natives turn
out of their huts to stare at Patti's car, which bears her name in
large letters and is, of course, the great attraction. . . . To-night
we are invited to dine with the diva in her car, which is most luxuri-
ous; it is, in fact, fit for any queen. Her suite is decorated in the
most artistic fashion, her monogram being interspersed here and
there on the walls with flowers and musical instruments; the salon
is furnished with lounges and chairs of pale blue plush, and her
bedroom is made of inlaid satinwood, with a brass bedstead, a plush
counterpane bearing her monogram exquisitely embroidered; while
she has every luxury, such as a long glass, bath, electric light, piano,
etc. . . .

Mexico at last! A perfect paradise of a place. . . . The house
for cur first performance was magnificent. Such wealth, dresses,
and diamonds; such a galaxy of beauty, and such appreciative
though exacting audiences, one does not often see combined. . . .
I heard of a lady who positively paid £30 for a box, and £14 for
two seats in the gallery for her maid and her husband's valet ! . . .

i "My Reminiscences," by Luigi Arditi, p. 275, etc.



258 THE REIGN OF PATTI

Patti has just sent us in a delicious dish from her table; she has
brought her own chef with her.

The stay in Mexico City lasted until the end of January.
The season there was a great financial success, the people
being "so crazy" about the opera that they actually pawned
their jewelry to buy seats. Mine. Arditi goes on to say:

Pattr's benefit, which took place on the 29th of January, was
a tremendous success. The house was a wonderful sight, and the
gifts presented to her were extraordinary. Mrs. Clark was think-
ing of spending a fabulous sum on flowers for Patti; but I advised
her to give Adelina something she could keep in remembrance of
her; consequently she brought an exquisite little clock in the shape
of a Sedan chair, which Luigi [Arditi] handed to her from the
orchestra. Grau gave her a card-case inlaid with diamonds, the
President's wife a filigree silver box containing precious coins, while.
many other souvenirs were presented to her. "La Traviata" was the
opera, and Patti was in perfect voice. . . .

My little dog Chiquito goes with me to the theatre every night.
Patti takes hers to her dressiny-room.



'&



On the voyage from New York to Liverpool Mme. Patti, un-
fortunately, caught a severe col J. She was under engagement
to Mr. Kuhe to sing at the Albert Hall (on May 14, 1890),
and, anxious not to disappoint either her old friend or the
public, she battled with a sharp attack' of hoarseness and duly
appeared. It was a great pity she did so. The audience
failed to grasp the situation. Unable to sing the pieces she
was down for, she was obliged to substitute others, and, worse
still, to decline the encores that were uproariously demanded.
After "Home, sweet home," a noisy disturbance ensued. The
audience evidently thought there was nothing the matter with
the artist, and forgot how generous she was as a rule. There
was, of course, no e euse for its unseemly behavior, which was



THE REIGN OF PATTI 259

prolonged for several minutes — indeed, until after Mme. Patti
had actually left the hall.

Next day the Daily News gave the following account of the
episode :

It was in vain that Mr. Kuhe appeared on the platform, and, be-
ing denied a hearing, complacently seated himself in a chair till the
noise might subside. It was equally in vain that M. Hollman at-
tempted some violoncello solos, and, finding himself utterly inaudible
amid the din, finally left the platform. The plucky conduct of the
popular violoncellist seemed to recall the audience to a fitting sense
of their behaviour, and after another brief disturbance, which was
sternly repressed, Mme. Patey [the contralto] was allowed to sing a
song by Tosti. In defence of the public, it should be said that at
the Patti concerts encores are expected, and that during the past
few years, although she has rarely been announced for more than
three songs, yet that loud and continued applause has usually in-
duced her to sing six and often seven times on a single evening.
That a similar complaisance to the demands of the audience would
last night have been unwise, the state of Mme. Patti's voice, how-
ever, amply showed.

In consequence of her excessive exertion on this occasion,
Mme. Patti was not well enough to appear at a second con-
cert, which had been announced for some date in June. For-
tunately, she had no further engagements that summer, and
was thus able to take a lengthy rest; but her voice did not
recover its full strength for several weeks. It was the first
time she had ever suffered long and serious ill effects from a
similar cause. Possibly she had never before literally
strained her voice by singing on a severe cold. The result
clearly indicated that, notwithstanding her wonderful con-
stitution, she could not now begin to "take liberties" with
impunity.

There can be no question that the amazing freshness of



260 THE REIGN OF PATTI

her organ at this period was largely due to the constant
care that had been exercised from the outset to spare her
from over-fatigue. Adelina Patti was now able to look back
upon an active career of thirty years, without reckoning the
work done in her childhood. Yet the most candid criticism
could point to nothing more perceptible in the way of de-
terioration than a somewhat reduced compass and a shade less
brilliancy of tone in the head register; while, to atone for
this slighl falling-off, the chest notes had grown more power-
ful and the medium more rich, more resonant, than before.
The younger Desmond Ryan, writing in the Standard (Jan-
uary, 1889), put it accurately when he said:

Those who remember that far-off evening, more than a quarter of
a century ago, when a young girl appeared on the stage of Covent
Garden, attired in the peasant costume of Amina . . . might well
be lost in admiration at the full, luscious tones displayed last night
in Handel's "From mighty kings." As time goes on, Mme. Patti's
voicr gains in volume what it loses in compass, while its flexibility
remains unsurpassed and unsurpassable.

Joseph Bennett would not acknowledge that any marked
change was yet to be observed. His complaint was rather
that she now sang so little in London ; he deplored the loss
inflicted thereby on opera. Writing about an Albert Hall
concert on the eve of her departure for one of her American
tours, he said in the Daily Telegraph:

It is a matter of regret that the public should have had so few
chances of hearing Mme. Patti either in the theatre or concert room
during the last season. The withdrawal of an artist endowed with
rare talents is likely to prove of serious consequences to Italian
opera in this country, where fashion has begun to show it indiffer-
ence, and where art of a different kind is busy undermining- long-
established forms. At such a moment the absence of its most gifted
illustrator is felt severely, since there is, unfortunately, no one left



THE REIGN OF PATTI 261

with the genius necessary to uphold successfully an institution that
has, in spite of many failings and follies, entertained generations
with vocalisation often brought to the highest point of excellence.

That this point was well-nigh reached in the performance last
night of Rossini's air, "Bel raggio," cannot with fairness be gain-
said. The beautiful melody seemed to flow with the spontaneity
that affects us in the warbling of birds. Yet, though appearing
altogether free and unconstrained, the phrases were, in fact, so
carefully modelled and so truly placed as to form together a com-
plete and finished musical structure. Such a display was thoroughly
enjoyed by the audience, and such a lesson, we may add, should
prove invaluable to vocal students present.

There was also truth in the following lines from another
pen that appeared at about the same time in the same journal :

The tones that had so long enraptured the musical public were
found as bright and rich as ever. What if the extreme notes be not
so elastic or ready at command as they once were, what if the daring
flights of vocalisation be less spontaneous, there is surely compen-
sation afforded in the increase of volume, in the ripe mellowness of
the middle and lower registers. In the melody, "Spargi d'amor il
pianto," the prima donna showed that she is now in full possession
of those artistic qualities which have gained her wide-world renown.
Again, in the aria, "0 luce di quest' anima," Mme. Patti displayed
that winning grace, that eloquent charm, which has heretofore dis-
tinguished her singing.

And all those qualities were to endure to the end. Notably,
the exquisite roundness, the sympathetic musical timbre of the
medium and chest tones, were to remain in undiminished
beauty and opulence so long as the voice itself lasted. For
it was never to be said by living soul that Patti was heard to
sing when her voice had lost its sweetness and charm. Like
its possessor, it never betrayed the meaning of the term "old
age."

How this miracle of preservation was accomplished will



262 THE REIGN OF PATTI

by now have been made more or less comprehensible to the
reader of these pages. Patti once told the "secret" of it
herself in America, after she had been singing in public more
than fifty years, to Mr. William Armstrong, who reproduced
her words in an article entitled "Mme. Patti 's Advice to
Singers: Her Own Rules for Preserving the Voice." ' They
were not, perhaps, her ipsissima verba; but unquestionably
they embodied with accuracy the thoughts and ideas that she
uttered in her interview with the magazine writer. Apart
from thafj they contain such sound common sense, so many
valuable hints to vocal students for all time, that I gladly
avail inyseJi of the permission granted me to quote the whole
article in tb/jSe pages. It runs thus :

"mme. patti's advice to singers"

People who cultivate the voice have widely different ideas on
what constitutes the best methods of its preservation. If I gave
lessons. I should cultivate the middle tones, and the voice of the
singer would be good at the age of a hundred. The whole harm to
3 voice Gomes in pushing it up and down, in trying to add notes to
its compass.

"HoTjhigh car. .yon sing?" appears to be the question. But what
about the foundnLlin part of the voice — that is, the middle notes?
3?7 success is founded on those notes, and there can be no enduring
success without them. How many can sing very high and yet can-
not sing 'Home, sweet home'! Some pooh-pooh the idea of the
difficulty of that simple melody. But it is more difficult to sing
'Home, sweet home' than the waltz song from "Romeo and Juliet,"
because of its demands upon the development of the voice. Without
the beautiful middle notes there is no cantabile, and upon the proper

i Dictated by Mme. Patti to William Armstrong, and revised by her
for publication in the Saturday Evening ]'i/st (Philadelphia) and sub-
sequently in the Christmas number of the Windsor Magazine, 1903.
Reprinted here by kind permission of the editor of the Saturday Eve-
ning Post.



THE REIGN OF PATTI 263

development of these, and the avoidance of strain by forcing high
and low notes, the enduring powers of the singer depend.

High gymnastics are very beautiful; but, lose the middle notes,
and you lose all. The very high and the very low notes are the
ornaments, but what good are Gobelins and pictures if you have no
house to hang them in 1 ?

The tremolo, one of the most objectionable and unbearable of
vocal faults, is but a phase of this forcing, and comes of the spread-
ing of the vocal cords through straining.

How often the question has been put to me: "Mme. Patti, how
high can you sing?" and I have thought: "Are you at it, too?"
The middle voice is the one that you need to sing with. I sing com-
fortably.

If you want to sing for years, do not strain the natural compass
of the voice. That is like living on capital. I have always lived
within my income, and I have always had something to put aside.

The question of success or failure as a singer is simplified by self-
judgment and discrimination. Many voices are not worth the culti-
vation, and that means time and opportunities lost. Very often
students wear out their voices with over-study before they appear
in public. They destroy the freshness of the voice by singing too
much.

As to the length of time to be devoted to study, I myself do not
give more than fifteen or twenty minutes to it daily, and these few
minutes I devote to scales. . . .

My golden rule in singing is to spare myself until the voice is
needed, and then never to give it all out. Put it in the bank. I
do not push my voice for the pleasure of the moment. If you are
prodigal of your powers at such times, the next time you wish to
be generous you cannot.

"The true secret of preserving the voice is not to force
it and not to sing when one ought not to." We have seen
how she broke the latter half of her golden rule when she sang
for Mr. Kuhe at the Albert Hall; but she had naturally for-
gotten that exceptional episode when "dictating" to Mr. Arm-
strong fourteen years later, for to him she said :



264 THE REIGN OF PATTI

I nover sang when I was not well enough ; neither did I sing when
I was doubtful of the condition of my voice. I simply went to bed
and said thai there was "no one in." .Managers came, besought,
pleaded, and entreated; but I was not well and I would not sing.

One instance I remember well when it proved most difficult to
refuse. The King of Prussia, later the German Emperor William I,
had arranged a court concert in which I was to sing. Although
everything had been prepared at the palace, when the day arrived
I did not feel well, and refused to go. To Meyerbeer was given the
unpleasant task of conveying my refusal. But the King did not
resent it, for he came to hear me when I next appeared. During
the performance he asked :

"Miss Patti, what caused you to be so ill?"

"Your royal climate, your Majesty," was my reply.

In the matter of diet and its relation to the voice, I can only say
that I have been able to eat and drink in moderation anything I like.
During a performance I do not take anything, unless it may be a
little chicken soup; nor at such times do I feel like eating. Eating
after singing I consider injurious, for one is then always more or
less fatigued. ... I have always avoided suppers at home in the
middle of the night ; late suppers disagree with me.

So far as denying myself is concerned, I have not found the slight-
est difficulty in giving up anything that it is unwise to indulge in.
At one time I dieted for four years. That was, however, not due
to the demands of my voice. . . . There is nothing like fresh air and
exercise for keeping the voice in good order.

AVhen a singer is about to enter upon a public career, there is
one point to be considered — that of fitness for concert or opera. I
think if you can sing in concert, if you have feeling and discern-
ment, you can sing in opera, though in my opinion some who are
good in concert are by no means lifted for opera. The operatic
stage demands so much of everything — voice, knowledge of singing,
and acting. Everything has to be calculated; even a wrong step or
two during a phrase will bring one into the wings instead of to
the front of the stage. Ease of movement, dramatic instinct and
feeling, are absolutely necessary to the opera singer. . . .

Another most important gift, and one quite indispensable to sue-



THE REIGN OF PATTI 265

cess in opera, is presence of mind; for on the stage it is always the
unexpected that happens. In my early career I knew no such thing
as nervousness. I had nothing to lose then. But later it was differ-
ent. When I had made my reputation, I grew more and more nerv-
ous, for it is one thing to build up a reputation and another to sus-
tain it. Not alone on the stage, but in the auditorium, incidents
are continually arising that demand of a singer an absolute self-
control, command of memory, and vocal powers in the face of dis-
tractions and of danger.

On the very night of my operatic debut something of this kind
occurred. I sang the title part in Donizetti's "Lucia," with Bri-
gnoli as Edgar do. A man had hung his coat carelessly over the front
of the gallery, and a pistol in the pocket went off in the middle of
the performance. For an instant everyone stopped still on the
stage ; then we went ahead again, and the audience was reassured.

Another accident, more serious in the possibility of its conse-
quences, happened at Bucharest. A man had climbed upon the
irons at the side of the stage to get sight of me. He slipped and
fell on a poor woman who was standing in the wings. She was
badly hurt, and her cries resounding through the house caused some-
one to call "Fire!" In an instant the excitable audience was in a
panic. The thought flashed through my mind that a stampede for
the doors might bring death to hundreds. "It is no fire !" I called.
"It is nothing!" And I continued singing the cadenza with flute
accompaniment in "Lucia." After I had sung a few bars the audi-
ence was quieted.

Another time, in Vienna, I was again singing in "Lucia," and had
just begun the cadenza with the flute, in the Mad Scene, when my
long, flimsy sleeve caught fire in the gas. Without stopping, I tore
it off and finished the aria. But that time, after I got behind the
scenes and everything was over, I fainted.

On another occasion, in San Francisco, a man threw a bomb,
which exploded on the stage. The audience rose in terror, and, fear-
ing a panic might ensue, I stepped to the front of the stage and
began singing "Home, sweet home." The audience resumed their
seats, and after a few bars quiet was restored.

Two more instances of Mine. Patti's presence of mind



266 THE REIGN OF PATTI

under trying circumstances conclude this interesting and
authentic article. The first scons to suggest at least one dis-
advantage due to her habit of not attending rehearsals. The
second does the same, while also illustrating her considerate
nature in not disclosing the identity of the unfortunate tenor
concerned :

Once I was singing in "Lucia" with a tenor as Edgardo whom I
had never seen. As Edgardo and his brother are dressed alike in the
first scene, when I appeared on the stage I did not know which one
I was to sing to. Already my music was sounding from the orches-
tra. "Which is Edgardo?" I asked hastily.

"The one to the left," was the answer. And I hurried toward
him, singing as I went.

In an episode of a different description the opera was "Traviata,"
and the tenor a forgetful one. In the duet in the last act he sud-
denly began to sing my part. In a flash I had to take up his until,
as suddenly, his memory returned. When the curtain was rung
down he thanked me with tears in his eyes. It was the second inci-
dent of the kiad that had happened to him, and the first had not
been so fortunate for both singers.

The "longevity of Patti's voice" is the subject of some
interesting analysis in a book by another American writer,
Mr. Henry Finck, which appeared some few years after the
above article was published. 1 In the main he attributed the
so-called "secret" to the same causes as did the singer her-
self. He gives her no credit, however, for having helped to
preserve her voice by singing only music that lay well within
her means. On the contrary, he complains that there was a
time when she attempted tasks that were too heavy for her;
and then proceeds to defend her for having — as certain
critics averred — confined herself, "especially in the last two
decades of her stage career, to the old-fashioned prima donna

i "Success in Music and How it is Won," by Henry T. Finck. Lon-
don, 1910. See Appendix X.



THE REIGN OF PATTI 267

operas." He adds simply, "She was wise in doing what she
could do best."

The question is, did Mine. Patti sing these operas toward
the end because she had only then recognized her physical
limitations as an artist, or because she desired to do the work
that caused her least fatigue? If the "two decades" be cut
down to one, the latter reason could be the only true reason.
Before 1885 — and she was to make her final appearance at
Covent Garden in 1895 — she had not begun to eliminate any
of the heavier roles that had long been in her repertoire : for
example, Marguerite, Leonora, and Valentino, in which Mr.
Fiuck says he liked her less than many less famous singers.
She also continued to sing for a time A'ida, Semiramide, Juli-
ette, and (to the very last) Violetta, which belong neither to
the light nor heavy but to the mezzo carattere type of soprano
parts.

Her ability to do justice to such characters as Valentino,
and Leonora was admitted as far back as the season of 1860
in New Orleans, when she was a girl of seventeen. But she
was allowed to sing them very seldom. Mr. Finck may be
right when he pays a higher tribute to the natural endowments
that made her "the Paganini of vocal virtuosity" — an ex-
pression applied to her by Lenz — than to her talents as a
dramatic singer. He is right when he declares that "she
was perfection itself, both as actress and singer, in light
comic roles." But he speaks of "a time when a misdirected
ambition made her regard her specialty almost with contempt
and aspire to things that were beyond her. ' ' When was this ?
The fact is that she had from the outset loved to show herself
a versatile artist. And the unanimous verdict of the world
(including New York) had sufficiently proved the accuracy
of her estimate — bar the one isolated instance of Carmen.

The same author quotes .seriously a half-jocular remark
that Adelina, when a young woman, once made to Edward



268 THE REIGN OF PATTI

Ilanslick. "I am no buffa," she said, tossing her head; and
when he praised her Zerlina, she retorted: "I would rather
sing Donna Anna, and I shall sing her yet!" Needless to
say, she never fulfilled her threat. It would have been very
amusing, doubtless, but she never made mistakes of that sort.

That she knew her own limitations perfectly is further
shown in her having consistently refused to sing the operas
of Wagner. Some one, quoted by Mr. Finck, once attributed
to her what he rightly terms a "silly remark" to the effect
that "she would sing Wagner's music after she had lost her
voice." Of course she never can have said anything so non-
sensical, so lacking in good taste. For she had grown ex-
tremely fond of Wagner's music and (after her marriage to
Baron Cederstrom) was a frequent visitor to Bayreuth.
Moreover, as we shall see, she took the pains to master the
music and German text of the song, "Traunie," Elizabeth's
"Prayer," and Elsa's "Dream," and sang the first two pieces
in public several times. But the operas she was too wise ever
to think of attempting.

One more point, in conclusion. After delivering judgment
upon Patti as a dramatic singer, Mr. Finck proceeds to tell
his readers why she was not one: "Her failure to reach a
high level in dramatic roles was a matter partly of tempera-
ment, partly of intellectual laziness." * To support this iso-
lated opinion he has recourse to her old friend Arditi — Arditi,
of all men, a rare authority upon matters of intellect ! From
this source he gathers, first, that she did not marry the Mar-
quis de Caux for love, and on that account presumably had
"no depth of feeling"; secondly, that Arditi had "never per-
ceived in Adelina the least interest in the higher problems of
mankind — in science, politics, religion, not even in belles let-
tres." 2

i "Success in Music."

2 "My Reminiscences," by Luigi Arditi.



THE REIGN OF PATTI 269



Online LibraryHermann KleinThe reign of Patti → online text (page 21 of 37)