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lost its head. Even Mr. Punch failed to preserve his equilib-
rium, and his first tribute took the form of an atrocious
pun: —

Describing the debut last week of Mile. Patti, whose performance
seemed to promise us a second Jenny Lind, one of the critics made
a remark that she raised the house en masse to a high pitch of ex-
citement. On reading this, the Wiscount, who chanced to be just
then in one of his facetious moods, observed to his friend Vernal,
"Raised the house, did she 1 ? Why, really, then, she must be quite
a hoister Patti!"

And in the following number this:

A Poem to Patti

charming Adelina!
How sweet is thy Amina!
How bewitching thy Zerlina!
How seldom has there been a
More tunable Norina!
And have I ever seen a
More enjoyable Rosina?
But to tell the praise I mean a-
-Las! there should have been a
Score more x-hymes to Adelina,


The Covent Garden Contract Ratified — Facts About the New Terms —
Progress of the Patti Craze (1861) — First Appearance in "Lucia"
— Chor ley's Carping Criticisms in the Athenwum — The Girl Violet ta —
Resisting Fatigue and Achieving Perfection — The Great "Don Gio-
vanni" Cast: a Unique Ensemble — Patti and Mario in "II Barbiere" —
The Ideal Zerlina and Rosina — Ornamentation of Rossini — The Sea-
son's Record — Charles Dickens on the New Diva

BETWEEN the night of Mile. Patti 's debut and her second
appearance at Covent Garden (again in the part of
Amina) eight days elapsed. Under the circumstances it was
an unusually long interval, and in all probability was the out-
come of design, not accident. Anyhow, it so helped to whet
the curiosity of the public that seats for the second Patti night
were to be had at the libraries only at an exorbitant premium.

In this device the skilful hand of Frederick Gye was easily
to be traced. His earlier experiences as manager of Alfred
Jullien's concerts had made him an adept at the game of
"booming" a star. He knew the advantage to be derived
from making his clientele exercise a little patience. Other-
wise he had little to do in this case but sit in his Bow
Street sanctum and allow the boom to develop itself.

Mr. Gye did not, however, avail himself of the right to wait
for a third "trial performance" before ratifying his contract
with Mile. Patti and her brother-in-law. Neither did he offer
to tear it up and substitute another agreement more favorable
to the artist. He stuck to his bargain, and merely added a
clause undertaking to pay her £100 for every performance
over and above the two a week already stipulated for.

William Kuhe in his "Recollections" tells a somewhat dif-



ferent story regarding this new arrangement. 1 He observes:
'During the young diva's stay in Vienna, it was found
that a contract signed by herself alone had no binding power,
since she was not of age. Mr. Gye had, therefore, to renew
his agreement with her for three years on terms much more
advantageous to her than those of the former contract. In
this, as in all that concerned her interests, her brother-in-law
proved himself a keen business man."

But what does the brother-in-law say ?

He declares 2 that "Although the effect of Mile. Patti's
appearance at Covent Garden was overwhelming and the
enthusiasm immediately assumed immense proportions, Mr.
F. Gye stood strictly by his contract until the five years had
expired." Barring the concession of £100 each for the extra
performances, he adds, "Until the day of her marriage with
the Marquis de Caux, Mme. A. Patti never received from Mr.
Gye more than £120 a night." 3

There exists, however, a plausible explanation of the above
discrepancy, tending to prove that neither deponent is entirely
right or wrong. Mr. Kuhe places the visit to Vienna in the
same summer (1861) as the Covent Garden debut. As a
matter of fact, Mile. Patti did not go to Vienna in that year.
She made her first appearance in the Austrian capital in
February, 1863. By that time two of her five years' contract
with Mr. Gye had expired, and it may very well be that, after
the legal discovery already alluded to, Mr. Gye deemed it
wiser to enter into a new contract for the three remaining
years, as stated by Mr. Kuhe. But Maurice Strakosch does
not make any mention of this renewal, which may have slipped

i Kuhe's "Musical Recollections," p. 156.

- "Souvenirs d'un Impresario," p. 33.

s The marriage took place in July, 1868, and as the original contract
with Mr. Gye expired after the season of 1865, the higher cachet of £120
can only, according to Maurice (Strakosch, have been paid during the
intervening three seasons.


his memory. Nor does he make any allusion to the ''more
advantageous terms," which he was certainly not the man to
have forgotten had he been instrumental in securing them.

Meanwhile, in its very earliest stages the progress of the
Patti craze, as rapid as it was widespread, stirred the opera-
lovers of London to displays of a kind that had not been in
evidence since the height of the "Jenny Lind fever." The
crowds that gathered at the stage-door of Covent Garden
were so large that the services of an extra posse of police
had to be requisitioned from Bow Street. The scene inside
the opera house when the new favorite made her second
appearance as Amina afforded some idea of the extent to
which the popular imagination had become aroused. To quote
one well-known writer: "Mile. Patti contrived to ravish one
half the house and convert the other half, who had gone
to hear her sceptical as to all the reports about her, and now
had to enrol themselves among her most enthusiastic admir-

That was on Thursday, May 23. On the following Saturday
she made her third appearance, this time in "Lucia di Lam-
mermoor," which favorite but hackneyed opera had not been
heard at Covent Garden for four years. Very different was
the "atmosphere" of the house from that of the debut night.
It was now tense with excitement and expectation ; every seat
was occupied ; all the leaders of fashion were present. The
renowned conductor, Michael Costa, — soon to sever his con-
nection with Covent Garden, — glanced round the auditorium
with a look of satisfaction as he buttoned his white gloves
and twisted the silk tassel of his baton round his wrist. He
was already a great friend and admirer of the "little lady."

Nothing was lacking that could lend brilliancy to the
occasion. Even Mr. Gye entered his box earlier than usual
to survey the gratifying scene. He always occupied the "cosy


corner" next to the stage, almost under the royal box — a
favored nook afterward appropriated by Mr. Alfred de Roths-
child, who, it may be mentioned, was one of Mile. Patti's earli-
est and staunchest supporters in Great Britain.

With her audience, at least, the success of the new Lucia
was never in doubt. The house echoed again to resounding
plaudits, and at each curtain-fall a wealth of floral gifts
covered the broad "apron" between the curtain and the foot-
lights. The final cadenza in the Mad Scene was followed by
a storm of enthusiasm the like of which could not be recalled
by the oldest habitue.

Yet, in the face of this indubitable triumph, the critics, less
dazzled than before, less taken by surprise, remained charac-
teristically cool. They even began to discover shortcomings.
Quite justifiably, no doubt, they raised their critical standard
a notch or two — as high, indeed, as it would go. Even Davi-
son, if he had lost his heart over the new Amino, showed
that he had not lost his head sufficiently to declare the new
Lucia free from blemish. His notice in the Times 1 was well
considered and, on the whole, fair. Of the weekly papers the
Musical World gave the clearest indication why the critics
were disappointed — namely, that the reading of the char-
acter was less charged with sentiment than the Amina had
been. This brief notice may usefully be quoted here :

Mile. Patti looked the character of Lucia to the life, but she cer-
tainly betokened none of the passion and impulsive feeling so re-
markable in her Amino. That the latter may be more agreeable to
her instincts is not unlikely; but still, both parts having been played
so differently, may have proceeded from nice and subtle discrimi-
nation of character. For the above reasons, and for these only, we
cannot affirm that Mile. Patti achieved the same triumphant success
in "Lucia" as in "La Sonnambula" — which may demonstrate to many
of her admirers that she belongs more to the Malibran than the

i See Appendix E.





Persiani school, which is indeed our own conviction. ... In the Mad
Scene, however, Mile. Patti came up to the very highest anticipa-
tion, and carried the whole house with her by her natural and earnest
acting and her really admirable singing.

The only direct broadside attack was fired by Henry P.
Chorley, the powerful musical critic of the Athenaeum,
best known to the present generation by his inept and common-
place translation of the libretto of Gounod's Faust. 1 From
this quarter something bitter had been expected, for Chorley
was one of those wielders of the critical pen — to be found in
every art centre and in every age — whose especial delight
it is to make themselves feared. He was a singular mixture
of ability, conceit, pomposity, and prejudice, and Joseph Ben-
nett has truly said of him : 2

"He had a special faculty of putting nasty remarks in
very small paragraphs, with the inevitable result of making
himself obnoxious, not only to those for whom they were
intended, but to their sympathizers amongst the public and in
the press. He was a man of strong likes and equally pow-
erful dislikes."

At the outset it had seemed as though Adelina Patti might
be included among Chorley 's "likes." After her debut he
wrote: "Mile. Patti was, from first to last, greeted with
applause as rapturous as attended the best of her predecessors.
The house seemed determined to pass an unanimous vote that
she was perfect. We recollect no similar ovation at the Royal
Italian Opera. ' ' 3 Nevertheless, he was of opinion that her
voice sounded ' ' rather tired, ' ' and he adhered to that opinion
after hearing her as Lucia. In the later notice, however, he

i Still used, unfortunately, upon the English operatic stage, though
long past copyright protection. The publishers to whom we owe this
careful preservation of a literary curiosity have essayed to improve it,
but in vain.

2 "Forty Years of Music," by Joseph Bennett, 1908.

a The Athenaeum, May 18, 1861.


appeared to have regretted the utterance of a single kind
word, and wrote so harshly that his object must have defeated
itself. 1 II is "nasty remarks" are interesting merely as a
sample of the only species of adverse criticism that the youth-
ful debutante had to encounter.

As it happened, though, she never heard so much as a
distant echo of these snappy barks from the edifying musical
columns of the Athena urn. Maurice Strakosch read every
notice, but Adelina never saw an unfavorable line; neither,
probably, did her faithful and devoted father, Salvatore Patti,
of whom little is heard in these prosperous London days,
albeit he partook of their glories and looked carefully after
the cash. It was only by means of her brother-in-law, then,
that the beneficial effect of instructive — as distinguished from
destructive — criticism filtered through to her. In that atten-
uated form she recognized in it nothing worse than a chaste
incentive to the attainment of greater perfection and the
creation of still loftier ideals.

Anyhow, as soon as the work would permit, she turned to
study once more, and accomplished by degrees everything that
an exacting world was now expecting from her. But that,
of course, was not to be done in the midst of a strenuous and
exciting London season. It took some time.

After three performances of ' ' Lucia, ' ' followed by no fewer
than five more in succession of "La Sonnambula" — a supply
that still failed to satisfy the huge demand— Mr. Gye grew
extremely bold. He revived "La Traviata" with by far the
youngest Violetta that had ever been heard at Covent Garden ;
and, as some one said, "in order not to change the luck,"
gave her for supporting artists Signor Tiberini and Signor
Graziani — he of the "noble baritone," who had so far sung
with Mile. Patti from the second night she appeared.

i See Appendix F.


The experiment resulted in another hit. Wiseacres shook
their heads, but the amazing fact nevertheless stands out that
the girl of eighteen was fully equal to the task of portraying
Dumas 's fragile heroine. 1 Nay, more ; her assumption seems
to have surprised the critics by its originality as much as by
its maturity of conception and treatment. The notices were
all favorable. Even the hypercritical Chorley had nothing
to say against her impersonation as a whole, though he harped
solemnly upon his favorite string — the "fatigued" tone of
her voice. He wrote in the Athenaeum :

Midway betwixt Mile. Piecolomini and Mme. Bosio stands Mile.
Patti as representative of 'La Traviata.' She is generally consid-
ered to have made a decided step in public favour by her perform-
ance of the repulsive part. Her acting is spoken of first because
we think it better than her singing. . . . Much is said of the youth-
ful promise of her voice. To our ears it is already worn and over-
developed to a state when some months of complete rest ought judi-
ciously to be afforded to it. As it stands, gain of volume would
only lessen such charm as it possesses.

On the other hand, general opinion was summed up by the
Musical World (July 6) in these words:

A youthful, interesting appearance, and the fresh voice of girl-
hood, are indispensable qualifications for the representative of
Violetta, and such are possessed by Mile. Patti. . . . Previous per-
formances have not prepared us for the striking display of his-
trionic genius with which Mile. Patti delighted the public on Thurs-
day night. Her last scene was truthful and beautiful. She drew
"the trembling tear of speechless praise" from many an eye, and no
eulogy we might offer could exceed this spontaneous tribute to the
histrionic powers of the young artist. If Mile. Patti played this
scene so admirably, it may be readily supposed that where brilliant
fluency of vocalisation was required she shone with almost incom-
parable lustre.

i See Appendix F.


If Chorley was right, it would have taken not weeks but
months of absolute rest to overcome the "worn" condition
of the voice he was in the habit of referring to. But his
opinion was never confirmed, either by other authorities or
by the actual facts. His caustic utterances on the subject
sounded too persistently harsh to be altogether sincere ; the
grudging praise that sugared the pill had a hollow ring, like
that of all critics who are incapable of whole-souled admira-
tion or who are jealous of "discoveries" that they themselves
have not unearthed.

Let this insinuation be answered once for all. Had the
symptoms that Chorley pretended to perceive in Adelina
Patti's voice in the year of her debut been those of physical
fatigue, due to strain or overwork, their pernicious effects at
that delicate period of adolescence would in all probability
have become permanent. She may have worked exceptionally
hard for a girl of her age ; but it is well known that she was
never allowed to sing either when she was tired or until she
became tired. No singer ever suffered less, at any period of an
abnormally long career, from the effects of reaction ; while
at eighteen her splendid constitution, her capacity for main-
taining physical and mental energy at full pressure, had
already developed to a degree that those who had known her
as a rather delicate child could hardly believe possible.

Fatigue, indeed ! It is more than likely that Chorley imag-
ined he was listening to another Jenny Lind — as Jenny Lind
was before she went to Manuel Garcia to learn the true art
of singing. If so, how did history verify Chorley 's fable?
Patti sang in public incessantly until he died (in 1872) and
then for thirty-four years longer; in all, an active career in
England of forty-five years. Prime donne who strain their
voices at eighteen do not achieve this sort of record ; nor do
they continue to sing with a clear, beautiful tone after they
have attained the age of seventy !


Imagine Patti and Grisi in the same opera, and that opera
Mozart's immortal ''Don Giovanni"! Such was the constel-
lation of planets (rising and setting) that Frederick Gye
sought to make the culminating feature of this unparalleled
season of 1861. The excellent idea was carried into effect.
Last of a series of interesting revivals for the farewell appear-
ances of Mme. Grisi, this particular one, linking together
for all time two of the most illustrious names in the history
of opera, was given on July 6, 1861, with the following

Don Giovanni Monsieur Faure.

Don Ottavio Signor Tamberlik.

Masetto Signor Roneoni.

Leporello Herr Formes.

II Cominendatore Signor Tagliafico.

Donna Anna Madame Grisi.

Donna Elvira Mile. Csillag.

Zerlina Mile. Adelina Patti.

Conductor . . . Mr. Costa.

For years did musical writers, members of the vieille garde,
descant upon the glories of this great cast. In the days of
the writer's youth it was still recalled with tender regret,
as a treasured memory, as in a sense the operatic clou of the
mid- Victorian era. And, indeed, it was never equalled as
a galaxy of famous singers of that period. Even the fast-
diminishing vocal strength of Grisi did not detract from the
dramatic grandeur of her Donna Anna. Csillag, too, was
a fine singer; she was considered the best Donna Elvira of
her day. Faure, the renowned French baritone, — creator
of roles such as Mephistopheles, Hamlet, Hoel, and Nelusko, —
was just arriving at the summit of his powers.

Then, Tamberlik was one of the most artistic and admired
tenors on the stage. The celebrated Roneoni was as superb


in comedy as in tragedy. Tagliafico was also exceedingly
versatile; while Carl Formes — perhaps the finest basso pro-
fondo that Great Britain ever heard — was an unsurpassable
Leporello. Only the ideal Zerlina was wanting, and she came
— came, sang and conquered ! — in the person of Adelina Patti,
who was now seen in the most admired of all her roles, with
the single exception of her Rosina in "II Barbiere."

It was thought by some that her delicious impersonation of
Mozart's heroine derived an added charm from the supreme
excellence of such an unprecedented ensemble. It may well
have been so. At the same time, we can imagine what it must
have meant for any juvenile artist still in her teens to be
instantly recognized as worthy to associate in Mozart 's master-
piece with some of the greatest singers in the world. We
can fancy what would have be"en said had her delineation
fallen, in either a vocal or any other sense, below the level
of theirs. As a matter of fact, it proved equal to the best,
and it created a sensation such as the contemporary pen can
most fitly describe. 1

Said one reviewer 2 of the memorable premiere: "With
this exquisite achievement Mile. Patti casts all her previous
triumphs into the shade." Others noted that in contra-dis-
tinction to her Amina, her Lucia, and her Violetta, here was
something classical: a delineation beautifully symmetrical in
its purity of outline, belonging, as it were, to a more exalted
region of her art. For she was able to fulfil its most exigent
demands in the highest perfection. It demonstrated in her
at once the genuine and accomplished Mozart singer, the born
exponent of the Spanish type, the fascinating Zerlina incar-
nate, the simple peasant girl whose nature, as Otto Jahn says,
"is neither deep nor passionate, but light and impression-
able"; who "becomes an easy prey to the elegant man of the

i See Appendix G.
- Musical World.


world"; whose "vanity is flattered by his condescension";
and whose "innocent mind is at once impressed with a con-
viction of his truthfulness."

Greater by comparison with her own previous efforts, it
was also declared to be superior to anj r portrayal of the same
role that had been witnessed for a generation. Indeed, one
critic went still farther and wrote: "Her Zerlina has been
pronounced the best since Malibran's; it is, however, better
than Malibran's!" One solitary "croak" only was heard in
opposition to the unanimous chorus of praise, and that was
uttered (of course) by Chorley, who delivered himself in the
Athenccum of the following: "Mile. Patti's Zerlina is also
much admired. But, to our thinking, the peculiar quality of
her voice tells not pleasantly in Mozart's music. . . . Her
acting was, in our opinion, too old and knowing" (sic).

The rush to hear "Don Giovanni" became tremendous.
Grisi sang her farewells to "capacity," and, after four per-
formances, two more had to be added at the very end of
the season. In the meantime the procession of Patti nights
also went on without interruption at the rate of two a week,
and on July 13 the diva, as she was now universally called,
scored another hit in "Martha." Associated with her in
Flotow 's opera were Mario, Grazani, and Tagliafico, while the
piquant grace and freshness of her Lady Enrichetta elicited
unqualified expressions of delight.

Finally, on July 27, came her first appearance in Rossini's
"Barbiere di Siviglia," with the following remarkable cast:

II Conte Almaviva Signor Mario.

Figaro Signor Ronconi.

Don Basilio Signor Tagliafico.

Don Bartolo . Signor Ciampi.

Berta Mme. Tagliafico.

Rosina Mile. Adelina Patti.


Fancy Mario, prince of tenors, still fairly in his prime,
as the Almaviva to that enchanting Rosina of eighteen sum-
mers! What an experience! Alas, we can do no more than

The furore created by this ensemble was so unparalleled
that Mr. Gye was petitioned to extend the season until the
middle of August, so as to accommodate a portion of the
overflowing crowds that were in vain besieging the doors of
Covent Garden both for Rossini's masterpiece and Mozart's.
The idea was, however, found to be impracticable, because
every one connected with the opera house had by now become
exhausted by the prolonged excitement and work of this extra-
ordinary season. The person least affected was the wonderful
creature who was the cause of it all. But in her case Maurice
Strakosch was adamant. He would not let her go on a day
beyond the extra performances already agreed upon.

The tired critics were certainly not equal to a further
effort. The new Bosina had sent them into the wildest
ecstasies of delight, although, being by this time destitute
of fresh superlatives, they could only draw upon the old
stock and utilize them with painful reiteration. Even Chorley
vied with Davison and the rest in the endeavor to do justice
to what they now openly declared to be an epoch-making mani-
festation of genius. 1

The sole loophole afforded by the "Barbiere" performance
for the exercise of adverse critical comment was the vexed
question of the particular ornaments and "changes" that
Mile. Patti introduced into her arias and duets. Here it had
been a sore point for years. No matter who the vocalist, no
matter how artistic or appropriate the ornamentation, the com-
plaint of undue interference with the composer was one that
the critics never failed to make where Rossini was concerned.
Curiously enough, the sticklers for a literal rendering of

i See Appendix H.



his music were infinitely more severe and unrelenting than
Rossini himself. 1 The point will be dealt with later in these
pages, but meanwhile it may be confidently asserted that from
first to last the alterations and additions made by Patti to
the musical text of "II Barbiere" (as subsequently also in the
case of "Seniiramide") were entirely approved by the com-

The season of 1861 ultimately came to a close on August 2,
"Don Giovanni" being repeated on two consecutive nights
to wind up with. In all, Adelina Patti sang twenty-five times
in six operas within a period of eleven weeks. Below is a
list of those operas in the order of their production, with the
number of performances given of each :

Online LibraryHermann KleinThe reign of Patti → online text (page 7 of 37)