George T. Ferris.

Great Singers, First Series Faustina Bordoni To Henrietta Sontag online

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Produced by David Widger







Copyright, 1879, By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.


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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Online LibraryGeorge T. FerrisGreat Singers, First Series Faustina Bordoni To Henrietta Sontag → online text (page 1 of 13)