MoboReader > Literature > Great Singers, First Series / Faustina Bordoni To Henrietta Sontag

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Great Singers, First Series / Faustina Bordoni To Henrietta Sontag By George T. Ferris Characters: 5681

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


When Gabrielli left Vienna for Sicily in 1765, she was laden with riches, for her manifold extravagances were generally incurred at the expense of somebody else; and she continued at Palermo the same eccentric, capricious, and flighty conduct which had made her name synonymous with everything reckless and daring in contravening propriety. She treated the highest dignitaries with the same insolence which she displayed toward operatic managers. Even the Viceroy of Sicily, standing in the very place of royalty, was made the victim of wanton impertinence. The Viceroy gave a dinner in honor of La Gabrielli, to which were invited the proudest nobles of the court; and, as she did not appear at the appointed hour, a servant was sent to her apartments. She was found en déshabillé dawdling over a book, and affected to have forgotten the viceregal invitation-a studied insult, hardly to be endured. This insolence, however, was overlooked by the representative of royal authority, and it was not till the proud beauty's caprices caused her to seriously neglect her artistic duties that she felt the weight of his displeasure. When he sent a remonstrance against her singing sotto voce on the stage, she said she might be forced to cry, but not to sing. The exasperated ruler ordered her to prison for twelve days. Her caprice was here shown by giving the costliest entertainments to her fellow prisoners, who were of all classes from debtors to bandits, paying their debts, distributing great sums among the indigent, and singing her most beautiful songs in an enchanting manner. When she was released she was followed by the grateful tears and blessings of those she had so lavishly benefited in jail. This fascinating creature seems all through life to have been good on impulse and bad on principle. Three years after this Gabrielli was singing in Parma, where she made a speedy conquest of the Infante, Don Ferdinand. His boundless wealth condoned the ugliness of his person in the eyes of the singer, and the lavish income he placed at her disposal gratified her boundless extravagances, while it did not prevent her from being gracious to the Infante's many rivals and would-be successors. Bitter quarrels and recriminations ensued, and the jealous ravings of Catarina's princely admirer were more than matched by the fierce sarcasms and shrill clamor of the beautiful virago. One day Don Ferdinand, justly suspecting her of gross unfaithfulness, assailed her with unusual fury, to which she replied by terming him a gobbo maladetto (accursed hunchback). On this the Prince, carried beyond all control, had her imprisoned on some legal pretext, though Gabrielli found proofs of love struggling with his anger in the magnificence of the apartment and luxuriance of the service bestowed on her. But he strove in vain to make his peace.

The offended coquette was implacable, and disdained alike his excuses and protestations of devotion. One night she escaped from her prison, scaled the garden-wall, and fled, leaving her weak and disconsolate lover to cool his sighs in tears of unavailing regret.

The court of the Semiramis of the North, Catharine II. of Russia, who strove to expunge the contempt felt for her as a woman by Europe through the imperial munificence with which she played at patronizing art and literature, was the next scene of the fair Italian's triumph. Gabrielli was received with lavish favor, but the Empress frowned when she heard the pecuniary demands of the singer. "Five thousand ducats!" she said, in amazement. "Why, I don't give more than that to one of my field-marshals." "Very well," replied the audacious Gabrielli; "your Majesty may get your field-marshals to sing for you, then." Catharine, who, however cruel and unscrupulous when need be, was in the main good-natured, laughed at the impertinence, and instead of sending Gabrielli to Siberia consented to her demands, adding special gratuities to the nominal salary. Two countrymen of the beautiful cantatrice, Pai-siello and Cimarosa, were afterward treated with equal honor and consideration by the imperial dilettante. Catharine's favor lasted unimpaired for several years, and it only abated when Gabrielli's lust for conquest and the honor of rivalry with a sovereign tempted her to coquet with Prince Po-temkin. An intimation from the court chamberlain that St. Petersburg was too hot for one of her warm southern blood, and that Siberia or some other place at her will would better suit her temperament, sufficed when backed by an imperial endorsement. La Gabrielli returned from Russia, loaded with, diamonds and wealth, for Catharine did not dismiss her without substantial proofs of her magnificence and generosity.

At this period Gabrielli was invited to England; and after considerable haggling with the London manager, and compelling him to employ her favorite of the hour, Signor Manzoletto, as principal tenor, the negotiation was consummated. Gabrielli still preserved all her excellence of voice and charm of execution; but her rare beauty, which had been as great a factor in her success as artistic skill, was on the wane. The English engagement had been made with some reluctance; for the stern and uncompromising temper of the island nation had been widely recognized with exaggerations in Continental Europe. "I should not be mistress of my own will," she said, "and whenever I might have a fancy not to sing, the people would insult, perhaps misuse me. It is better to remain unmolested, were it even in prison." She, however, changed her mind, and her experiences in London were such as to make her regret that she had not stood firm to her first resolution.

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