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: 9168

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Countess Rossi was never entirely forgotten in her brilliant retirement. Her story, gossips said, was intended to be shadowed forth "with a difference" in "L'Ambassadrice" of Scribe and Auber, written for Mme. Cinti Damoreau, whose voice resembled that of Sontag. Travelers, who got glimpses of the august life wherein she lived, brought home tales of her popularity, of her beauty not faded but only mellowed by time, and of her lovely voice, which she had watched and cultivated in her titled leisure. It can be fancied, then, what a thrill of interest and surprise ran through the London public when it was announced in 1848 that the Countess Rossi, owing to family circumstances, was about to resume her profession. A small, luxuriantly bound book in green and gold, devoted to her former and more recent history, was put on sale in London, and circulated like wildfire. The situation in London was peculiar. Jenny Lind had created a furor in that city almost unparalleled in its musical history, and to announce that the "Swedish nightingale" was not the greatest singer that ever lived or ever could live, before a company of her admirers, was sufficient to invite personal assault. Mlle. Lind had just departed for America. It was an adventure little short of desperate for a singer to emerge from a retirement of a score of years and measure her musical and dramatic accomplishments against those of a predecessor whose tantalizing disappearance from the stage had rendered her on so many grounds more than ever the object of fanatical worship.

The political storm of 1848 had swept away the fortune of Countess Rossi, and when she announced her intention of returning to the stage, the director of Her Majesty's Theatre was prompt to make her an offer of seventeen thousand pounds for the season. She had not been idle or careless during the time when the Grisis, the Persianis, and the Linds were delighting the world with the magic of their art. She had assiduously kept up the culture of her delicious voice, and stepped again before the foot-lights with all the ease, steadiness, and aplomb of one who had never suffered an interregnum in her lyric reign. She came back to the stage under new and trying musical conditions, to an orchestra far stronger than that to which her youth had been accustomed, to a new world of operas. The intrepidity and industry with which she met these difficulties are deserving of the greatest respect. Not merely did she go through the entire range of her old parts, Susanna, Moslna, Desdemona, Donna Anna, etc., but she presented herself in a number of new works which did not exist at her farewell to the stage-Bellini's "Sonnambula," Donizetti's "Linda," "La Figlia del Reggimento," "Don Pasquale," "Le Tre Nozze" of Alary, and Ilalévy's "La Tempesta"; indeed, in the latter two creating the principal r?les. Her former companions had disappeared. Malibran had been dead for thirteen years, Mme. Pisaroni had also departed from the earthly scene, and a galaxy of new stars were glittering in the musical horizon. Giulia Grisi, Clara Novello, Pauline Viardot, Fanny Per-siani, Jenny Lind, Maretta Alboni, Nantier Didier, Sophie Cruvelli, Catherine Hayes, Louisa Pyne, Duprez, Mario, Ronconi, and others-all these had arisen since the day she had left the art world as Countess Rossi. Only the joyous and warmhearted Lablache was left of her old comrades to welcome her back to the scene of her old triumphs.

Her reappearance as Linda, on July 7, 1849, was the occasion of a cordial and sympathetic reception on the part of a very brilliant and distinguished audience. The first notes of the "polacca" were sufficient to show that the great artist was in her true place again, and that the mature woman had lost but little of the artistic fascinations of the gifted girl. Of course, time had robbed her of one or two upper notes, but the skill, grace, and precision with which she utilized every atom of her power, the incomparable steadiness and finish with which she wrought out the composer's intentions, the marvelous flexibility of her execution, she retained in all their pristine excellence. The loss of youthful freshness was atoned for by the deeper passion and feeling which in an indefinable way permeated all her efforts, and gave them a dramatic glow lacking in earlier days. She was rapturously greeted as a dear friend come back in the later sunny days. In "La Figlia del Reggimento," which Jenny Lind had brought to England and made her own peculiar property, Mme. Sontag was adjudged to be by far the greater, both

vocally and dramatically. As a singer of Mozart's music she was incomparably superior to all. Her taste, steadiness, suavity, and solid knowledge suited a style very difficult for a southern singer to acquire. Chorley repeated the musical opinion of his time in saying: "The easy, equable flow demanded by Mozart's compositions, so melodious, so wondrously sustained, so sentimental (dare I say so rarely impassioned?); that assertion of individuality which distinguishes a singer from a machine when dealing with singers' music; that charm which belongs to a keen appreciation of elegance, but which can only be perfected when Nature has been genial, have never been so perfectly combined (in my experience) as in her." If Sontag did not possess the highest genius of the lyric artist, she had un-equaled grace and sense of artistic propriety, and with that grace an untiring desire and energy in giving her very best to the public on all occasions when she appeared. Her constancy and loyalty to her audience were moral qualities which wonderfully enhanced her value and charm as a singer.

During this season Mme. Sontag appeared in her favorite character of Rosina, with Lablache and Gardoni; she also performed Amina and Desdemona. Had it not been that the attention of the public was absorbed by "the Swedish Nightingale" and the "glorious Alboni," Mme. Sontag would have renewed the triumphs of 1828. The next season she sang again at Her Majesty's Theatre as Norina, Elvira ("I Puritani"), Zerlina, and Maria (in "La Figlia del Reggimento"). The chief novelty was "La Tempestà," written by Scribe, and composed by Halévy expressly for Her Majesty's Theatre, the drama having been translated into Italian from the French original. It was got up with extraordinary splendor, and had a considerable run. Mme. Sontag sang charmingly in the character of Miranda; but the greatest effect was created by Lablache's magnificent impersonation of Caliban. No small share of the success of the piece was due to the famous danseuse Carlotta Grisi, who seemed to take the most appropriate part ever designed for ballerina when she undertook to represent Ariel.

At the close of the season of 1850 Mme. Sontag went to Paris with Mr. Lumley, who took the Théatre Italien, and she was warmly welcomed by her French audiences. "Even amid the loud applause with which the crowd greeted her appearance on the stage," says a French writer, "it was easy to distinguish the respect which was entertained for the virtuous lady, the devoted wife and mother."

Before her acceptance of the offer to go to America, in 1852, she appeared in successive engagements at London, Vienna, and Berlin, where her reception was of the most satisfying nature both to the artist and the woman. On her arrival in New York, on September 19th, she commenced a series of concerts with Salvi and Signo-ra Blangini. At New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and the larger cities of the South, she quickly established herself as one of the greatest favorites who had ever sung in this country, in spite of the fact that people had hardly recovered from the Lind mania which had swept the country like wildfire, a fact apt to provoke petulant comparisons. Her pecuniary returns from her American tour were very great, and she was enabled to buy a chateau and domain in Germany, a home which she was unfortunately destined never to enjoy.

In New Orleans, in 1854, she entered into an engagement with M. Masson, director of opera in the city of Mexico, to sing for a fixed period of two months, with the privilege of three months longer. This was the closing appearance in opera, as she contemplated, for the task of reinstating her family fortunes was almost done. Fate fulfilled her expectations with a malign sarcasm; for while her agent, M. Ullman, was absent in Europe gathering a company, Mme. Sontag was seized with cholera and died in a few hours, on June 17, 1854. Such was the lamentable end of one of the noblest women that ever adorned the lyric stage. Her funeral was a magnificent one, in presence of a great concourse of people, including the diplomatic corps. The service was celebrated by the orchestras of the two Italian theatres; the nuns of St. Francis sang the cantata; the prayer to the Virgin was intoned by the German Philharmonic Society, who also sang Lindpainter's chorus, "Ne m'oubliez pa "; and the leading Mexican poet, M. Pantaleon Tovar, declaimed a beautiful tribute in sonorous Spanish verse. The body was taken to Germany and buried in the abbey of Makenstern, in Lausitz.


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