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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 12086

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


An engagement was procured for her without difficulty at the Opéra, which was then controlled by the triumvirate, Rossini, Robert, and Severini. Rossini remembered the beautiful débutante for whom he had predicted a splendid future, and secured a definite engagement for her at the Favart to replace Mme. Malibran. That this young and comparatively inexperienced girl, with a reputation hardly known out of Italy, should have been chosen to take the place of the great Malibran, was alike flattering testimony to her own rising genius and Rossini's penetration. She appeared first before a French audience in "Semiramide," and at once became a favorite. During the season of six months she succeeded in establishing her place as one of the most brilliant singers of the age. She sang in cooperation with many of the foremost artists whose names are among the great traditions of the art. In "Don Giovanni," Rubini and Tamburini appeared with her; in "Anna Bolena," Mme. Tadolini, Santini, and Rubini. Even in Pasta's own great characters, where Mlle. Grisi was measured against the greatest lyric tragedienne of the age, the critics, keen to probe the weak spot of new aspirants, found points of favorable comparison in Grisi's favor. During this year, 1832, both Giuditta and Giulia Grisi retired from the stage, the former to marry an Italian gentleman of wealth, and the latter to devote a period to rest and study.

When Giulia reappeared on the French stage the following year, a wonderful improvement in the breadth and finish of her art was noticed. She had so improved her leisure that she had eradicated certain minor faults of vocal delivery, and stood confessed a symmetrical and splendidly equipped artist. Her performances during the year 1833 in Paris embraced a great variety of characters, and in different styles of music, in all of which she was the recipient of the most cordial admiration.

The production of Bellini's last opera, "I Puritani," in 1834, was one of the great musical events of the age, not solely in virtue of the beauty of the work, but on account of the very remarkable quartet which embodied the principal characters-Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, and La-blache. This quartet continued in its perfection for many years, with the after-substitution of Mario for Rubini, and was one of the most notable and interesting facts in the history of operatic music. Bellini's extraordinary skill in writing music for the voice was never more noticeably shown than in this opera. In conducting the rehearsals, he compelled the singers to execute after his style. It is recorded that, while Rubini was rehearsing the tenor part, the composer cried out in a rage: "You put no life into the music. Show some feeling. Don't you know what love is?" Then, changing his voice: "Don't you know your voice is a gold-mine that has never been explored? You are an excellent artist, but that is not enough. You must forget yourself and try to represent Gualtiero. Let's try again." Rubini, stung by the reproach, then sang magnificently. "I Puritan!" made a great furore in Paris, and the composer received the Cross of the Legion of Honor, an honor then less rarely bestowed than it was in after-years. He did not live long to enjoy the fruits of his widening reputation, but died while composing a new opera for the San Carlo, Naples. In the delirium of his death-bed, he fancied he was at the Favart, conducting a performance of "I Puritani." Mlle. Grisi's first appearance before the London public occurred during the spring of the same year, and her great personal loveliness and magnificent voice as Ninetta, in "La Gazza Ladra," instantly enslaved the English operatic world, a worship which lasted unbroken for many years. Her Desdemona in "Otello," which shortly followed her first opera, was supported by Rubini as Otello, Tamburini as Iago, and Ivanhoff as Rodriguez. It may be doubted whether any singer ever leaped into such instant and exalted favor in London, where the audiences are habitually cold.

Her appearance as Norma in December, 1834, stamped this henceforth as her greatest performance. "In this character, Grisi," says a writer in the "Musical World," "is not to be approached, for all those attributes which have given her her best distinction are displayed therein in their fullest splendor. Her singing may be rivaled, but hardly her embodiment of ungovernable and vindictive emotion. There are certain parts in the lyric drama of Italy this fine artiste has made her own: this is one of the most striking, and we have a faith in its unreachable superiority-in its completeness as a whole-that is not to be disturbed. Her delivery of 'Casta Diva' is a transcendent effort of vocalization. In the scene where she discovers the treachery of Pollio, and discharges upon his guilty head a torrent of withering and indignant reproof, she exhibits a power, bordering on the sublime, which belongs exclusively to her, giving to the character of the insulted priestess a dramatic importance which would be remarkable even if entirely separated from the vocal preeminence with which it is allied. But, in all its aspects, the performance is as near perfection as rare and exalted genius can make it, and the singing of the actress and the acting of the singer are alike conspicuous for excellence and power. Whether in depicting the quiet repose of love, the agony of abused confidence, the infuriate resentment of jealousy, or the influence of feminine piety, there is always the best reason for admiration, accompanied in the more tragic moments with that sentiment of awe which greatness of conception and vigor of execution could alone suggest."

Mr. Chorley writes, in his "Musical Reminiscences": "Though naturally enough in some respects inexperienced on her first appearance in England, Giulia Grisi was not incomplete. And what a soprano voice was hers! rich, sweet; equal throughout its compass of two octaves (from C to C), without a break or a note which had to be managed. Her voice subdue

d the audience ere 'Dipiacer' was done.... In 1834 she commanded an exactness of execution not always kept up by her during the after-years of her reign. Her shake was clear and rapid; her scales were certain; every interval was taken without hesitation by her. Nor has any woman ever more thoroughly commanded every gradation of force than she-in those early days especially; not using the contrast of loud and soft too violently, but capable of any required violence, of any advisable delicacy. In the singing of certain slow movements pianissimo, such as the girl's prayer on the road to execution, in 'La Gazza,' or as the cantabile in the last scene of 'Anna Bolena' (which we know as 'Home, Sweet Home'), the clear, penetrating beauty of her reduced tones (different in quality from the whispering semi-ventriloquism which was one of Mlle. Lind's most favorite effects) was so unique as to reconcile the ear to a certain shallowness of expression in her rendering of the words and the situation.

"At that time the beauty of sound was more remarkable (in such passages as I have just spoken of) than the depth of feeling. When the passion of the actress was roused-as in 'La Gazza,' during the scene with her deserter father-with the villainous magistrate, or in the prison with her lover, or on her trial before sentence was passed-her glorious notes, produced without difficulty or stint, rang through the house like a clarion, and were truer in their vehemence to the emotion of the scene than were those wonderfully subdued sounds, in the penetrating tenuity of which there might be more or less artifice. From the first, the vigor always went more closely home to the heart than the tenderness in her singing; and her acting and her vocal delivery-though the beauty of her face and voice, the mouth that never distorted itself, the sounds that never wavered, might well mislead an audience-were to be resisted by none."

Henceforward, Mlle. Grisi alternated between London and Paris for many years, her great fame growing with the ripening years. Of course, she, like other beautiful singers, was the object of passionate addresses, and the ardent letters sent to her hotel and dressing-room at the theatre occasioned her much annoyance. Many unpleasant episodes occurred, of which the following is an illustration, as showing the persecution to which stage celebrities are often subjected: While she was in her stage-box at the Paris Opera one night, in the winter of 1836, she observed an unfortunate admirer, who had pursued her for months, lying in ambuscade near the door, as if awaiting her exit. M. Robert, one of the managers, requested the intruder to retire, and, as the admonition was unheeded, Colonel Ragani, Grisi's uncle, somewhat sternly remonstrated with him. The reckless lover drew a sword from a cane, and would have run Colonel Ragani through, had it not been for the coolness of a gentleman passing in the lobby, who seized and disarmed the amorous maniac, who was a young author of some repute, named Dupuzet. Anecdotes of a similar kind might be enumerated, for Grisi's womanly fascinations made havoc among that large class who become easily enamored of the goddesses of the theatre.

Like all the greatest singers, Grisi was lavishly generous. She had often been known to sing in five concerts in one day for charitable purposes. At one of the great York festivals in England, she refused, as a matter of professional pride, to sing for less than had been given to Malibran, but, to show that there was nothing ignoble in her persistence, she donated all the money received to the poor. She rendered so many services to the Westminster Hospital that she was made an honorary governor of that institution, and in manifold ways proved that the goodness of her heart was no whit less than the splendor of her artistic genius.

The marriage of Mlle. Grisi, in the spring of 1830, to M. Auguste Gérard de Melcy, a French gentleman of fortune, did not deprive the stage of one of its greatest ornaments, for after a short retirement at the beautiful chateau of Vaucresson, which she had recently purchased, she again resumed the operatic career which had so many fascinations for one of her temperament, as well as substantial rewards. Her first appearance in London after her marriage was with Rubini and Tamburini in the opera of "Semiramide," speedily followed by a performance of Donna Anna, in "Don Giovanni." The excitement of the public in its eager anticipation of the latter opera was wrought to the highest pitch. A great throng pressed against both entrances of the theatre for hours before the opening of the doors, and many ladies were severely bruised or fainted in the crush. It was estimated that more than four thousand persons were present on this occasion. The cast was a magnificent one. Mme. Grisi was supported by Mmes. Persiani and Albertazzi, and Tamburini, Lablache, and Rubini. This was hailed as one of the great gala nights in the musical records of London, and it is said that only a few years ago old connoisseurs still talked of it as something incomparable, in spite of the gifted singers who had since illustrated the lyric art. Mme. Pasta, who occupied a stage box, led the applause whenever her beautiful young rival appeared, and Grisi, her eyes glowing with happy tears, went to Pasta's box to thank the queen of lyric tragedy for her cordial homage.

"Don Giovanni" was performed with the same cast in January, 1838, at the Théatre Italiens. About an hour after the close of the performance the building was discovered to be on fire, and it was soon reduced to a heap of glowing ashes. Severini, one of the directors, leaped from an upper story, and was instantly dashed to pieces, and Robert narrowly saved himself by aid of a rope ladder. Rossini, who had an apartment in the opera-house, was absent, but the whole of his musical library, valued at two hundred thousand francs, was destroyed, with many rare manuscripts, which no effort or expense could replace.

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