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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 7735

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


But of all the great men-singers with whom the Grisi was associated no one was so intimately connected with her career as the tenor Mario. Their art partnership was in later years followed by marriage, but it was well known that a passionate and romantic attachment sprang up between these two gifted singers long before a dissolution of Grisi's earlier union permitted their affection to be consecrated by the Church. Mario, Conte di Candia, the scion of a noble family, was born at Genoa in 1812. His father had been a general in the army at Piedmont, and he himself at the time of his first visit to Paris in 1836 carried his sovereign's commission. The fascinating young Italian officer was welcomed in the highest circles, for his splendid physical beauty, and his art-talents as an amateur in music, painting, and sculpture, separated him from all others, even in a throng of brilliant and accomplished men. He had often been told that he had a fortune in his voice, but his pride of birth had always restrained him from a career to which his own secret tastes inclined him, in spite of the fact that expensive tastes cooperated with a meager allowance from his father to plunge him deeply in debt. At last the moment of successful temptation came. Duponchel, the director of the Opera, made him a tempting offer, for good tenors were very difficult to secure then as in the later days of the stage.

The young Count Candia hesitated to sign his father's name to a contract, but he finally compromised the matter at the house of the Comtesse de Merlin, where he was dining one night in company with Prince Belgiojoso and other musical amateurs, by signing only the Christian name, under which he afterward became famous, Mario. He spent a short season in studying under Michelet, Pouchard, and the great singing master, Bordogni, but there is no doubt that his singing was very imperfect when he made his début, November 30, 1838, in the part of Robert le Diable. His princely beauty and delicious fresh voice, however, took the musical public by storm, and the common cry was that he would replace Kubini. For a year he remained at the Académie, but in 1840 passed to the Italian Opera, for which his qualities more specially fitted him.

In the mean time he had made his first appearance before that public of which he continued to be a favorite for so many years. London first saw the new tenor in "Lucrezia Borgia," and was as cordial in its appreciation as Paris had been. A critic of the period, writing of him in later years, said: "The vocal command which he afterward gained was unthought of; his acting then did not get beyond that of a southern man with a strong feeling for the stage. But physical beauty and geniality, such as have been bestowed on few, a certain artistic taste, a certain distinction, not exclusively belonging to gentle birth, but sometimes associated with it, made it clear from the first hour of Signor Mario's stage life that a course of no common order of fascination had begun." Mario sung after this each season in London and Paris for several years, without its falling to his lot to create any new important stage characters. When Donizetti produced "Don Pasquale" at the Theatre Italiens in 1843, Mario had the slight part of the lover. The reception at rehearsal was ominous, and, in spite of the beauty of the music, everybody prophesied a failure. The two directors trembled with dread of a financial disaster. The composer shrugged his shoulders, and taking the arm of his friend, M. Dermoy, the music publisher, left the theatre. "They know nothing about the matter," he laughingly said; "I know what 'Don Pasquale' needs. Come with me." On reaching his library at home, Donizetti unearthed from a pile of dusty manuscript tumbled under the piano what appeared to be a song. "Take that," he said to his friend, "

to Mario at once that he may learn it without delay." This song was the far-famed "Com e gentil." The serenade was sung with a tambourine accompaniment played by Lablache himself, concealed from the audience. The opera was a great success, no little of which was due to the neglected song which Donizetti had almost forgotten.

It was not till 1846 that Mario took the really exalted place by which he is remembered in his art, and which even the decadence of his vocal powers did not for a long time deprive him of. He never lost something amateurish, but this gave him a certain distinction and fine breeding of style, as of a gentleman who deigned to practice an art as a delightful accomplishment. Personal charm and grace, borne out by a voice of honeyed sweetness, fascinated the stern as well as the sentimental critic into forgetting all his deficiencies, and no one was disposed to reckon sharply with one so genially endowed with so much of the nobleman in bearing, so much of the poet and painter in composition. To those who for the first time saw Mario play such parts as Almaviva, Gennaro, and Raoul, it was a new revelation, full of poetic feeling and sentiment. Here his unique supremacy was manifest. He will live in the world's memory as the best opera lover ever seen, one who out of the insipidities and fustian of the average lyric drama could conjure up a conception steeped in the richest colors of youth, passion, and tenderness, and strengthened by the atmosphere of stage verity. In such scenes as the fourth act of "Les Huguenots" and the last act of the "Favorita" Signor Mario's singing and acting were never to be forgotten by those that witnessed them. Intense passion and highly finished vocal delicacy combined to make these pictures of melodious suffering indelible.

As a singer of romances Mario has never been equaled. He could not execute those splendid songs of the Rossinian school, in which the feeling of the theme is expressed in a dazzling parade of roulades and fioriture, the songs in which Rubini was matchless. But in those songs where music tells the story of passion in broad, intelligible, ardent phrases, and presents itself primarily as the vehicle of vehement emotion, Mario stood ahead of all others of his age, it may be said, indeed, of all within the memory of his age. It was for this reason that he attained such a supremacy also on the concert stage. The choicest songs of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Gordigiano, and Meyerbeer were interpreted by his art with an intelligence and poetry which gave them a new and more vivid meaning. The refinements of his accent and pronunciation created the finest possible effects, and were perhaps partly due to the fact that before Mario became a public artist he was a gentleman and a noble, permeated by the best asthetic and social culture of his times.

Mario's power illustrated the value of tastes and pursuits collateral to those of his profession. The painter's eye for color, the sculptor's sense of form, as well as the lover's honeyed tenderness, entered into the success of this charming tenor. His stage pictures looked as if they had stepped out of the canvases of Titian, Tintoretto, and Paul Veronese. In no way was the artistic completeness of his temperament more happily shown than in the harmonious and beautiful figure he presented in his various characters; for there was a touch of poetry and proportion in them far beyond the possibilities of the stage costumer's craft. Other singers had to sing for years, and overcome native defects by assiduous labor, before reaching the goal of public favor, but "Signor Mario was a Hyperian born, who had only to be seen and heard, and the enchantment was complete." For a quarter of a century Mario remained before the public of Paris, London, and St. Petersburg, constantly associated with Mme. Grisi.

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