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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 9725

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Pauline Garcia was just sixteen when, panting with an irrepressible sense of her own powers, she exclaimed, "Ed io ancl? son cantatrice." Her first public appearance was worthy of the great name she afterward won. It was at a concert given in Brussels, on December 15, 1837, for the benefit of a charity, and De Bériot made his first appearance on this occasion after the death of Mme. Malibran. The court and most distinguished people of Belgium were present on this occasion, and so great was the impression made on musicians that the Philharmonic Society caused two medals to be struck for De Bériot and Mlle. Garcia, the mold of which was broken immediately. Pauline Garcia, in company with De Bériot, gave a series of concerts through Belgium and Germany, and it soon became evident that a new star of the first magnitude was rising in the musical firmament. In Germany many splendid gifts were showered on her. The Queen of Prussia sent her a superb suite of emeralds, and Mme. Sontag, with whom she sang at Frankfort, gave the young cantatrice a valuable testimonial, which was alike an expression of her admiration of Pauline Garcia and a memento of her regard for the name of the great Malibran, whose passionate strains had hardly ceased lingering in the ears of Europe. Paris first gathered its musical forces to hear the new singer at the Théatre de la Renaissance, December 15, 1838, eager to compare her with Malibran. Among other numbers on the concert programme, she gave a very difficult air by Costa, which had been a favorite song of her sister's, an aria bravura by De Bériot, and the "Cadence du Diable," imitated from "Tartini's Dream," which she accompanied with marvelous skill and delicacy. She shortly appeared again, and she was supported by Rubini, Lablache, and Ivanhoff. The Parisian critics recognized the precision, boldness, and brilliancy of her musical style in the most unstinted expressions of praise. But England was the country selected by her for the theatrical début toward which her ambition burned-England, which dearly loved the name of Garcia, so resplendent in the art-career of Mme. Malibran.

Her appearance in the London world was under peculiar conditions, which, while they would enhance the greatness of success, would be almost certainly fatal to anything short of the highest order of ability. The meteoric luster of Mali-bran's dazzling career was still fresh in the eyes of the public. The Italian stage was filled by Mme. Grisi, who, in personal beauty and voice, was held nearly matchless, and had an established hold on the public favor. Another great singer, Mme. Persiani, reigned through the incomparable finish of her vocalization, and the musical world of London was full of distinguished artists, whose names have stood firm as landmarks in the art. The new Garcia, who dashed so boldly into the lists, was a young, untried, inexperienced girl, who had never yet appeared in opera. One can fancy the excitement and curiosity when Pauline stepped before the footlights of the King's Theatre, May 9, 1839, as Desdemona in "Otello," which had been the vehicle of Malibran's first introduction to the English public. The reminiscence of an eminent critic, who was present, will be interesting. "Nothing stranger, more incomplete in its completeness, more unspeakably indicating a new and masterful artist can be recorded than that first appearance. She looked older than her years; her frame (then a mere reed) quivered this way and that; her character dress seemed to puzzle her, and the motion of her hands as much. Her voice was hardly settled even within its own after conditions; and yet, juaradoxical as it may seem, she was at ease on the stage; because she brought thither instinct for acting, experience of music, knowledge how to sing, and consummate intelligence. There could be no doubt, with any one who saw that Desdemona on that night, that another great career was begun.... All the Malibran fire, courage, and accomplishment were in it, and (some of us fancied) something more beside."

Pauline Garcia's voice was a rebel which she had had to subdue, not a vassal to command, like the glorious organ of Mme. Grisi, but her harsh and unmanageable notes had been tutored by a despotic drill into great beauty and pliancy. Like that of her sister in quality, it combined the two registers of contralto and soprano from low F to C above the lines, but the upper part of an originally limited mezzo-soprano had been literally fabricated by an iron discipline, conducted by the girl herself with all the science of a master. Like Malibran, too, she had in her voice the soul-stirring tone, the sympathetic and touching character by which the heart is thrilled. Her singing was expressive, descriptive, thrilling, full, equal and just, brilliant and vibrating, especially in the medium a

nd in the lower chords. Capable of every style of art, it was adapted to all the feelings of nature, but particularly to outbursts of grief, joy, or despair. "The dramatic coloring which her voice imparts to the slightest shades of feeling and passion is a real phenomenon of vocalization which can not be analyzed," says Escudier. "No singer we ever heard, with the exception of Malibran," says another critic, "could produce the same effect by means of a few simple notes. It is neither by the peculiar power, the peculiar depth, nor the peculiar sweetness of these tones that the sensation is created, but by something indescribable in the quality which moves you to tears in the very hearing."

Something of this impression moved the general mind of connoisseurs on her first dramatic appearance. Her style, execution, voice, expression, and manner so irresistibly reminded her fellow-performers of the lamented Malibran, that tears rolled down their cheeks, yet there was something radically different withal peculiar to the singer. This singular resemblance led to a curious incident afterward in Paris. A young lady was taking a music-lesson from Lablache, who had lodgings in the same house with Mlle. Garcia. The basso was explaining the manner in which Malibran gave the air they were practicing. Just then a voice was heard in the adjoining room singing the cavatina-the voice of Mdlle. Garcia. The young girl was struck with a fit of superstitious terror as if she had seen a phantom, and fainted away on her seat.

Yet in person there was but a slight resemblance between the two sisters. Pauline had a tall, slender figure in her youth, and her physiognomy, Jewish in its cast, though noble and expressive, was so far from being handsome that when at rest the features were almost harsh in their irregularity. But, as in the case of many plain women, emotion and sensibility would quickly transfigure her face into a marvelous beauty and fascination, far beyond the loveliness of line and tint. Her forehead was broad and intellectual, the hair jet-black, the complexion pale, the large, black eyes ardent and full of fire. Her carriage was singularly majestic and easy, and a conscious nobility gave her bearing a loftiness which impressed all beholders.

Her singing and acting in Desdemona made a marked sensation. Though her powers were still immature, she flooded the house with a stream of clear, sweet, rich melody, with the apparent ease of a bird. Undismayed by the traditions of Mali-bran, Pasta, and Sontag in this character, she gave the part a new reading, in which she put something of her own intense individuality. "By the firmness of her step, and the general confidence of her deportment," said a contemporary writer, "we were at first induced to believe that she was not nervous; but the improvement of every succeeding song, and the warmth with which she gave the latter part of the opera, convinced us that her power must have been confined by something like apprehension." Kubini was the Otello, Tamburini, Iago, and Lablache, Elmiro. Her performance in "La Cenerentola" confirmed the good opinion of the public. Her pure taste and perfect facility of execution were splendidly exhibited. "She has," said a critic, "more feeling than Mme. Cinti Da-moreau in the part in which the greater portion of Europe has assigned to her the preeminence, and execution even now in nearly equal perfection."

M. Viardot, a well-known French littérateur, was then director of the Italian Opera in Paris, and he came to London to hear the new singer-in whom he naturally felt a warm interest, as he had been an intimate personal friend of Mme. Malibran. He was so delighted that he offered her the position of prima donna for the approaching season, but the timidity of the young girl of eighteen shrank from such a responsibility, and she would only bind herself to appear for a few nights. The French public felt a strong curiosity to hear the sister of Mali-bran, and it was richly rewarded, for the magnificent style in which she sang her parts in "Otello," "La Cenerentola," and "Il Barbiere" stamped her position as that not only of a great singer, but a woman of genius. The audacity and wealth of resource which she displayed on the first representation of the latter-named opera wore worthy of the daughter of Garcia and the sister of Malibran, Very imperfectly acquainted with the music, she forgot an important part of the score. Without any embarrassment, she instantly improvised not merely the ornament, but the melody, pouring out a flood of dazzling vocalization which elicited noisy enthusiasm. It was not Rossini's "Il Barbiere," but it was successful in arousing a most flattering approbation. It may be fancied, however, that, when she sang the r?le of Rosina a second time, she knew the music as Rossini wrote it.

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