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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 7885

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mlle. Garcia was now fairly embarked on the hereditary profession of her family, and with every prospect of a brilliant career, for never had a singer at the very outset so signally impressed herself on the public judgment, not only as a thoroughly equipped artist, but as a woman of original genius. But she temporarily retired from the stage in consequence of her marriage with M. Viardot, who had fallen deeply in love with the fascinating cantatrice, shortly after his introduction to her. The bridegroom resigned his position as manager of the Opera, and the newly married couple, shortly after their nuptials in the spring of 1840, proceeded to Italy, M. Viardot being intrusted with an important mission relative to the fine arts. Mme. Viardot did not return to the stage till the spring of the following year. After a short season in London, in which she made a deep and abiding impression, in the part of Orazia ("Gli Orazi ed i Curiazi"), and justified her right to wear the crown of Pasta and Malibran, she was obliged by considerations of health to return to the balmier climate of Southern Europe.

While traveling in Spain, the native land of her parents, she was induced to sing in Madrid, where she was welcomed with all the warmth of Spanish enthusiasm. Her amiability was displayed during her performance of Desdemona, the second opera presented. Pleased with the unrestrained expressions of delight by the audience, she voluntarily sang the rondo finale from "Cenerentola." There was such a magic spell on the audience that they could not be prevailed upon to leave, though Mme. Viardot sang again and again for them. At last the curtain fell and the orchestra departed, but the crowd would not leave the theatre. The obliging cantatrice, though fatigued, directed a piano-forte to be wheeled to the front of the stage, and sang, to her own accompaniment, two Spanish airs and a French romance, a crowning act of grace which made her audience wild with admiration and pleasure. An immense throng escorted her carriage from the theatre to the hotel, with a tumult of vivas. During this Spanish tour she appeared in opera in several towns outside of the capital, in the important pieces of her répertoire, including "Il Barbiere" and "Norma," operas entirely opposed to each other in style, but in both of which she was favorably judged in comparison with the greatest representatives of these characters.

When this singer first appeared, every throne on the lyric stage seemed to be filled by those who sat firm, and wore their crowns right regally by the grace of divine gifts, as well as by the election of the people. There seemed to be no manifest place for a new aspirant, no niche unoccupied. But within three years' time Mme. Viardot's exalted rank among the great singers of the age was no less assured than if she had queened it over the public heart for a score of seasons, and in her endowment as an artist was recognized a bounteous wealth of gifts to which none of her rivals could aspire. Her resources appeared to be without limit; she knew every language to which music is sung, every style in which music can be written with equal fluency. All schools, whether ancient or modern, severe or florid, sacred or profane, severely composed or gayly fantastic, were easily within her grasp. Like Malibran, she was a profoundly scientific musician, and possessed creative genius. Several volumes of songs attest her inventive skill in composition, and the instances of her musical improvisation on the stage are alike curious and interesting. Such unique and lavish qualities as these placed the younger daughter of Garcia apart from all others, even as the other daughter had achieved a peculiarly original place in her time. Like Lablache, in his basso r?les, Mme. Viardot, by her genius completely revolutionized, both in dramatic conception and musical rendering, many parts which had almost become stage

traditions in passing through the hands of a series of fine artists. But the fresher insight of a vital originating imagination breathed a more robust and subtile life into old forms, and the models thus set appear to be imperishable. It has been more than hinted by friends of the composer Meyerbeer, that, when his life is read between the lines, it will be known that he owes a great debt to Pauline Viardot for suggestions and criticism in one of his greatest operas, as it is well known that he does to the tenor, Adolphe Nourrit, for some of the finest features of "Robert le Diable" and "Les Huguenots."

In October, 1842, Mme. Viardot made her reappearance on the French stage at the Théatre Italien as Arsace in "Semiramide," supported by Mme. Grisi and Tamburini. There was at this time such a trio of singers as is rarely found at any one theatre, Pauline Viardot, Giulia Grisi, and Fanny Persiani, each one possessing voice and talent of the highest character in her own peculiar sphere. Not the smallest share of the honors gathered by these artists came to Mme. Viardot who had for intelligent and thoughtful connoisseurs a charm more subtile and binding than that exercised by any of her rivals. At the close of the Paris season she proceeded to Vienna, where her artistic gifts were highly appreciated, and thence to Berlin, where Meyerbeer was then engaged in composing his "Prophète." The dramatic conception of Fides, it may be said in passing, was expressly designed for Pauline Viardot by the composer, who had the most exalted esteem for her genius, both as a musician and tragedienne. She was always a great favorite in Germany, and Berlin and Vienna vied with each other in their admiration of this gifted woman. In 1844 she stirred the greatest enthusiasm by singing at Vienna with Ilonconi, a singer afterward frequently associated with her.

Perhaps at no period of her life, though, did Mme. Viardot create a stronger feeling than when she appeared in Berlin in the spring of 1847 as Rachel in Halévy's "La Juive." It was a German version, but the singer was perfect mistress of the language, and though the music of the opera was by no means well suited to the character of her voice, its power as a dramatic performance and the passion of the singing established a complete supremacy over all classes of hearers. The exhibition on the part of this staid and phlegmatic German community was such as might only be predicated of the volcanic temperament of Rome or Naples. The roar of the multitude in front of her lodgings continued all night, and it was dawn before she was able to retire to rest. The versatility and kind heart of Mme. Viardot were illustrated in an occurrence during this Berlin engagement. She had been announced as Alice in "Robert le Diable," when the Isabella of the evening, Mlle. Tuezck, was taken ill. The impressario tore his hair in despair, for there was no singer who could be substituted, and a change of opera seemed to be the only option. Mme. Viardot changed the gloom of the manager to joy. Rather than disappoint the audience, she would sing both characters. This she did, changing her costume with each change of scene, and representing in one opera the opposite r?les of princess and peasant. One can imagine the effect of this great feat on that crowded Berlin audience, who had already so warmly taken Pauline Viardot to their hearts. Berlin, Vienna, Hamburg, Dresden, Frankfort, Leipsic, and other German cities were the scenes of a series of triumphs, and everywhere there was but one voice as to her greatness as an artist, an excellence not only great, but unique of its kind. Her répertoire at this time consisted of Desdemona, Cenerentola, Rosina, Camilla (in "Gli Orazi"), Arsace, Norma, Ninetta, Amina, Romeo, Lucia, Maria di Rohan, Leonora ("La Favorita" ), Zerlina, Donna Anna, Iphigénie (Gluck), the Rachel of Halévy, and the Alice and Valentine of Meyerbeer.

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