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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 7275

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


M. Duponchel, the manager of the Opéra in Paris, hastened to London to hear Alboni sing, and immediately offered her an engagement. In October, 1847, she made her Parisian début. Her first appearance in concert was with Alizard and Barroilhet. "Many persons, artists and amateurs," said Fiorentino, "absolutely asked on the morning of her début, Who is this Alboni? Whence does she come? What can she do?" And their interrogatories were answered by some fragments of those trifling and illusory biographies which always accompany young vocalists. There was, however, intense curiosity to hear and see this redoubtable singer who had held the citadel of the Royal Italian Opera against the attraction of Jenny Lind, and the theatre was crowded to suffocation by rank, fashion, beauty, and notabilities on the night of her first concert, October 9th. When she stepped quietly on the stage, dressed in black velvet, a brooch of brilliants on her bosom, and her hair cut à la Titus, with a music-paper in her hand, there was just one thunder-clap of applause, followed by a silence of some seconds. She had not one acknowledged advocate in the house; but, when Arsace's cavatina, "Ah! quel giorno," gushed from her lips in a rich stream of melodious sound, the entire audience was at her feet, and the critics could not command language sufficiently glowing to express their admiration.

"What exquisite quality of sound, what purity of intonation, what precision in the scales!" wrote the critic of the "Revue et Gazette Musicale." "What finesse in the manner of the breaks of the voice! What amplitude and mastery of voice she exhibits in the 'Brindisi'; what incomparable clearness and accuracy in the air from 'L'ltaliana' and the duo from 'Il Barbiere!' There is no instrument capable of rendering with more certain and more faultless intonation the groups of rapid notes which Rossini wrote, and which Alboni sings with the same facility and same celerity. The only fault the critic has in his power to charge the wondrous artist with is, that, when she repeats a morceau, we hear exactly the same traits, the same turns, the same fioriture, which was never the case with Malibran or Cinti-Damoreau."

"This vocal scale," says Scudo, speaking of her voice, "is divided into three parts or registers, which follow in complete order. The first register commences at F in the base, and reaches F in the medium. This is the true body of the voice, whose admirable timbre characterizes and colors all the rest. The second extends from G in the medium to F on the fifth line; and the upper part, which forms the third register, is no more than an elegant superfluity of Nature. It is necessary next to understand with what incredible skill the artist manages this instrument; it is the pearly, light, and florid vocalization of Persiani joined to the resonance, pomp, and amplitude of Pisaroni. No words can convey an idea of the exquisite purity of this voice, always mellow, always equable, which vibrates without effort, and each note of which expands itself like the bud of a rose-sheds a balm on the ear, as some exquisite fruit perfumes the palate. No scream, no affected dramatic contortion of sound, attacks the sense of hearing, under the pretense of softening the feelings."

"But that which we admire above all in the artist," observes Fiorentino, "is the pervading soul, the sentiment, the perfect taste, the inimitable method. Then, what body in the voice! What largeness! What simplicity of style! What facility of vocalization! What genius in the contrasts! What color in the phrases! What charm! What expression! Mlle. A

lboni sings as she smiles-without effort, without fatigue, without audible and broken respiration. Here is art in its fidelity! here is the model and example which every one who would become an artist should copy."

"It is such a pleasure to hear real singing," wrote Hector Berlioz. "It is so rare; and voices at once beautiful, natural, expressive, flexible, and in time, are so very uncommon! The voice of Mlle. Alboni possesses these excellent qualities in the highest degree of perfection. It is a magnificent contralto of immense range (two octaves and six notes, nearly three octaves, from low E to C in alt), the quality perfect throughout, even in the lowest notes of the lowest register, which are generally so disastrous to the majority of singers, who fancy they possess a contralto, and the emission of which resembles nearly always a rattle, hideous in such cases and revolting to the ear. Mlle. Alboni's vocalization is wonderfully easy, and few sopranos possess such facility. The registers of her voice are so perfectly united, that in her scales you do not feel sensible of the passage from one to another; the tone is unctuous, caressing, velvety, melancholy, like that of all pure sopranos, though less somber than that of Pisaroni, and incomparably more pure and limpid. As the notes are produced without effort, the voice yields itself to every shade of intensity, and thus Mlle. Alboni can sing from the most mysterious piano to the most brilliant forte. And this alone is what I call singing humanly, that is to say, in a fashion which declares the presence of a human heart, a human soul, a human intelligence. Singers not possessed of these indispensable qualities should in my judgment be ranked in the category of mechanical instruments. Mlle. Alboni is an artist entirely devoted to her art, and has not up to this moment been tempted to make a trade of it; she has never heretofore given a thought to what her delicious notes-precious pearls, which she lavishes with such happy bounty-might bring her in per annum. Different from the majority of contemporary singers, money questions are the last with which she occupies herself; her demands have hitherto been extremely modest. Added to this, the sincerity and trustworthiness of her character, which amounts almost to singularity, are acknowledged by all who have any dealings with her."

After the greatness of the artist had fairly-been made known to the public, the excitement in Paris was extraordinary. At some of the later concerts more than a thousand applications for admission had to be refused, and it was said that two theatres might have been thronged. Alboni was nearly smothered night after night with roses and camellias, and the stage was literally transformed into a huge bed of flowers, over which the prima donna was obliged to walk in making her exits. An amusing example of the na?veté and simplicity of her character is narrated. On the morning after her second performance, she was seated in her hotel on the Boulevard des Italiens, reading the feuilletons of Berlioz and Fiorentino with a kind of childish pleasure, unconscious that she was the absorbing theme of Paris talk. A friend came in, when she asked with unaffected sincerity whether she had really sung "assez bien" on Monday night, and broke into a fit of the merriest laughter when she received the answer, "Très bien pour une petite fille." "Alboni," writes this friend, "is assuredly for a great artist the most unpretending and simple creature in the world. She hasn't the slightest notion of her position in her art in the eyes of the public and musical world."

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