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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 8925

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The name of Jenny Lind shines among the very brightest in the Golden Book of Singers, and her career has been one of the most interesting among the many striking personal chapters in the history of lyric music. It was not that the "Swedish Nightingale" was supremely great in any chief quality of the lyric artist. Others have surpassed her in natural gifts of voice, in dramatic fervor, in versatility, in perfect vocal finish. But to Jenny Lind were granted all these factors of power in sufficiently large measure, and that power of balance and coordination by which such powers are made to yield their highest results. An exquisitely serene and cheerful temperament, a high ambition, great energy and industry, and such a sense of loyalty to her engagements that she always gave her audience the very best there was in her-these were some of the moral phases of the art-nature which in her case proved of immense service in achieving her great place as a singer, and in holding that place secure against competition for so many years.

The parents of Jenny Lind were poor, struggling folk in the city of Stockholm, who lived precariously by school-teaching. Jenny, born October 6, 1821, was a sickly child, whose only delight in her long, lonely hours was singing, the faculty for which was so strong that at the age of three years she could repeat with unfailing accuracy any song she once heard. Jenny shot up into an awkward, plain-featured girl, with but little prospect of lifting herself above her humble station, till she happened, when she was about nine years old, to attract the attention of Frau Lundburg, a well-known actress, who was delighted with the silvery sweetness of her tones. It was with some difficulty that the prejudices of the Linds could be overcome, but at last they reluctantly consented that she should be educated with a view to the stage. The little Jenny was placed by her kind patroness under the care of Croelius, a well-known music-master of Stockholm, and her abilities were not long in making their mark. The old master was proud of his pupil, and took her to see the manager of the Court theatre, Count Pücke, hoping that this stage potentate's favor would help to push the fortune of his protégée. The Count, a rough, imperious man, who mayhap had been irritated by numerous other appeals of the same kind, looked coldly on the plainly clad, insignificant-looking girl, and said: "What shall we do with such an ugly creature? See what feet she has! and then her face! She will never be presentable. Certainly, we can't take such a scarecrow." The effect of such a salutation on a timid, shrinking child may be imagined. Croelius replied, with honest indignation, "If you will not take her, I, poor as I am, will myself have her educated for the stage." Count Pücke, who under a rough husk had some kindness of heart, then directed Jenny to sing, and he was so pleased with the quality and sentiment of her simple song that he admitted her into the theatrical school, and put her under the special tuition of Herr Albert Berg, the director of the operatic class, who was assisted by the well-known Swedish composer, Lindblad.

In two years' time the young Jenny Lind had created for herself the reputation of being a prodigy. It was not only that she possessed an exquisite voice, but a precocious conception and originality of style. Her dramatic talent also showed promising glimpses of what was to come, and everything appeared to point to a shining stage career, when there came a crushing calamity. She lost her voice. She was now twelve years old, and in her childish perspective of life this disaster seemed irretrievable, the sunshine of happiness for ever clouded. To become a singer in grand opera had been the great aspiration of her heart. Her voice gone, she was soon forgotten by the fickle public who had looked on this young girl as a chrysalis soon to burst into the glory of a fuller life. It showed the resolute stuff which nature had put into this young girl, that, in spite of this crushing downfall of her ambition, she continued her instrumental and theoretical studies with unremitting zeal for nearly four years. At the end of this period the recovery of her voice occurred as abruptly as her loss of it had done.

A grand concert was to be given at the Court theatre, in which the fourth act of "Robert le Diable" was to be a principal feature. No one of the singers cared for the part o

f Alice, as it had but one solo, and in the emergency Herr Berg thought of his unlucky young élève, Jenny Lind, who might be trusted with such a minor responsibility. The girl meekly consented, though, when she appeared on the stage, she shook with such evident trepidation and nervousness that her little remaining power of voice threatened to be destroyed. Perhaps the passion and anxiety under which she was laboring wrought the miracle. She sang the aria allotted her with such power and precision, and the notes of her voice burst forth with such beauty and fullness of tone, that the audience were carried away with admiration. The recently despised young vocalist became the heroine of the evening. Berg, the director of the music, was amazed, and on the next day acquainted Jenny Lind that he had selected her to undertake the r?le of Agatha in Weber's "Der Freischutz."

This was the first character which had awakened our young singer's artistic sympathies, and toward it her secret ambition had long set. She studied with the labor of love, and all the Maytide of her young enthusiasm poured itself into her impersonation of Weber's beautiful creation. At the last rehearsal before performance, she sang with such intense ardor and feeling that the members of the orchestra laid aside their instruments and broke into the most cordial applause. "I saw her at the evening representation," says Fredrika Bremer. "She was then in the spring of life-fresh, bright, and serene as a morning in May; perfect in form; her hands and her arms peculiarly graceful, and lovely in her whole appearance. She seemed to move, speak, and sing without effort or art. All was nature and harmony. Her singing was distinguished especially by its purity and the power of soul which seemed to swell in her tones. Her 'mezzo voice' was delightful. In the night-scene where Agatha, seeing her lover coming, breathes out her joy in rapturous song, our young singer, on turning from the window at the back of the stage to the spectators again, was pale for joy; and in that pale joyousness she sang with a burst of outflowing love and life that called forth not the mirth, but the tears of the auditors."

Jenny Lind has always regarded the character of Agatha as the keystone of her fame. From the night of this performance she was the declared favorite of the Swedish public, and continued for a year and a half the star of the opera of Stockholm, performing in "Euryanthe," "Robert le Diable," "La Vestale," of Spontini, and other operas. She labored meanwhile with indefatigable industry to remedy certain natural deficiencies in her voice. Always pure and melodious in tone, it was originally wanting in elasticity. She could neither hold her notes to any considerable extent, nor increase nor diminish their volume with sufficient effect; and she could scarcely utter the slightest cadence. But, undaunted by difficulties, she persevered, and ultimately achieved that brilliant and facile execution which, it is difficult to believe, was partially denied her by nature.

Jenny Lind's tribulations, however, were not yet over. She had overstrained an organ which had not gained its full strength, and it was discovered that her tones were losing their freshness. The public began to lose its interest, and the opera was nearly deserted, for Jenny Lind had been the singer on whom main dependence was placed. She felt a deep conviction that she had need of further teaching, and that of a quality and method not to be attained in her native city. Manuel Garcia had formed more famous prima donnas than any other master, and it was Jenny Lind's dream by night and day to go to this magician of the schools, whose genius and knowledge had been successfully imparted to so many great singers. But to do this required no small amount of funds, and to raise a sufficient sum was a grave problem. There were not in Stockholm a large number of wealthy and generous connoisseurs, such as have been found in richer capitals, eager to discover genius and lavish in supplying the means of its cultivation. No! she must earn the wherewithal herself. So, during the operatic recess, the plucky maiden started out under the guardianship of her father, and gave concerts in the principal towns of Sweden and Norway, through which she managed to amass a considerable sum. She then bade farewell to her parents and started for Paris, her heart again all aflame with hope and confidence.

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