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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 9882

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Manuel Garcia received Jenny Lind kindly, who was fluttered with anxiety. The master's verdict was not very encouraging. When he had heard her sing, "My good girl," he said, "you have no voice; or, I should rather say, you had a voice, but are now on the verge of losing it. Your organ is strained and worn out, and the only advice I can offer you is to recommend you not to sing a note for three months. At the end of that time come to me, and I'll see what I can do for you." This was heart-breaking, but there was no appeal, and so, at the end of three wearisome months, Jenny Lind returned to Garcia. He pronounced her voice greatly strengthened by its rest. Under the Garcia method the young Swedish singer's voice improved immensely, and, what is more, her conception and grasp of musical method. The cadences and ornaments composed by Jenny were in many cases considered worthy by the master of being copied, and her progress in every way pleased Garcia, though he never fancied she would achieve any great musical distinction. Another pupil of Garcia's was a Mlle. Nissen, who, without much intellectuality, had a robust, full-toned voice. Jenny Lind often said that it reduced her to despair at times to hear the master hold up this lady as an example, all the while she felt her own great superiority, the more lofty quality of her ambition. Garcia would say: "If Jenny Lind had the voice of Nissen, or the latter Lind's brains, one of them would become the greatest singer in Europe. If Lind had more voice at her disposal, nothing would prevent her from becoming the greatest of modern singers; but, as it is, she must be content with singing second to many who will not have half her genius." It is quite amusing to note how quickly this dogmatic prophecy of the great maestro disproved itself.

After nearly a year under Garcia's tuition she was summoned home. The Swedish musician who brought her the order to return to her duties at the Stockholm Court Theatre, from which she had been absent by permission, was a friend of Meyerbeer, and through him Jenny Lind was introduced to the composer. Meyerbeer, unlike Garcia, promptly recognized in her voice "one of the finest pearls in the world's chaplet of song," and was determined to hear her under conditions which would fully test the power and quality of so delicious an organ. He arranged a full orchestral rehearsal, and Jenny Lind sang in the salon of the Grand Opéra the three great scenes from "Robert le Diable," "Norma," and "Der Freischutz." The experiment vindicated Meyerbeer's judgment, and Jenny Lind could then and there have signed a contract with the manager, whom Meyerbeer had taken care to have present, had it not been for the spiteful opposition of a distinguished prima donna, who had an undue influence over the managerial mind.

The young singer returned to Stockholm a new being, assured of her powers, self-centered in her ambition, and with a right to expect a successful career for herself. Her preparation had been accompanied with much travail of spirit, disappointment, and suffering, but the harvest was now ripening for the reaper. The people of Stockholm, though they had let her depart with indifference, received her back right cordially, and, when she made her first reappearance as Alice, in "Robert le Diable," the welcome had all the fury of a great popular excitement. Her voice had gained remarkable flexibility and power, the quality of it was of a bell-like richness, purity, and clearness; her execution was admirable, and her dramatic power excellent. The good people of Stockholm discovered that they had been entertaining an angel unawares. Though Jenny Lind was but little known out of Sweden, she soon received an offer from the Copenhagen opera, but she dreaded to accept the offer of the Danish manager. "I have never made my appearance out of Sweden," she observed; "everybody in mv native land is so affectionate and kind to me, and if I made my appearance in Copenhagen and should be hissed! I dare not venture on it!" However, the temptations held out to her, and the entreaties of Burnonville, the ballet-master of Copenhagen, who had married a Swedish friend of Jenny Lind's, at last prevailed over the nervous apprehensions of the young singer, and Jenny made her first appearance in Copenhagen as Alice, in "Robert le Diable." "It was like a new revelation in the realms of art," says Andersen ("Story of my Life"); "the youthful, fresh voice forced itself into every heart; here reigned truth and nature, and everything was full of meaning and intelligence. At one concert she sang her Swedish songs. There was something so peculiar in this, so bewitching, people thought nothing about the concert-room; the popular melodies uttered by a being so purely feminine, and bearing the universal stamp of genius, exercised the omnipotent sway-the whole of Copenhagen was in a rapture." Jenny Lind was the first sin

ger to whom the Danish students gave a serenade; torches blazed around the hospitable villa where the serenade was given, and she expressed her thanks by again singing some Swedish airs impromptu. "I saw her hasten into a dark corner and weep for emotion," says Andersen. "'Yes, yes! said she, 'I will exert myself; I will endeavor; I will be better qualified than I now am when I again come to Copenhagen.'"

"On the stage," adds Andersen, "she was the great artist who rose above all those around her; at home, in her own chamber, a sensitive young girl with all the humility and piety of a child. Her appearance in Copenhagen made an epoch in the history of our opera; it showed me art in its sanctity: I had beheld one of its vestals."

Jenny Lind was one of the few who regard art as a sacred vocation. "Speak to her of her art," says Frederika Bremer, "and you will wonder at the expansion of her mind, and will see her countenance beaming with inspiration. Converse then with her of God, and of the holiness of religion, and you will see tears in those innocent eyes: she is great as an artist, but she is still greater in her pure human existence!"

"She loves art with her whole soul," observes Andersen, "and feels her vocation in it. A noble, pious disposition like hers can not be spoiled by homage. On one occasion only did I hear her express her joy in her talent and her self-consciousness. It was during her last residence in Copenhagen. Almost every evening she appeared either in the opera or at concerts; every hour was in requisition. She heard of a society, the object of which was to assist unfortunate children, and to take them out of the hands of their parents, by whom they were misused and compelled either to beg or steal, and to place them in other and better circumstances. Benevolent people subscribed annually a small sum each for their support; nevertheless, the means for this excellent purpose were very limited. 'But have I not still a disengaged evening?' said she; 'let me give a night's performance for the benefit of those poor children; but we will have double prices!' Such a performance was given, and returned large proceeds. When she was informed of this, and that by this means a number of poor people would be benefited for several years, her countenance beamed, and the tears filled her eyes. 'It is, however, beautiful,' she said, 'that I can sing so.'"

Every effort was made by Jenny Lind's friends and admirers to keep her in Sweden, but her genius spoke to her with too clamorous and exacting a voice to be pent up in such a provincial field. There had been some correspondence with Meyerbeer on the subject of her securing a Berlin engagement, and the composer showed his deep interest in the singer by exerting his powerful influence with such good effect that she was soon offered the position of second singer of the Royal Theatre. Her departure from Stockholm was a most flattering and touching display of the public admiration, for the streets were thronged with thousands of people to bid her godspeed and a quick return.

The prima donna of the Berlin opera was Mlle. Nissen, who had been with herself under Garcia's instruction, and it was a little humiliating that she should be obliged to sing second to one whom she knew to be her inferior. But she could be patient, and bide her time. In the mean while the sapient critics regarded her with good-natured indifference, and threw her a few crumbs of praise from time to time to appease her hunger. At last she had her revenge. One night at a charity concert, the fourth act of "Robert le Diable" was given, and the solo of Alice assigned to Jenny Lind. She had barely sung the first few bars when the audience were electrified. The passion, fervor, novelty of treatment, and glorious breadth of voice and style completely enthralled them. They broke into a tempest of applause, and that was the beginning of the "Lind madness," which, commencing in Berlin, ran through Europe with such infectious enthusiasm. During the remaining three months of the Berlin season, she was the musical idol of the Berlinese, and poor Mlle. Nissen found herself hurled irretrievably from her throne. It was about this time, near the close of 1843, that Mlle. Lind received her first offer of an English engagement from Mr. Lumley, who had sent an agent to Berlin to hear her sing, and make a report to him on this new prodigy. No contract, however, was then entered into, Jenny Lind going to Dresden instead, where her friend Meyerbeer was engaged in composing his "Feldlager in Schliesen," the first part of which, Vielka, was offered to her and accepted. She acquired the German language sufficiently well in two months to sing in it, but it is rather a strange fact that, though Mlle. Lind during her life learned not less than five languages besides her own, she never spoke any of them with precision and purity, not even Italian.

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