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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 11395

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mr. Lumley had prepared the English public for the coming of Mlle. Lind with consummate skill. The game of suspense was artfully managed to stir curiosity to the uttermost. The provocations of doubt and disappointment had been made to stimulate the musical appetite. There was a powerful opposition to Lumley at the other theatre-Grisi, Persiani, Alboni, Mario, and Tamburini-and the shrewd impressario played all the cards in his hand for their full value. It had been asserted that Mlle. Lind would not come to England, and that no argument could prevail on her to change her resolution, and this, too, after the contract was signed, sealed, and delivered. The opera world was kept fevered by such artifices as stories of broken pledges, long diplomatic pour parlera, special messengers, hesitation, and vacillation, kept up during many months. Lumley in his "Reminiscences" has described how no stone was left unturned, not a trait of the young singer's character, public or private, left un-exploité, by which sympathy and admiration could be aroused. After appearing as the heroine of one of Miss Bremer's novels, "The Home," the splendors of her succeeding career were glowingly set forth. The panegyrics of the two great German composers, Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer, were swollen into the most flowing language. All the secrets of Jenny Land's life were made the subjects of innumerable puffs by the paragraph makers, and her numerous deeds of charity were trumpeted in clarion tones, as if she, a member of a profession famous for its deeds of unostentatious kindness, were the only one who had the right to wear the lovely crown of mercy and beneficence. All this machinery of advertisement, though wofully opposed to all the instincts of Jenny Lind's modest and timid nature, had the effect of fixing the popular belief into a firm faith that what had cost so much trouble to secure must indeed be unspeakably precious.

The interest and curiosity of the public were, therefore, wrought up to an extraordinary pitch. Her first appearance was on May 4, 1847, as Alice, in "Robert le Diable," a part so signally identified with her great successes. "The curtain went up, the opera began, the cheers resounded, deep silence followed," wrote the critic of the "Musical World," "and the cause of all the excitement was before us. It opened its mouth and emitted sound. The sounds it emitted were right pleasing, honey-sweet, and silver-toned. With all this, there was, besides, a quietude that we had not marked before, and a something that hovered about the object, as an unseen grace that was attired in a robe of innocence, transparent as the thin surface of a bubble, disclosing all, and making itself rather felt than seen." Chorley tells us that Mendelssohn, who was sitting by him, and whose attachment to Jenny Lind's genius was unbounded, turned round, watched the audience as the notes of the singer swelled and filled the house, and smiled with delight as he saw how completely every one in the audience was magnetized. The delicious sustained notes which began the first cavatina died away into a faint whisper, and thunders of applause went up as with one breath, the stentorian voice of Lablache, who was sitting in his box, booming like a great bell amid the din. The excitement of the audience at the close of the opera almost baffles description. Lumley's hopes were not in vain. Jenny Lind was securely throned as the operatic goddess of the town, and no rivalry had power to shake her from her place.

The judgment of the musical critics, though not intemperate in praise, had something more than a touch of the public enthusiasm. "It is wanting in that roundness and mellowness which belongs to organs of the South," observed a very able musical connoisseur. "When forced, it has by no means an agreeable sound, and falls hard and grating on the ears. It is evident that, in the greater part of its range, acquired by much perseverance and study, nature has not been bountiful to the Swedish Nightingale in an extraordinary degree. But art and energy have supplied the defects of nature. Perhaps no artist, if we except Pasta, ever deserved more praise than Jenny Lind for what she has worked out of bad materials. From an organ neither naturally sweet nor powerful, she has elaborated a voice capable of producing the most vivid sensations. In her mezzo-voce singing, scarcely any vocalist we ever heard can be compared to her. The most delicate notes, given with the most perfect intonation, captivate the hearers, and throw them into ecstasies of delight. This is undoubtedly the great charm of Jenny Lind's singing, and in this respect we subscribe ourselves among her most enthusiastic admirers.... She sustains a C or D in alt with unerring intonation and surprising power. These are attained without an effort, and constitute another charm of the Nightingale's singing.

"In pathetic music Jenny Lind's voice is heard to much advantage. Indeed, her vocal powers seem best adapted to demonstrate the more gentle and touching emotions. For this reason her solo singing is almost that alone in which she makes any extraordinary impression. In ensemble singing, excepting in the piano, her voice, being forced beyond its natural powers, loses all its beauty and peculiar charm, and becomes, in short, often disagreeable.... Her voice, with all its charm, is of a special quality, and in its best essays is restricted to a particular class of lyrical compositions.... As a vocalist, Jenny Lind is entitled to a very high, if not the highest, commendation. Her perseverance and indomitable energy, joined to her musical ability, have tended to render her voice as cap

able and flexible as a violin. Although she never indulges in the brilliant flights of fancy of Persiani, nor soars into the loftiest regions of fioriture with that most wonderful of all singers, her powers of execution are very great, and the delicate taste with which the most florid passages are given, the perfect intonation of the voice, and its general charm, have already produced a most decided impression on the public mind. By the musician, Persiani will be always more admired, but Jenny Lind will strike the general hearer more."

Another contemporaneous judgment of Jenny Lind's voice will be of interest to our readers: "Her voice is a pure soprano, of the fullest compass belonging to voices of this class, and of such evenness of tone that the nicest ear can discover no difference of quality from the bottom to the summit of the scale. In the great extent between A below the lines and D in alt, she executes every description of passage, whether consisting of notes 'in linked sweetness long drawn out,' or of the most rapid flights and fioriture, with equal facility and perfection. Her lowest notes come out as clear and ringing as the highest, and her highest are as soft and sweet as the lowest. Her tones are never muffled or indistinct, nor do they ever offend the ear by the slightest tinge of shrillness; mellow roundness distinguishes every sound she utters. As she never strains her voice, it never seems to be loud; and hence some one who busied himself in anticipatory depreciation said that it would be found to fail in power, a mistake of which everybody was convinced who observed how it filled the ear, and how distinctly every inflection was heard through the fullest harmony of the orchestra. The same clearness was observable in her pianissimo. When, in lier beautiful closes, she prolonged a tone, attenuated it by degrees, and falling gently upon the final note, the sound, though as ethereal as the sighing of a breeze, reached, like Mrs. Siddons's whisper in Lady Macbeth, every part of the immense theatre. Much of the effect of this unrivaled voice is derived from the physical beauty of its sound, but still more from the exquisite skill and taste with which it is used, and the intelligence and sensibility of which it is the organ. Mlle. Lind's execution is that of a complete musician. Every passage is as highly finished, as perfect in tone, tune, and articulation, as if it proceeded from the violin of a Paganini or a Sivori, with the additional charm which lies in the human voice divine. Her embellishments show the richest fancy and boundless facility, but they show still more remarkably a well-regulated judgment and taste."

Mlle. Lind could never have been a great actress, and risen into that stormy world of dramatic power, where the passion and imagination of Pasta, Schr?der-Devrient, Malibran, Viardot, or even Grisi, wrought such effects, but, within the sphere of her temperament, she was easy, natural, and original. One of her eulogists remarked: "Following her own bland conceptions, she rises to regions whence, like Schiller's maid, she descends to refresh the heart and soul of her audience with gifts beautiful and wondrous"; but, as she never attempted the delineation of the more stormy and vehement passions, it is probable that she was more cognizant of her own limitations, than were her critics.

She was not handsome, but of pleasing aspect. A face of placid sweetness, expressive features, soft, dove-like-blue eyes, and very abundant, wavy, flaxen hair, made up a highly agreeable ensemble, while the slender figure was full of grace. There was an air of virginal simplicity and modesty in every movement which set her apart among her stage sisters. To this her character answered in every line; for, moving in the midst of a world which had watched every action, not the faintest breath of scandal ever shaded the fair fame of this Northern lily.

The struggle for admission after the first night made the attempt to get a seat except by long préarrangement an experience of purgatory. Twenty-five pounds were paid for single boxes, while four or five guineas were gladly given for common stalls. Hours were spent before the doors of the opera-house on the chance of a place in the pit. It is said that three gentlemen came up from Liverpool with the express purpose of hearing the new diva sing, spent a week in trying to obtain seats, and returned without success. No such mania for a singer had ever fired the phlegmatic blood of the English public. Articles of furniture and dress were called by her name; portraits and memoirs innumerable of her were published.

During the season she appeared in "Robert le Diable," "Sonnambula," "Lucia" "La Figlia del Reggimento," and "Norma," as well as in a new opera by Verdi, "I Masnadieri," which even Jenny Lind's genius and popularity could not keep on the surface. At the close of the season, her manager, Lumley, presented her a magnificent testimonial of pure silver, three feet in height, representing a pillar wreathed with laurel, at the feet of which wore seated three draped figures, Tragedy, Comedy, and Music. Her tour through the provinces repeated the sensation and excitement of London. Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Dundee vied with the great capital in the most extravagant excesses of admiration, and fifteen guineas were not infrequently paid for the privilege of hearing her. For two concerts in Edinburgh Mlle. Lind received one thousand pounds for her services, and the management made twelve hundred pounds. Such figures are referred to simply as affording the most tangible estimate of the extent and violence of the Lind fever.

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