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Great Singers, Second Series / Malibran To Titiens By George T. Ferris Characters: 4896

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The great cantatrice of whom we shall now give a sketch attained a European reputation hardly inferior to the greatest, though she retired from the stage when in the very golden prime of her powers. Like Catalani, Persiani, and other distinguished singers, she was severely criticised toward the last of her operatic career for sacrificing good taste and dramatic truth to the technique of vocalization, but this is an extravagance so tempting that but few singers have been entirely exempt from it. Perhaps, in these examples of artistic austerity, one may find the cause as much in vocal limitations as in deliberate self-restraint.

Sophie Cruvelli was the daughter of a Protestant clergyman named Cruwell, and was born at Bielefeld, in Prussia, in the year 1830. She displayed noticeable aptitude for music at an early age, and a moderate independence with which the family was endowed enabled Mme. Cruwell to take Sophie, at the age of fourteen, to Paris that she might obtain finishing lessons. Permarini and Bordogni were the masters selected, and the latter, who perceived the latent greatness of his pupil, spared no efforts, nor did he spare Sophie, for he was a somewhat stern, austere teacher. For two years he would permit her to sing nothing but vocal scales, and composed for her the most difficult solfeggi. Mme. Cruwell then returned to Paris, and insisted that her daughter had made sufficient progress in the study of French and music, and might very well return home. Bordogni indignantly replied that it would be criminal to rob the musical world of such a treasure as the Fraulein Cruwell would prove after a few years of study. The mother yielded, saying: "If my daughter devotes herself to the stage and fully embraces an artistic career, we may endeavor to submit to further sacrifices; but, if merely destined to bring up a family, she has learned quite enough of solfeggi; her little fortune will all be swallowed up by her music lessons." It was thus settled that Sophie should become a singer, and, in accordance with Bordogni's advice, she proceeded to Milan, Italy, to complete her musical studies.

But a dreadful discovery threw her into despair when she arrived at her new quarters-she had lost her voice. Not a sound could be forced from her throat. Sophie was in despair, for this was, indeed, annihilation to her hopes, and there seemed nothing in fate for her but to settle down to the average life of the

German housewife, "to suckle fools and chronicle small beer," when, on the eve of departure for Bielefeld, Signor Lamperti, the famous teacher, announced himself. The experienced maestro advised them to wait, reasoning that the loss of voice was rather the result of fatigue and nervousness than of any more radical defect. It was true, for a few days only had passed when Sophie's voice returned again in all its power. Lamperti devoted himself assiduously to preparing the young German singer for her début, and at the end of 1847 she was enabled to appear at La Fenice, under the Italianized name of Cruvelli, in the part of Dona Sol in "Ernani." This was followed by a performance of Norma, and in both she made a strong impression of great powers, which only needed experience to shine with brilliant luster. The fact that her instructor permitted her to appear, handicapped as she was by inexperience and stage ignorance, in r?les not only marked by great musical difficulty, but full of dramatic energy, indicates what a high estimate was placed on her powers.

Mr. Lumley, the English impressario, was at this time scouring Italy for fresh voices, and, hearing Mlle. Cru veil i, secured her for his company, which when completed consisted of Mmes. Persiani and Viardot, Miles. Alboni and Cruvelli, Signori Cuzzani, Belletti, Gardoni, and Polonini. Mlle. Cruvelli was now eighteen, and in spite of the Lind mania, which was raging at white heat, the young German cantatrice made a strong impression on the London public. Her first appearance was in "Ernani," on February 19, 1848. The performance was full of enthusiasm and fire, though disfigured by certain crudities and the violence of unrestrained passion. Her voice, in compass from F to F, was a clear, silvery soprano, and possessed in its low notes something of the delicious quality of the contralto, that bell-like freshness and sonority which is one of the most delightful characteristics of the human voice. Her appearance was highly attractive, for she possessed a finely molded figure of middle height, and a face expressive, winning, and strongly marked. She further appeared as Odabella in "Attila," and as Lucrezia in "I Due Foscari," both of which performances were very warmly received. During the season she also sang in "Nino," "Lucrezia Borgia," "Il Barbiere," and "Nozze di Figaro." Her Rosina in Rossini's great comic opera was a piquant and attractive performance.

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