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A consensus of opinion places this distinguished artiste at the head of all her compeers, for it may be truly said that she is the brightest star which has dazzled the musical firmament during the past half century, and, is still in the very zenith of her noonday splendor.
Regardful of the transcendent beauty of her voice, enhanced as this is by her other natural and attractive attributes, one might almost believe that nightingales have surrounded the cradle presided over by Euterpe, for never has bird sung so sweetly as the gifted subject of my memoir, and while the Fates smiled on the birth of their favorite, destined to become the unrivalled Queen of Song throughout the civilized world, fanciful natures might conceive a poetical vision, and behold Melpomene with her sad, grave eyes breathing into her the spirit of tragedy, and Thalia, with her laughing smile, welcoming a gifted disciple by whose genius her fire was to be rekindled in the far future.
In the year 1861 there arrived in England a young singer who, accompanied by her brother-in-law, took apartments in Norfolk Street, Strand. The young lady, then only seventeen, sought Mr. Frederick Gye, who was the lessee of the Royal Italian Opera, for his permission to sing at his theatre, volunteering to do so for nothing. The offer was at first absolutely declined, but subsequently the young artiste succeeded, and made her first appearance on May 14, 1861, as Amina in Bellini's opera of "La Sonnambula." Unheralded by any previous notice, she was then totally unknown to the English public. Not a syllable had reached that country of her antecedents or fame. I remember being present on the occasion when this youthful cantatrice tripped lightly on to the centre of the stage. Not a single hand was raised to greet her, nor a sound of welcome extended to encourage the young artiste. The audience of Covent Garden, usually reserved, except to old-established favorites, seemed wrapped in more than their conventional coldness on that particular evening. Ere long, however, indeed before she had finished the opening aria, a change manifested itself in the feelings of all present. The habitues looked round in astonishment, and people near me almost held their breath in amazement. The second act followed, and to surprise quickly succeeded delight, for when in the third act she threw all her vocal and dramatic power into the melodious wailing of "Ah non credea," with its brilliant sequel, "Ah non giunge," the enthusiasm of the audience forgot all restriction, and burst into a spontaneous shout of applause, the pent-up fervor of the assembly exploding in a ringing cheer of acclamation rarely heard within the walls of the Royal Italian Opera House. The heroine of the evening was Adelina Patti, who thenceforward became the idol of the musical world. When I left the theatre that evening, I became conscious that a course of fascination had commenced of a most unwonted nature; one that neither time nor change has modified, but which three decades have served only to enhance and intensify.
At the conclusion of the performance, Mr. Gye went on to the stage full of the excitement which prevailed in the theatre, and he immediately concluded an engagement with Mlle. Patti on the terms which had been previously agreed between them; these being that Mlle. Patti was to receive at the rate of #150 a month for three years, appearing twice each week during the season, or at the rate of about #17 for each performance. Mr. Gye also offered her the sum of #200 if she would consent to sing exclusively at Covent Garden.
Patti repeated her performance of Amina eight times during the season, and subsequently confirmed her success by her assumption of Lucia, Violetta, Zerlina, Martha, and Rosina.
Having met with such unprecedented success throughout the London season, Mlle. Patti was offered an engagement to sing at the Italian Opera in Paris, where unusual curiosity was awakened concerning her. Everyone is aware that the Parisians do not admit an artist to be a celebrity until they have themselves acknowledged it. At Paris, after the first act, the sensation was indescribable, musicians, ministers, poets, and fashionable beauties all concurring in the general chorus of acclamation; while the genial Auber, the composer of so many delightful operas, and one of the greatest authorities, by his experience and judgment, on all musical matters, was so enchanted that he declared she had made him young again, and for several days he could scarcely talk on any other subject but Adelina Patti and opera. The conquest she had achieved with the English public was thus triumphantly ratified by the exacting and critical members of musical society in Paris.
Adele Juan Maria Patti, according to her own statement, which she related to the Queen Isabella of Spain, was born at Madrid, on February 19, 1843, and is the youngest daughter of two famous Italian singers, Signor Salvatore Patti and Signora Patti-Barili. The signor having placed her two sisters--Amalia, who subsequently married Maurice Strakosch, the well-known impresario, and Carlotta, also a vocalist of remarkable powers--in a boarding-school at Milan, went to New York with his wife and daughter, where they remained until Adelina reached sixteen.
Adelina Patti had barely reached the age of three years when she was heard humming and singing the airs her mother sang.
The child's voice was naturally so flexible that executive difficulties were always easy to her, and, before she had attained her ninth year she could execute a prolonged shake with fluency. Her father not being prosperous at the time, it became a necessity for him to look for support to his little Adelina, who had shown such remarkable promise; and, accordingly, she began to take singing lessons--not, as is stated in Grove's "Dictionary of Musicians," from Maurice Strakosch, but from a French lady, subsequently studying with her step-brother, Ettore Barili, who was a famous baritone singer; but nature had been so prodigal of her gifts to the child that she never undertook a serious course of study, but, as she herself says, her real master was "le bon Dieu." At a very early age she would sing and play the part of Norma, and knew the whole of the words and music of Rosina, the heroine of Rossini's immortal "Il Barbiere di Seviglia." She sang at various concerts in different cities, until she reached the age of twelve and a half, when her career was temporarily interrupted, for Maurice Strakosch, observing the ruinous effect the continuous strain upon her delicate voice was working, insisted upon her discontinuing singing altogether, which advice she happily followed. After this interval of two years' silence, and having emerged from the wonder-child to the young artiste, she recommenced her studies under M. Strakosch, and very soon afterward was engaged to sing on a regular stage. Strakosch travelled with her and Gottschalk, the pianist, through the United States, during the tour giving a number of concerts with varying financial results; ultimately returning to New York in 1859, where she appeared at a concert of which The New York Herald of November 28th gives the following notice: "One of the most remarkable events in the operatic history of the metropolis, or even of the world, has taken place during the last week at the Academy of Music. Mlle. Patti sang the mad scene from Lucia in such a superb manner as to stir up the audience to the heartiest demonstrations of delight. The success of this artiste, educated and reared among us, has made everybody talk of her." In the following year, Strakosch considered the time had arrived for her to appear in Europe. He accordingly brought his young protegee to England, with the result I have already attempted to describe.
After singing in London and Paris, Patti was engaged to appear at Berlin, Brussels, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, at which latter city enthusiasm reached its climax, when on one occasion she was called before the curtain no fewer than forty times. One who was with her there during her last visit, writes: "Having been witness of Adelina's many triumphs and of outbursts of enthusiasm bordering upon madness, I did not think that greater demonstrations were possible. I was profoundly mistaken, however, for the St. Petersburg public far surpassed anything I have seen before. On Adelina's nights extraordinary profits were made. Places for the gallery were sold for ten roubles each, while stalls were quickly disposed of for a hundred roubles each. The emperor and empress, with the whole court, took part in the brilliant reception accorded to Patti, and flowers to the amount of six thousand roubles were thrown at her."
That she has been literally worshipped from infancy upward is only a natural consequence of her unsurpassable gifts, and nowhere has this feeling manifested itself to such an extent as in Paris, and by none more so than by the four famous composers, Auber, Meyerbeer, Rossini, and Gounod. Auber, after hearing her sing Norina, in Donizetti's "Don Pasquale," offered her a bouquet of roses from Normandy, and in answer to her questions about her diamonds, said, "The diamonds you wear are beautiful indeed, but those you place in our ears are a thousand times better." Patti was the pet of the gifted composer of "Guillaume Tell," and no one was ever more welcome at Rossini's beautiful villa at Passy, well known as the centre of a great musical and artistic circle. The genial Italian died in November, 1868, and Patti paid her last tribute of respect to his memory by taking part in the performance of his immortal "Stabat Mater," which was given on the occasion of Rossini's burial service.
Gounod, always enthusiastic in his remarks upon her, said, "that until he heard Patti, all the Marguerites were Northern maidens, but Patti was the only Southern Gretchen, and that from her all future singers could learn what to do and avoid."
Although it is not the custom to bestow titles or honorific distinctions upon artists of the fair sex, yet, in lieu of these, to such an extent have presents been showered upon Adelina Patti, that the jewels which she has been presented with from time to time are said to be of the enormous value of #100,000. In the year 1885, when she appeared in New York as Violetta, the diamonds she wore on that occasion were estimated to be worth #60,000. One of the handsomest lockets in her possession is a present from Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, and a splendid solitaire ring which she is in the habit of wearing was given to her by the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Of no less than twenty-three valuable bracelets, one of the most costly is that presented by the committee of the Birmingham festival. A magnificent comb, set with twenty-three large diamonds, is the gift of the Empress Eugenie. The emperors of Germany, Austria, and Russia have vied with each other in sending her jewels of the rarest value.
When singing in Italy, King Victor Emmanuel each night visited the opera for the purpose of hearing her; and at Florence, where the enthusiastic Italians applauded to the very echo, Mario, prince of Italian tenors, leaned from his box to crown her with a laurel wreath. A similar honor was bestowed upon her by the Duke of Alba at Madrid, who presented her with a laurel crown. At the opera house in that city numbers of bouquets and poems were to be seen whirling through the air attached to the necks of birds. Queen Isabella of Spain, gave a large amethyst brooch surrounded by forty enormous pearls, and the Jockey Club of Paris presented her with twelve laurel crowns. The citizens of San Francisco, upon the occasion of her last visit, presented her with a five-pointed star formed of thirty large brilliants, and from the Queen of Portugal she received a massive locket containing Her Majesty's portrait, enriched by an enormous oriental pearl encrusted in brilliants; and even at the present time scarcely a day passes without the "Diva" receiving some acknowledgment in recognition of her transcendent powers.
Adelina Patti's first husband was Henri, Marquis de Caux, an equerry to the Empress Eugenie, from whom she was separated and subsequently divorced; and, on June 10, 1886, she married Ernesto Nicolini, the famous tenor singer.
In appearance, Patti is still youthful, and really seems destined to rival the celebrated French beauty, Ninon de l'Enclos, who was so beautiful at sixty that the grandsons of the men who loved her in her youth adored her with equal ardor. Patti's figure is still slim and rounded, and not a wrinkle as yet is to be seen on her cheeks, or a line about her eyes, which are as clear and bright as ever, and which, when she speaks to you, look you straight in the face with her old winning smile.
During her career Patti has earned upward of half a million sterling, and the enormous sums paid to her at the present time more than double the amounts which Jenny Lind received, and which in that day were regarded as fabulous.
On a natural plateau, surrounded by picturesque vales, and situated in the heart of the very wildest and most romantic part of South Wales, between Brecon and Swansea, and at the base of the Rock of the Night, stands the Castle of Craig-y-nos. This is the nightingale's nest. The princely fortune which Patti has accumulated has enabled her so to beautify and enlarge her home, that it now contains all the luxuries which Science and Art have enabled Fortune's favorites to enjoy; and so crowded is it with curios and valuables that it may best be described as "the home of all Art yields or Nature can decree."
Here, in picturesque seclusion, surrounded by a unique splendor created by her own exertions, lives this gifted and beautiful songstress. She is the "Lady Bountiful" of the entire district, extending many miles around the castle, over which she presides with such hospitable grace. The number of grateful hearts she has won in the Welsh country by her active benevolence is almost as great as is the legion of enthusiastic admirers she has enlisted by the wonderful beauty of her voice and the series of artistic triumphs, which have been absolutely without parallel during the present century.