Famous Singers of To-day and Yesterday - Part 6

Part 6

In 1873 she made a tour in the United States, an account of which was once given by Mr. de Vivo,[1] who was her manager. During this tour her eccentricities caused her manager much anxiety, for at times when he needed money, and, having paid large sums to her, felt confident that she was able to furnish funds, she had always sent her earnings to her daughter, who seems to have kept her in a chronic state of poverty. The company travelled across this continent, and went to Australia and New Zealand. During the Australian tour Madame di Murska became very much interested in Alfred Anderson, a young musician belonging to the company. He fell into bad health, and, when confined to his room by sickness, the eccentric singer insisted upon nursing him. Soon afterwards they were quietly married. They were then in Sidney, and the marriage took place in December, 1875. Mr. Anderson continued so ill that he was obliged to return to Melbourne, his native city, where he went to his father's house. It seems that the family were opposed to the marriage, for Madame di Murska was refused admission, and was obliged to stay at a hotel. There seem also to have been some peculiar financial transactions, for, according to accounts, when Mr. Anderson died, which was some three or four months after the marriage, Madame di Murska lost a large sum of money. This experience, however, did not by any means crush her, for in May, 1876, five months after her marriage to Anderson, she fearlessly embarked on another matrimonial venture, this time taking as her partner for life Mr. John T. Hill. This union does not seem to have been permanent, for nothing more is heard of Mr. Hill in connection with Madame di Murska.

[1] Mr. Diego de Vivo died in New York, on August 11, 1898, at the age of seventy-six. He was instrumental in introducing to the American public many artists who have become well-known.

In Australia, di Murska never attained the same popularity that attended her efforts in Europe, her peculiarities were so marked. She is said to have always refused to be interviewed, or to see any one at her hotel, and she used to spend her time in training a lot of parrots, magpies, c.o.c.katoos, monkeys, and other creatures, to sing. She had a wagon-load of pets, which were taken from town to town, wherever she sang, and were an unmitigated nuisance. She also had a big Newfoundland dog, named Pluto, for whom a cover was always laid at the dinner table. Pluto dined on capon and other dainties, and was a model in regard to table manners. Her parrots cost her a great deal of money, for they had a decided antipathy to silk or damask upholstery, particularly to flowered patterns, but Madame di Murska always seemed pleased when the bills for the depredations of her pets were presented to her.

Once while the company was at Glasgow, one of the members fed a parrot with parsley till it died. Di Murska called in two learned Scotch professors to hold a post-mortem examination, and they decided that the bird had died of wall-paper, and charged three guineas for their opinion.

Some few years later Madame di Murska was induced to return to the United States, where a position was secured for her in New York as a vocal teacher, but although possessed of undoubted talent, she completely failed to impart it to her pupils, nor was she any longer successful in concerts. Her money, which had been sent to her daughter as fast as she earned it, had all been squandered, and she fell into the direst poverty. The musicians of New York interested themselves in her behalf, and sufficient money was raised to send her home. She survived but a short time, and, in 1889, on January 4, her troubled life ended.

It was an extremely sad termination to a brilliant career, and its sadness was emphasized by the fact that her daughter, whose happiness had seemed her greatest solicitude, committed suicide over her grave. It is said that General Eider, hearing of the tragic event, caused a stone to be erected at the graves of his eccentric wife and daughter.

One of the most important and brilliant rivals of Adelina Patti was Christine Nilsson, a Swede.

Miss Nilsson was the only daughter of a poor farmer at s...o...b..l, near Wexio. She was born in 1843, the same year in which Patti was born, and was seven years younger than her youngest brother, who was the third son of his parents, and who, being of a musical nature, had studied the violin in the best way that he could without a teacher. He turned his talent to account by playing at b.a.l.l.s in the neighboring villages.

When Christine was nine years old she was wont to sing the native melodies of her country, and she, too, learned to play her brother's violin in order to accompany her voice.

When she reached her twelfth year, her mother used to take her to the neighboring fairs, where, her golden hair tied simply under a handkerchief, she played and sang to admiring rustics, who would contribute their small donations to her brother, who pa.s.sed his hat around.

At the age of thirteen came a turning-point in her career. She was at a fair in Llungby, when a ventriloquist, who had set up his booth near where she was singing, finding that all the trade pa.s.sed him and went to her, came over and made a bargain, offering her twenty francs to sing at his booth during the remaining eight days of the fair. While singing for her new employer, she attracted the attention of Judge Toernerheljm, who was touched by her beauty, her grace, and the delightful tones of her voice. He resolved to rescue her from the career of a vagrant musician, and asking about her father and mother, said that he would take her and place her with a lady who would be kind to her. The simple little maid replied that she could not break her contract with the ventriloquist, but the judge agreed to satisfy him. So she sent her brother home to tell the story and ask advice. He returned with a message from her parents saying that she was to go, but not to come home first, as they could not bear to part with her if she did.

Accordingly Christine went with Judge Toernerheljm, who placed her with the Baroness Leuhusen, formerly a vocal teacher, from whom the young singer received her first lessons, and, at the same time, attended school in Halmstadt. In due time she went to Stockholm, where she took lessons under Franz Berwald, and in six months' time she sang at Court.

The young singer now went to Paris accompanied by Baroness Leuhusen, and began a course of lessons under Wartel. She so profited by his instruction, that she made her debut at the Theatre Lyrique on October 27, 1864, as Violetta in "La Traviata," and afterwards appeared as Lady Henrietta, Astrofiammante, Elvira ("Don Giovanni"), etc. She remained at the Theatre Lyrique nearly three years, after which she went to England and sang at Her Majesty's, making her first appearance as Violetta, on June 8, 1867. Notwithstanding that Patti had the world at her feet, the success of Nilsson was extremely brilliant, her impersonation of Marguerite in "Faust" calling forth unstinted praise, and it is the opinion of many that in that part she has never been excelled. Her representation of Marguerite was that of a quiet, simple girl, full of maidenly reserve during the first three acts, a deep-natured young girl, restrained from the full expression of her feelings by every instinct of her better nature, and every rule of her daily life. This very forbearance of style made her final surrender a thousand times more impressive than is usual. It was accomplished in one wild, unlooked-for rush of sudden emotion, caused by the unexpected return of her lover.

The picture which Nilsson gave of this tender, gentle girl, in the pensive, anxious joy of her first love, and in the despair and misery of her darkened life, was one over which painters and poets might well go wild with enthusiasm.

Nilsson had a voice of wonderful sweetness and beauty, and possessed the most thorough skill in vocalization. She could reach with ease F in alt, and showed to advantage in such operas as "Zauberflote." Her singing was cold, clever, and shrewd, and she calculated her effects so well, that her audience was impressed by the semblance of her being deeply moved.

The eulogies of London and Paris dwelt more upon her acting than upon her singing, more upon her infusion of her own individuality into Marguerite, Lucia, and Ophelia than upon any merely vocal achievement.

She was considered a dramatic artist of the finest intuitions, the most magnetic presence, and the rarest expressive powers. There was, too, a refinement, a completeness, and an imaginative quality in her acting, which was altogether unique.

[Ill.u.s.tration: _Nilsson as Valentine._]

From 1870 to the spring of 1872 Miss Nilsson was in America, where she met with a perfect ovation. In 1872 she returned to London, and in July was married by Dean Stanley, in Westminster Abbey, to M. Auguste Rouzeaud, of Paris. She visited America again in the season of 1873-4.

In 1881, Nilsson sang in opera for the last time, but continued to sing in oratorio and concerts until 1888, since which time she has remained in the seclusion of private life.

According to Maurice Strakosch, Miss Nilsson once visited a celebrated palmist, Desbarolles, who examined her hand, and told her that she would encounter many troubles, of which most would be caused by madness or by fire. This prophecy proved to be true, for several times during her American tour she was annoyed by insane lovers. In New York, she was obliged to seek the protection of the court from a man who pestered her with attentions, and again in Chicago she had a very unpleasant experience, both of which affairs caused some sensation at the time. But more serious than these incidents was the loss of a great part of her savings through the Boston fire, and this was followed in 1882 by the death of her husband, M. Rouzeaud, from insanity, caused by mental worry over business reverses.

The events which led up to Nilsson's retirement from the operatic stage are told by Colonel Mapleson, but it must be remembered that he was a man much hara.s.sed by the peculiarities of prima donnas, and his experiences with Madame Nilsson were not the least of his trials.

In 1868 Nilsson was so successful that she revived the drooping fortunes of Her Majesty's Theatre, which had recently been burnt down. At the same time Patti was singing at Covent Garden. Nilsson felt that her achievements were equal to those of Patti, and justified her in regarding herself as Patti's successful rival. Thus, whenever Patti secured a large sum for her services, Nilsson demanded as much. When compet.i.tion became keen between Mapleson and Abbey, the American impresario, Mapleson made overtures to Nilsson, as Abbey was outbidding him for Patti, but the Swedish singer would accept no engagement at less than Patti's figures. Feeling that Patti was the strongest drawing card, Mapleson gave up the idea of playing Nilsson against her, and determined to outbid Abbey for Patti. This compet.i.tion resulted in the establishment of Patti's price of $5,000 a performance, and Nilsson was left without an engagement.

In 1884 she made a concert tour in the United States, when Brignoli sang with her. He once caused some merriment, which went the round of the papers, when he came forward, in a Missouri town, to apologize for Nilsson's slight indisposition. "Madame Nilsson ees a leetle horse," he said. Noticing a ripple of laughter amongst the audience, he repeated the statement that Nilsson "was a leetle horse," when a facetious occupant of the gallery brought down the house by remarking, "Well, then, why don't you trot her out?" Brignoli was a very useful tenor, and toured the country many times with various prima donnas. He was as full of oddities as of music, and a very amusing story is told of him in connection with an Havana engagement. It appears that he was displeased at his reception, so he decided that on the next night he would punish the people by having a sore throat. He sent notice at the proper time to the manager, who, according to the laws of the country, was obliged to report the fact to the government. A doctor was sent by the authorities to ascertain the state of his health, and finding no sign of indisposition looked very serious, and told the tenor that it was a case of yellow fever. This so frightened the capricious singer that he declared himself perfectly able to sing, and he took his revenge by singing so finely that he outshone his previous reputation, and electrified his audience.

Nilsson's first care, when she began to accrue wealth, was to purchase farms for her parents and her brother. When she returned to Sweden in her prime she met with such a reception as had not been known since the time of Jenny Lind. She entered enthusiastically into the life of her compatriots, played dances for them on the violin, as she had done in the days of her childhood, and sang the songs of her country.

In 1887 Madame Nilsson married a second time, choosing for her husband Count Casa di Miranda, and after her farewell concerts, given in 1888, retired permanently.

During her stage career Nilsson gave to the world new and refined interpretations of many well-known roles, but her only creation was the part of Edith in Balfe's "Talismano," though when Boito's "Mephistophele" was first produced in England, in 1880, she sang the part of Margaret. She also gave a remarkable dramatic and poetical interpretation of the part of Elsa in "Lohengrin."

Of all the singers of German opera, by which we now mean _Wagner_, none has attained so great a reputation as Frau Amalie Materna. With a soprano voice of unusual volume, compa.s.s, and sustaining power, a fine stage presence, and great musical and dramatic intelligence Frau Materna left nothing to be desired in certain rules.

Amalie Materna was born in Styria at a place named St. Georgen, where her father was a schoolmaster. This was in 1847, and when she was twelve years of age her father died, leaving his family penniless.

Amalie and an older brother found means to go to Vienna where a music teacher tried her voice, and though he saw great promise in it he declined to undertake her musical education on such terms as she could offer. Sadly disappointed, Amalie joined her mother and another brother at St. Peter in Upper Styria, and lived there for the three following years, when the family migrated to Gratz.

It is related that Suppe, the composer, sometimes spent his summer holiday at Gratz with some old friends. Every evening the party would gather in the garden to play skittles. When ready to begin they would call to the woman next door to send the "lad" to set up the skittles.

The "lad" was a sprightly, black-eyed girl named "Maly" Materna.

One day Suppe happened to hear her sing, and struck by the beauty of her voice, called the attention of Kapellmeister Zaitz, also a visitor at Gratz. Soon after this "Maly" became a member of the chorus at the Landes theatre, and by Suppe's advice Treumann engaged her for Vienna.

She had meanwhile developed her voice.

Materna's first salary was forty gulden a month, but her first appearance was so successful that this was raised to one hundred gulden.

For two years she sang in Offenbachian roles, and it was at the termination of her second season that she became engaged at the Karl Theatre in Vienna, at a yearly salary of five thousand gulden, with an extra honorarium of five gulden for each performance.

While appearing nightly in the light works of the French and German composers of the time, Fraulein Materna studied diligently during the day at the more exacting roles of heavy opera with Professor Proch, and in 1868 sang, in the presence of Hoffkapellmeister Esser, Donna Elvira's grand air from "Don Giovanni."

Esser was delighted with her, and insisted that Hofrath Dingelstedt should give the young singer a hearing, and the result was that she was engaged for the Imperial Opera House.

Shortly after her engagement at the theatre in Gratz she married an actor named Friedrich, who was engaged with her when she went to the Karl Theatre, Vienna.

In 1869 she made her debut at the Imperial Opera House in the role of Selika, in the "Africaine," in which part she was able to demonstrate her capabilities, for she won a signal success, and was at once placed in a high position among opera singers of the German school.

Still higher honors were in store for her. In 1876, twenty-eight years after its first conception, "Der Ring des Nibelungen" of Wagner was performed entire at Bayreuth, on which occasion the part of Brunhilde was entrusted to Frau Materna. The really magnificent impersonation which she gave earned for her a world-wide reputation. It was a part for which she was exceptionally well qualified, and in which she never had an equal. It is stated that Wagner, hearing Materna sing at Vienna while she was at the Imperial Opera House, and while the production of the Nibelungen Trilogy was uppermost in his mind, exclaimed: "Now I have found my Brunhilde. I take her with thanks. I am glad to have found her in Vienna."

During the Wagner festival, which was held in London in 1877, Materna confirmed the high reputation which she had gained in Germany, and when "Parsifal" was produced in 1882 at Bayreuth, Materna created the part of Kundry.

In 1882 she visited the United States, singing in New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago, and again in 1884 she crossed the Atlantic and sang in the Wagner festival of that year with Scaria and Winkelmann, all of whom made good impressions and helped to pave the way for the production of the operas entire.

Frau Materna retired from the stage in 1897, on which occasion she sang in a concert given in the hall of the Musical Union in Vienna. A remarkable gathering of musicians and celebrities was there. Materna's first number was the entrance aria of Elizabeth from "Tannhauser," which was given with such dramatic force that one could not fail to ask, "Is this the singer who is about to retire?" Her great triumph came, however, in the last number, which was "Isolden's Liebestod," and as her wonderful voice, full of pa.s.sion and dramatic power, rang through the hall, the enthusiasm of the audience knew no bounds. After being recalled many times Frau Materna was obliged to make a speech of thanks, in which she touchingly referred to the many years which she had pa.s.sed at Vienna, and to the fact that Wagner had found her there and entrusted her with the creation of his greatest parts.

In private life Materna is simple and unaffected. She is as unpretentious in her personality as she is great in her talent. She has the una.s.suming manners which so endeared Parepa-Rosa to the hearts of the people.

As an artist she may best be called a vocal musician. She was not a vocal technician of the school of Jenny Lind, Nilsson, Patti, or Gerster. Her voice, though unable to give phenomenal runs, trills, or cadenzas, was adequately trained, and was of remarkable richness and breadth. The work of the poet rather than of the singing teacher was apparent in her interpretations, and the dramatic intensity and pa.s.sionate force of her delivery were effective even upon the concert stage. It is doubtful whether any singer will ever combine more of the qualities which are essential to the perfect interpretation of Wagner's operas, and Materna may, therefore, be set down as the greatest singer of her school.

Materna's original contract for three years at the Imperial Opera House was many times renewed, and she scarcely ever left Vienna during the season. Occasionally she was heard in Frankfort, Berlin, Hamburg, and Leipzig. She also sang in London in the Wagner concerts, and she visited the United States several times. Since her retirement, she has left Vienna to take up her permanent abode in the Chateau St. Johann, near Gratz, which she has purchased.

When Bizet wrote "Carmen" he intended it for Marie Roze, a versatile artist of the French stage. She, however, had made an engagement in England which prevented her from creating the role as intended, and it was re-written for Madame Galli-Marie, but although she at first had made some objections to the character which Carmen was supposed to represent, she afterwards became famous in that part.

Marie Roze was born in Paris in 1846, and in 1865 gained first prizes at the Paris Conservatoire in singing and comic opera. In the same year she made her debut at the Opera Comique, and was engaged for the following four years, during which she appeared in many roles. Her operatic career was uniformly successful; she made several tours of Europe, and came to America in 1877, after which she became a member of the Carl Rosa Opera Company.

At the outbreak of the Franco-German war, she left the opera and joined the army, serving with the greatest zeal in the ambulance department.

For her services during that struggle and during the siege of Paris, she received the Geneva Cross and a diploma from M. Thiers.

Mlle. Roze married Mr. Perkins, a promising American ba.s.s singer, but his career was cut short by death in 1875. She afterwards became the wife of Colonel Henry Mapleson, the impresario, but the marriage did not prove to be a happy one, and they separated some years later. One cannot help wondering that Mapleson, whose experience with prima donnas had been so hara.s.sing, should have allied himself matrimonially to one of that ilk, but it is probable that his experiences had warped his nature, for in the scandal which the separation caused, public sympathy was with the wife. Madame Roze was the possessor of great personal attractions, and in her early days was once so pestered by an admirer that she sought the protection of the police. The aggressive youth, a French gentleman who had threatened to destroy her beauty with vitriol unless she favored his suit, attempted one night to scale the wall and enter her window.

The guard fired and the misguided young man dropped dead.

Madame Roze has of late taken up her residence again in Paris, where she teaches, and occasionally sings at concerts.

The year 1868 brought forth another great exponent of Wagnerian characters to whom has been accorded by many good critics a very high rank among dramatic sopranos. Lilli Lehmann was born in 1848 at Wurzburg, and was taught singing by her mother, who was formerly a harp player and prima donna at Ca.s.sel under Spohr, and the original heroine of several operas written by that master.