Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/645

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
GRISI.
633
 

time artistic director of the Théâtre des Italiens. She had no trouble in obtaining an engagement. Rossini, who had not forgotten her performance in 'Zelmira,' offered her the part of Semiramide in his own admirable opera of that name; and in 1832 Mdlle. Grisi made her first appearance at the Italian Opera of Paris in the character of the Assyrian Queen, Mdlle. Eckerlin representing Arsace, and Signor Tamburini Assur. Nothing could have been more perfect than Mdlle Grisi's success; and for sixteen consecutive years, from 1832 to 1849, she was engaged and re-engaged at the Théâtre des Italiens. Mdlle. Grisi passed the winter of 1833 at Venice, where Bellini wrote and produced 'I Montecchi ed I Capuleti' for the two sisters, Giuditta and Giulia. She did not visit London until 1834, where she made her first appearance, amid general admiration, as Ninetta in 'La Gazza Ladra' (April 8th). Her first great London success, however, was achieved in the part of Anna Bolena. The chief characters in this work—which Donizetti had written for Galli, Rubini, and Madame Pasta—became identified in London with Lablache, Rubini, and Mdlle. Grisi. Strangely enough, the opera itself, which was at one time looked upon as its composer's masterpiece, seems now all but forgotten. Those however who saw Grisi in the part of the heroine will never forget it. On the occasion of her first appearance in London, the 'Times' critic described her voice as a ' pure, brilliant, powerful, flexible soprano … one of the finest we ever heard.' 'As an actress,' added the writer, 'Mdlle. Grisi exhibits discriminative powers of no common order.' When she undertook the part of Semiramide, at the King's Theatre, it was said by everyone that Pasta having now retired her only successor was Grisi. In the year 1835 Bellini wrote 'I Puritani' for Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache; that memorable operatic quartet of which she was the last survivor. It is true that after Rubini had been replaced by Mario the quartet was still incomparable; and it was for the new combination Grisi, Mario, Tamburini, and Lablache that Donizetti, in 1843, composed 'Don Pasquale.' 'Don Pasquale,' like 'Anna Bolena,' visited London and soon became naturalised; and year after year the Mario quartet, like the Rubini quartet, spent the winter in Paris, the summer in London. Fortunately the Paris season does not interfere with our own. Indeed, owing to the Paris and St. Petersburg seasons taking place in the winter, it is possible to form in London for the summer an operatic troupe superior to that of either St. Petersburg or Paris, and which shall, in fact, include the most distinguished ornaments of both the great European winter companies. But between Paris and London in particular an entente cordiale had long existed; and Madame Grisi, with her attendant tenor, baritone, and basso, must have been as much at home in one of these capitals as in the other.

When, in 1846, Mr. Luraley's company was broken up by the sudden departure of his principal singers, together with Mr. Costa, and nearly the whole of the orchestra, the second of the great quartets came to an end. It struggled on for a time in the reduced form of a trio: Grisi, Mario and Tamburini, without Lablache. Then the trio became a duet; but Grisi and Mario still sang the duo concertante which Donizetti had written for them in 'Don Pasquale,' as no other singers could sing it. They were still 'the rose and the nightingale' of Heine's Parisian Letters, 'the rose the nightingale among flowers, the nightingale the rose among birds.' Mr. N. P. Willis had heard Grisi in London in the year 1834, and, as he tells us in his 'Pencillings by the Way,' did not much like her. On the other hand, Heine heard her in Paris in the year 1840, and, as he assures us in his 'Lutetia,' liked her very much. The unbounded admiration of the German poet would probably have consoled Madame Grisi, if she had ever troubled herself about the matter, for the very limited admiration expressed for her by the American prose-writer.

From the year 1834, when she made her début at the King's Theatre, London, until the year 1861, when she retired from the Royal Italian Opera, Madame Grisi only missed one season in London—that of 1842. And it was a rare thing indeed when she was engaged that illness or any other cause prevented her from appearing. She seldom disappointed the public by her absence; and never, when she was present, by her singing. There is some significance in styling such vocalists 'robust,' for there are robust sopranos as there are robust tenors. Indeed no one who has not really a robust constitution could stand such wear and tear, which are the indispensable accompaniments—which form, one might almost say, the very substance—of the life of a great singer. In the year 1854 she made an artistic tour in the United States, in company with Signor Mario. In 1859 she accepted an engagement at Madrid, which was not successful, and was rapidly broken off. In 1861 Madame Grisi signed an agreement with Mr. Gye binding her not to appear again in public within a term of five years. Mr. Gye thought, no doubt, that in this case five years were as good as fifty. But he had reckoned without his prima donna, who, in the year 1866, to the regret of her friends, and to the astonishment of every one, came out at Her Majesty's Theatre in her old part of Lucrezia. After that Madame Grisi still continued from time to time to sing at concerts, and as a concert singer gained much and deserved applause. She had for years made London her head-quarters, and on leaving it in 1869 to pay a visit to Berlin had no intention of not returning to the capital where she had obtained her greatest and most prolonged successes. She did not however return. Inflammation of the lungs seized her, and after a short attack she died at the Hotel du Nord, Berlin, on the 25th Nov. 1869 [App. p.658 "Nov. 29. (Corrected on authority of Mendel and Paloschi. Pougin and Riemann agree with the text.)"]. Her artistic life had lasted about 35 years; and considering that fact,