Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 36.djvu/125

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Mara
Mara
119

her removal necessary. Returning to Cassel, the father tried to get her an engagement at the Berlin court, but Frederick II, having an antipathy to German singers, declined to entertain the application. After spending five years at Killer's academy at Leipzig, she emerged with a voice 'remarkable for its extent and beauty, a great knowledge of music, and a brilliant style of singing.' She was the first great singer that Germany had produced. Her compass extended from the middle G to E in alt.

Fraulein Schmelingmade a successful debut at Dresden in an opera byllasse, and Frederick, being persuaded to hear her on her return to Berlin in 1771, was so pleased with the performance that he engaged her for life to sing at court, at a salary of 11,250 francs. A violoncello-player named Johann Mara came to Berlin at this time, and the two meeting professionally at the court concerts, she married him in spite of the king's warnings and protests. Mara was a man of dissipated and vicious character, and her married life was extremely unhappy. Frederick proved an exacting master, and the story is told that a body of soldiers acting under his orders dragged her from her bed on one occasion and compelled her to sing at the opera, though she was complaining, truly or untruly, of illness (Edwards). After seven years in Berlin, she was offered an engagement in London, and the king declining to annul her contract, she made her escape with her husband, and with some difficulty reached Vienna, where she remained for two years, singing frequently in public. She then began a tour in Germany, Holland, and Belgium. Mozart heard her at Munich, but records in a letter that 'she had not the good fortune to please me.' After another brief sojourn in Vienna, she reached Paris in 1782. There she found a rival in the celebrated Todi, and, society was soon divided into factions over the pair.

Madame Mara arrived in London in the spring of 1784, and made her first appearance at the Pantheon, where she sang for six nights. She was one of the vocalists at the Handel Commemoration at Westminster Abbey in 1784, and again in 1785; and in 1786 she made her debut on the London stage in a pasticcio by Hoare, entitled 'Didone Abbandonata.' In March 1787 she took the part of Cleopatra in Handel's 'Giulio Cesare' with such success that the opera was frequently repeated during the season. Appearing again in the Handel festival of 1787, she was in the following year at the carnival at Turin, and in 1789 at Venice. Returning to London in 1790, she was again at Venice in 1791, after which she came once more to England, and remained for ten years. During this period she confined herself mainly to concert and oratorio engagements. When she left, in 1802, she took with her over 1,000l. as the result of a benefit concert. Her voice was now gradually losing strength, and she settled at Moscow. Through the improvidence and dissipation of her husband and his friends she was soon without means, and had to take to teaching. The burning of Moscow in 1812 ruined her. Removing first to Revel, she in 1816 returned to London as a vocalist, although sixty-eight years old. She was announced as 'a most celebrated singer,' whom her agents 'were not at liberty to name;' but when she appeared at the King's Theatre it was found that her voice was entirely gone, and she was never heard again. She returned to Revel, where she died on 20 Jan. 1833. In 1831 Goethe sent her a poem for her birthday, 'Sangreich war dein Ehrenweg.'

Madame Mara's abilities as a singer were of the very first order. Her voice, clear, sweet, distinct, was sufficiently powerful, though rather thin ; and 'its agility and flexibility rendered her excellent in bravura' (Mount-Edgcombe). She was an indifferent actress, and had a bad figure for the stage. When quite a child her father used to bind her to an armchair while he attended to his affairs, and to this cause was attributed her weakly constitution. There is a caricature in which she is shown singing at a 'Wapping Concert' seated, and also a letter, in which she apologises for not being able to sit on a platform throughout a concert (see Grove). The best portrait of her was engraved by Collyer after P. Jean ; an engraving of this forms the frontispiece to Hogarth's 'Memoirs of the Musical Drama,' vol. i.

[A biography by G. C. Grosheim was published at Cassel in 1823, and another by Kochlitz in his Fur Freunde der Tonkunst, vol. i. See also Hogarth's Memoirs of the Musical Drama, ii. 185,216,447; Lord Mount-Edgcumbe's Musical Reminiscences of an Old Amateur, pp. 59, 80 ; Gilliland's Dramatic Mirror, ii. 839, which is inaccurate in some pai'ticulars ; Grove's Dictionary of Music, ii. 208 ; Edwards's History of the Opera, i. 200, ii. 4 ; Bacon's Elements of Vocal Science.]

J. C. H.

MARA, WILLIAM DE (fl. 1280), Franciscan, probably studied at Oxford before he went to Paris, where he came under the influence of Bonaventura and Roger Bacon. In 1284 he published a criticism of Thomas Aquinas, called ' Correct orium,' or 'Reprehensorium,' the substance of which has been printed several times (at Strasburg, 1501 ; Cordova, 1701, &c.) with the reply to it under the name of Ægidius Colonna. Wil-