Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/328

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.



��from her mother, who afterwards superintended her study of operatic parts.

Thus there was no trace of the debutante, when, in 1821, Wilhelmine made a brilliant first ap- pearance at the Vienna opera-house in 'Die Zau- berflb'te.' The freshness of her well - developed soprano, her purity of intonation and certainty of attack, astonished the public. ' It was as if a singer had fallen from the clouds.' Other early triumphs were Emmeline (Weigl's 'Schweizer- familie '), where the representation was described as 'masterly, ideal and full of truth; in dress and bearing idyllically picturesque'; Marie (Ore" try's ' Barbe bleu* *), where she showed her- self worthy of all praise 'as well in singing as in acting, especially in parts demanding passionate expression.' As Agathe (Der Freischutz) her glori- ous voice and charming appearance won great approval, not only from the public ' who already loved her,' but from Weber, who presided over the performance at Vienna, March 7, 1822. But her great achievement was the creation of the part of Leonore, on the revival of ' Fidelio' at Vienna later in the year. Hitherto connoisseurs had failed to discover the merits of Beethoven's opera. Mdlle. Schroder's impersonation of the heroine, besides laying the foundation of her own fame, redeemed the music from the imputation of coldness, won for the work the praise so long withheld, and achieved its ultimate popu- larity by repeated performances in Germany, London, and Paris. The story of her first appear- ance in the part has often been quoted from Gliimer's 'Erinnerungen an Wilhelmine Schroder Devrient.' Beethoven was present at the per- formance. 'He sat behind the conductor, and had wrapped himself so closely in the folds of his cloak than only his eyes could be seen flashing from it.' Schroder's natural anxiety only height- ened the effect of her play. A breathless stillness filled the house until Leonore fell into the arms of her husband, when a storm of applause broke out which seemed unceasing. To Beethoven also had his Leonore been revealed in the glowing life of Schroder's representation. He smilingly patted her cheek, thanked her, and promised to write an opera for her. Would that he had !

In 1823 she went to Dresden to fulfil a con- tract to sing at the Court Theatre for two years, at a salary of 2000 thalers. (At a later period she received 4000 thalers at the same house, for her connection with Dresden never entirely ceased as long as she was on the stage.) She mar- ried Karl Devrient, an excellent actor whom she met in Berlin during an engagement there that year. Four children were born, but the marriage was not a happy one, and was dissolved in 1828. During the next eight years she delighted her audiences by her appearance in the great classical characters which ever remained her most suc- cessful parts. In Weber's operas, as Preciosa, Euryanthe and Reiza, she is said to have thrown a new light over both story and music, gradually heightening the interest of the work until a

i 'Kaoul Barbe bleu' (1789), Germanized into 'Eaoul der Blau- Oart.'


torrent of inspiration carried all before it. In Spontini's ' Vestale,' she was the very personifi- cation of the spirit of the antique. Yet no less did she succeed, in Paer's comic opera, ' Sargino,' in singing with so much finish, and acting with so much humour, that it became a matter of dis- pute whether tragedy or comedy was her forte.

In 1820 she passed through Weimar and sang to Goethe on her way to Paris to join Rockel's German company. With an exalted sense of the importance of her mission, she wrote : ' I had to think not only of my own reputation, but to establish German music, My failure would have been injurious to the music of Beethoven, Mozart and Weber/ This date was an epoch in the history of music in Paris. Bouquets then an extraordinary manifestation of approval were showered upon the triumphant singer. In her subsequent visits to Paris, 1831 and 32, she sang in Italian opera.

In 1832, Schrb'der-Devrient was heard at the King's Theatre in London, engaging with Mr. Monck Mason to sing ten times monthly during May, June and July, for 800 and a benefit. Chelard was conductor. 'Fidelio,' 'Don Juan/ and Chelard's ' Macbeth ' were repeatedly given, but Chorley ('Musical Recollections') says, 'Fi- delio was the solitary success of a disastrous en- terprise. . . . The sensation is not to be forgotten. The Italians (not very strong that year), were beaten out of the field by the Germans. The intense musical vigour of Beethoven's opera was felt to be a startling variety, wrought out as it was in its principal part, by a vocalist of a class entirely new to England. This was Madame Schroder-Devrient. Within the conditions of

her own school she was a remarkable artist

She was a pale woman ; her face, a thoroughly German one, though plain, was pleasing, from the intensity of expression which her large features and deep tender eyes conveyed. She had profuse fair hair, the value of which she thoroughly understood, delighting, in moments of great emotion, to fling it loose with the wild vehemence of a Maenad. Her figure was superb though full, and she rejoiced in its display. Her voice was a strong soprano, not comparable in quality to some other German voices of its

class but with an inherent expressiveness

of tone which made it more attractive on the

stage than many a more faultless organ

Her tones were delivered without any care, save to give them due force. Her execution was bad and heavy. There was an air of strain and spasm throughout her performance.'

The ' Queen of Tears ' (so she was styled) was heard next season in ' Der Freischiitz,' 'Die Zau- berflbte,' 'Euryanthe,' and 'Otello.' The engage- ment was to sing for Mr. Bunn at Covent Garden twenty-four times at 40 a night, and once for the benefit of the speculators. However, all London was under the spell of Taglioni and of Fanny Elsler. Malibran in the English opera ; Pasta, Cinti-Damoreau, Rubini, and Tamburini, in the Italian opera, sang to empty houses. Again in 1837, after Malibran's death, Mr. Emm

�� �