A Queen of 19th-Century Opera Gets New Attention

Toward the top of her life, the opera diva Pauline Viardot took inventory of her huge social community. She wrote a three-page, multicolumn record of everybody she had ever met, labored with or liked.

She ended up with over 300 names, a who’s-who of 19th-century icons: composers like Rossini, Liszt and Schumann; novelists like George Sand, Victor Hugo and Ivan Turgenev, her lover; Giuseppe Mazzini and Napoleon III.

Viardot entertained many of them on the weekly salons she held at her dwelling in Paris. Classical musicians have not often linked so extensively with essential figures of the day; the closest American parallel is likely to be Leonard Bernstein, who hobnobbed with presidents and Hollywood glitterati.

But like Bernstein, Viardot — born precisely 200 years in the past, on July 18, 1821 — was way over a Zelig. One of the supreme singers of her time, she was additionally a prolific composer, whose music is slowly being salvaged from obscurity; a savvy entrepreneur; a gifted visible artist; and a extremely revered voice trainer.

Born Michelle-Pauline-Ferdinande-Laurence Garcia, in Paris, Viardot was an inheritor to a musical dynasty. Her father, Manuel Garcia, was a global opera star and the primary Count Almaviva in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”

Born in Spain, Garcia by no means stayed in a single place for lengthy, transferring his spouse and three youngsters — Viardot’s older sister, Maria Malibran, grew to become one other of the century’s reigning divas — to Italy, Paris and London. And then in 1825, when Viardot was four, to the United States, the place his household and troupe launched Italian operas, sung of their unique language, to the American public.

Viardot’s musical abilities emerged early. She took piano classes with Liszt and developed a girlhood crush on him. As a younger girl, she performed duets with Chopin, a good friend. But when she was 15, her mom dashed her desires of changing into a live performance pianist, declaring that Pauline would pursue the household commerce: singing opera.

She made her debut in 1839 in London as Desdemona in Rossini’s “Otello,” then hit her stride 4 years later when she introduced the home down on the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow as Rosina in “The Barber of Seville.”

“Ravishing, velvetlike notes rang out, of the sort that no one, it seemed, had ever heard,” an viewers member later recalled, including, “Instantly an electric spark ran round the audience.”

Viardot photographed within the title position of Gluck’s “Orfeo,” a component she took when Berlioz resurrected the opera in 1859.Credit…Sepia Times/Universal Images Group, by way of Getty Images

When she was 18, she met and married the historian, artwork critic and theater director Louis Viardot, 21 years her senior. In a reversal of gender norms, he resigned from his put up as director of the Théâtre Italien in Paris after their wedding ceremony to give attention to Pauline, her profession and, finally, their 4 youngsters.

With a voice of unusual vary and adaptability, Viardot grew to become well-known on Europe’s main levels in signature roles that included Zerlina and Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni,” Adina in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” and the title position in Bellini’s “Norma.”

“Her technical skill alone is immense; in the completeness of her chromatic scale she is, probably, without a rival,” stated an article printed in Fraser’s Magazine, a London journal, in 1848.

But, the author went on, “the principal feature which characterizes her is the dramatic warmth of her impersonations. She throws herself heart and soul into a part.”

Toward the top of her life, Viardot took inventory of her huge social community, a listing that included Bellini, Liszt and Victor Hugo.Credit…MS Mus 264 (367)/Houghton Library, Harvard University

Composers sought her out for essential premieres: She was the primary Fidès in Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophète” and Charles Gounod’s first Sapho. When Berlioz resurrected Gluck’s “Orfeo” for the Parisian stage in 1859, Viardot was the diva for whom he rewrote the title position. A decade later, Brahms selected her because the soloist for the premiere of his Alto Rhapsody.

After retiring from the opera stage in 1863, Viardot continued singing in live shows and being what we’d name immediately a macher. She owned the unique manuscript of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” which composers together with Fauré and Tchaikovsky made pilgrimages to see. In 1869, she wrote an effusive letter to Richard Wagner congratulating him on a efficiency of “Die Meistersinger.” But his infamous anti-Semitic essay, “Judaism in Music,” printed below his title the next month, soured the connection, and Wagner and his spouse, Cosima, started referring derisively to Viardot as a “Jewess.” (She was not Jewish.)

Following her father, who was a gifted composer in addition to an excellent singer, Viardot put vital time and vitality into composing. Her work isn’t almost as extensively often known as that of Robert Schumann, Liszt, Saint-Saëns or others in her social circle. But her music was deeply appreciated by her contemporaries, with one particular person going as far as to match her expertise to Schubert’s. Clara Schumann referred to her as “the greatest woman of genius I have ever known.” A fierce advocate for her college students, she died, only a month shy of her 89th birthday, in 1910.

Today, her works are having fun with a resurgence amongst students and performers — half of a wave of curiosity in long-neglected composers like Amy Beach, Florence Price, Clara Schumann and others.

Viardot wrote tons of of items, the bulk of them songs for solo voice and piano. Her first was “L’Enfant de la montagne,” printed when she was simply 19 in a set organized by Meyerbeer, Paganini and Cherubini. Like so many of her songs, she was its main advocate, utilizing it to indicate off her vocal abilities in live shows in Leipzig, Germany, and different cities.

Her songs have extra not too long ago grow to be widespread fare for prima donnas together with Annick Massis, Cecilia Bartoli and Aude Extrémo. They vary from playful and virtuosic (“Vente, niña, conmigo al mar”) to hauntingly lovely (“L’Enfant et la Mère” and “Hai luli”). The writer Breitkopf und Härtel has launched a brand new vital version of some of the songs on texts by Pushkin, Fet and Turgenev. (Viardot’s Russian was excellent.) She additionally wrote works for piano and violin, the instrument of her son, Paul Viardot. Her different three youngsters, additionally musicians, carried out her compositions, too.

True to her specialty, Viardot additionally wrote operas. These had been principally carried out by her college students and youngsters in her dwelling, with piano accompaniment, however at the least one, “Le Dernier Sorcier,” was orchestrated and carried out in 1869 in Weimar Germany.

Shannon Jennings as Marie, the Cinderella character in Viardot’s opera “Cendrillon,” which is having fun with a uncommon revival at Wolf Trap Opera in Virginia.Credit…Angelina Namkung, by way of Wolf Trap

Wolf Trap Opera in Virginia has revived her “Cendrillon” simply this weekend. Viardot wrote each the music and phrases for this chamber operetta about Cinderella, a whimsical interpretation of the fairy story by Charles Perrault.

“Her music is both challenging and wonderfully singable,” Kelly Kuo, the manufacturing’s conductor, stated in an interview. “You just know that it was written by someone who really understood what she was doing.”

Among the company on the 1904 premiere of “Cendrillon” had been the editor and musician Salvatore Marchesi and his spouse Mathilde, an influential voice trainer. Finding Viardot’s music charming, they wrote of their certainty that it will have “a successful run through the world.” Although considerably delayed, their prediction is probably starting to come back true.

“Viardot,” Kuo stated, “is a perfect example of an artist who should be much better known today.”

Hilary Poriss is an affiliate professor of music at Northeastern University and the creator of “Gioachino Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville,’” forthcoming from Oxford University Press.