7 March 2011

Adelina Patti



Adelina Patti (19 February 1843 – 27 September 1919) was a highly acclaimed 19th century opera diva, earning huge fees at the height of her career in the music capitals of Europe and America. She first sang in public as a child in 1851 and gave her last performance before an audience in 1914. Along with her near contemporaries Jenny Lind and Thérèse Tietjens, Patti remains one of the most famous sopranos in history due to the purity and beauty of her lyrical voice and the unmatched quality of her bel canto technique.

Adelina Patti had a warm, crystalline, very clear, and very agile high soprano voice. The composer Giuseppe Verdi, writing in 1877, described her as being perhaps the finest singer who had ever lived and a "stupendous artist". Verdi's admiration for Patti's talent was shared by numerous music critics and social commentators of her era.

Adelina Patti by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1863

She was born Adela Juana Maria Patti, the last child of tenor Salvatore Patti (1800–1869) and soprano Caterina Barilli (died 1870). Her Italian parents were working in Madrid, Spain, at the time of her birth. Because her father came from Sicily, Patti was born a subject of the King of the Two Sicilies. She later carried a French passport, as her first two husbands were French.

Her sisters Amalia and Carlotta Patti were also singers. In her childhood, the family moved to New York City. Patti grew up in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, where her family's home is still standing. Patti sang professionally from childhood, and developed into a coloratura soprano with perfectly equalized vocal registers and a surprisingly warm, satiny tone. It is believed that Patti learned much of her singing technique from her brother-in-law Maurice Strakosch, who was a musician and impresario. Later in life Patti, like many famous singers with sizable egos, claimed that she was entirely self-taught.



Adelina Patti made her operatic debut at age 16 on 24 November 1859 in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at the Academy of Music, New York.  In 1861, at the age of 18, she was invited to Covent Garden, to execute the role of Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula. She had such remarkable success at Covent Garden that season, she bought a house in Clapham and, using London as a base, went on to conquer the European continent, performing Amina in Paris and Vienna in subsequent years with equal success.



Then, in 1862, during an American tour, she sang John Howard Payne's Home, Sweet Home at the White House for the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and his wife, Mary Lincoln. The Lincolns were mourning their son Willie, who had died of typhoid. Moved to tears, the Lincolns requested an encore of the song. Henceforth, it would become associated with Adelina Patti, and she performed it many times as a bonus item at the end of recitals and concerts.



Patti's career was one of success after success. She sang not only in England and the United States, but also as far afield in mainland Europe as Russia, and in South America as well, inspiring audience frenzy and critical superlatives wherever she went. Her girlish good looks gave her an appealing stage presence, which added to her celebrity status.



In her prime, Patti demanded to be paid $5000 a night, in gold, before the performance. Her contracts stipulated that her name be top-billed and printed larger than any other name in the cast. Her contracts also insisted that while she was "free to attend all rehearsals, she was not obligated to attend any". In his memoirs, the famous opera promoter "Colonel" Mapleson recalled Patti's stubborn personality and sharp business sense. She reportedly had a parrot whom she had trained to shriek, "CASH! CASH!" whenever Mapleson walked in the room.



Patti's personal life was not as successful as her professional life but it was not as disastrous as that of many operatic singers. She is thought by some to have had a dalliance with the tenor Mario, who is said to have bragged at Patti's first wedding that he had already "made love to her many times".

Engaged as a minor to Henri de Lossy, Baron of Ville, Patti wed three times: first, in 1868, to Henri de Roger de Cahusac, Marquess of Caux (1826–1889). The marriage soon collapsed; both had affairs and de Caux was granted a legal separation in 1877 and divorced in 1885. The union was dissolved with bitterness and cost her half her fortune.



She then lived with the French tenor Ernesto Nicolini (1834–1898) for many years until, following her divorce from Caux, she was able to marry him in 1886. That marriage lasted until his death and was seemingly happy, but Nicolini cut Patti out of his will, suggesting some tension in the last years.

Patti's last marriage, in 1899, was to Baron Rolf Cederström (1870–1947), a priggish, but handsome, Swedish aristocrat many years her junior. The Baron severely curtailed Patti's social life. He cut down her domestic staff from 40 to 18, but gave her the devotion and flattery that she needed, becoming her sole legatee. After her death, he married a much younger woman. Their only daughter, Brita Yvonne Cederström (born 1924), ended up as Patti's sole heir. Patti had no children, but was close to her nieces and nephews.



Patti enjoyed the trappings of fame and wealth but she was not profligate with her earnings, especially after losing a large proportion of her assets as a result of the break-up of her first marriage. She invested wisely large sums of money and unlike some of her extravagant former colleagues, such as the star tenor Giovanni Mario, who died in penury, she saw out her days amid luxurious surroundings.

by James Sant

In her retirement, Patti, now officially Baroness Cederström, settled in the Swansea valley in south Wales, where she purchased Craig-y-Nos Castle. There she had her own private theatre, and made her gramophone recordings. The ghost of Patti is said to haunt the castle, and her disembodied voice is reputed to have been heard in its theatre. On one occasion, a media crew was recording an interview at the castle, and while in the kitchen, they were discussing the fact that Patti had never mastered the role of Carmen ... when, suddenly, a heavy saucepan flew on to the floor, reportedly without human intervention. The saucepan had been on a large cooker, away from the edge.



She last sang in public in October 1914, taking part in a Red Cross concert at London's Royal Albert Hall that had been organized to aid victims of World War One. She lived long enough to see the war end, dying in 1919 of natural causes. She died at Craig-y-Nos and eight months later was buried near her father at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.


Patti's recorded legacy included a number of songs and arias from the following operas: Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Faust, Martha, Norma, Mignon and La sonnambula. The records were produced by the Gramophone & Typewriter Company (the foreunner of HMV). Patti's piano accompanist, Landon Ronald, wrote thus of his first recording session with the diva, "When the little (gramophone) trumpet gave forth the beautiful tones, she went into ecstasies! She threw kisses into the trumpet and kept on saying, 'Ah! Mon Dieu! Maintenant je comprends pourquoi je suis Patti! Oh oui! Quelle voix! Quelle artiste! Je comprends tout!' Her enthusiasm was so naïve and genuine that the fact that she was praising her own voice seemed to us all to be right and proper."
 
Source: Wikipedia

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