In 2019, the celebrations of famous composers and performers overlap: Offenbach, Berlioz, Leoncavallo, Clara Schumann, Leopold Mozart and Adelina Patti.
Here it is: Adelina Patti…… The one who already triumphed at the age of 18 at the Covent Garden in London, like Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula. That which we find cited in the novels of the great writers of his time (Wilde, Tolstoj, Zola, Conan Doyle, Verne). The one that Offenbach (best wishes to him, 200 years after his birth!) immortalized her in La vie parisienne: “Je veux, moi, dans la capitale / Voir les divas qui font fureur / Voir la Patti dans Don Pasquale” (“I want, in the capital, / to listen to stars / and the Patti in Don Pasquale“).
A mythical figure that Verdi did not hesitate to define, in 1877, “the best soprano I have ever known, a wonderful artist”. But in myth, we know, the gods also act in eccentric, selfish, subversive forms. And Adelina was no exception.
Adelina Patti at the age of 16, as Lucia, in Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo by Camille Silvy, 1860.
Vanity, sovereign in Olympus and on Earth, was the spirit-guide of Adelina Patti.
Her life can be compared to that of a queen, with a romantic conflict between passions and interests. Her first husband, for example, ruined her with a divorce that cost her half of her estate. But Adelina was in love and her heart prevailed: she married the French tenor Ernest Nicolas (in art, Ernesto Nicolini). With him he travelled the world, confusing scene and life, dramatic roles and everyday life: together on stage and in their stormy relationship.
Tenor Ernesto Nicolini, in a print by August Weger, 1860 ca.
At the height of his career, her rewards were fabulous and paid strictly in cash. Patti had a parrot, who she had taught to scream “Cash! Cash! Cash!” at the sight of Mapleson (the greatest impresario of the time).
Could the diva of the century be satisfied possessing a house, a villa or a sumptuous residence? Of course, not…. When she was 35 she bought a little castle in the heart of his beloved Wales. In a few years he transformed it into a sumptuous palace, with 40 servants, a winter garden and a private theatre with 150 seats. Cost of the operation: the equivalent of 20 million dollars today!
The Craig-y-Nos Castle
The theatre was inaugurated on July 12th 1891, with guests from the international jet set and journalists from all over the world. Accompanied by the Swansea Opera Company, Adelina Patti performed pieces from Verdi’s La traviata and Gounod’s Faust. For dinner, served in the winter garden, 450 bottles of champagne were uncorked. The theatre is still active today and preserves one of the very few original backstage of the period. The curtain, also intact, depicts the Patti on a triumphal chariot, in the guise of Semiramis. In memory of her universal successes in Rossini’s Semiramide.
The Castle Theatre
In Craig-y-Nos ( Rock of the Night ), Patti retired in recent years. She never stopped coming on stage. She never stopped loving herself.
In 1905 the Gramophone & Typewriter Company proposed that she record some of her masterpieces, in one of her first recording experiments. When Patti listened to her voice (far less than the previous glories) she started kissing in the funnel of the gramophone, exclaiming: “Ah! My Lord! Now I understand why I am the Patti! Oh yes! What a voice! What an artist! I understand everything!”
Adelina Patti, a sovereign until beyond her life, ordered, in her will, to be buried in Paris, next to Gioachino Rossini, in the cemetery of Père Lachaise. The same Rossini who, at the age of eighteen, heard her perform “Una voce poco fa”, from Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Patti flourished the air with dozens of variations and embellishments and Rossini, ironic and unflappable, ended the performance with: “Bravissima! But whose music is this?”
Adelina Patti, portrait byFranz Winterhalter, 1863
A warm greeting and to the next chat.
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