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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 150 pages of information about Great Singers, First Series.

Haydn gave this opinion on her in his “Diary” in 1791:  “On the 10th of December I went to see the opera of ‘The Woodman’ (by Shield).  It was on the day when the provoking memoir of Mrs. Billington was published.  She sang rather timidly, but yet well.  She is a great genius.  The tenor was Incledon.  The common people in the gallery are very troublesome in every theatre, and take lead in uproar.  The audience in the pit and boxes have often to clap a long time before they can get a fine part repeated.  It was so this evening with the beautiful duet in the third act:  nearly a quarter of an hour was spent in contention, but at length the pit and boxes gained the victory, and the duet was repeated.  The two actors stood anxiously on the stage all the while.”  The great composer paid her one of the prettiest compliments she ever received.  Reynolds was painting her portrait in the character of St. Cecilia, and one day Haydn called just as it was being finished.  Haydn contemplated the picture very attentively, then said suddenly, “But you have made a great mistake.”  The painter started up aghast.  “How! what?” “Why,” said Haydn, “you have represented Mrs. Billington listening to the angels; you should have made the angels listening to her!” Mrs. Billington blushed with pleasure.  “Oh, you dear man!” cried she, throwing her arms round his neck and kissing him.

II.

Mrs. Billington seems to have entertained the notion in 1794 of quitting the stage, and went abroad to free herself from the protests and reproaches which she knew the announcement of her purpose would call forth if she remained in England.  Accompanied by her husband and brother, she sauntered leisurely through Europe, for her professional exertions had already brought her a comfortable fortune.  A trivial accident set her feet again in the path which she had designed to forsake, and which she was destined to adorn with a more brilliant distinction.  The party had traveled incognito, but on arriving in Naples a babbling servant revealed the identity of the great singer, which speedily became known to Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s friend, then domiciled in Naples as the favorite of the royal family.  Lady Hamilton insisted on presenting Mrs. Billington to the Queen, and she was persuaded to sing in a private concert before their Majesties, which was swiftly succeeded by an invitation, so urgent as to take the color of command, to sing at the San Carlo.  So the English prima donna made her debut before the Neapolitans in “Inez di Castro,” which had been specially arranged for her by Francesco Bianchi.  The fervid Naples audience received her with passionate acclamations, to which she had never been accustomed from the more impassive English.  Hitherto her reputation had been mostly identified with English opera; thenceforward she was to be known chiefly as a brilliant exponent of the Italian school of music.

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