Mme. Mara continued to sing for many years in different cities of Europe, though the recollections and traditions of her marvelous prime were more attractive than the then active powers of her voice. But her consummate art never deserted her, in spite of the fact that her voice became more and more a wreck. She appeared in public occasionally till her seventy-second year, when she retired to Cassel, her birthplace, where she died in 1833, at the age of eighty.
Another of Mrs. Billington’s most brilliant rivals and contemporaries was the lovely Giuseppa Grassini, a wayward, indolent, fascinating beauty, who had taken France and Italy by storm before she attempted to subdue the more obdurate and phlegmatic Britons. The daughter of a small farmer in Lombardy, the charm of her voice and appearance induced General Belgioso to pay the cost of her musical training, and at the age of nineteen she sprang into popularity at a bound with her debut at La Scala in 1794. In spite of the fact that she was associated with two of the greatest Italian singers of the time—Crescentini, one of the last of the male sopranos, and Marchesi—she became the cynosure of public admiration. She was surrounded by homage and flattery sufficient to have turned a more sedate temperament and wiser head than her own, and her name became mixed with some of the most piquant scandals of the period.
In spite of ignorance, indolence, and a caprice which she never attempted to control, Grassini was an exquisite artist; and, though dull and shallow intellectually in all matters apart from her profession, she was a most beautiful and fascinating woman. She mastered all the graces of her art, but could never give an intelligent reason for what she did. Her voice, originally a soprano, became under training a contralto of delicious quality, as well as of great volume and power, though not remarkable for extent. She excelled in the cantabile style, and rarely attempted ornament, though what she did was always in perfect taste and proportion. Her dramatic instincts were remarkable, and as an interpreter of both heroic and the softer passions she speedily acquired a European reputation. Her figure was tall and commanding, her head noble, her hair and eyes of the deepest black, and her whole appearance a singular union of grace and majesty.