Theresa Titiens was the offshoot of an ancient and noble Hungarian family, who emigrated to Hamburg, Germany, on account of political difficulties. Born in June, 1834, she displayed, like other distinguished singers, an unmistakable talent for music at an early period, and her parents lost no time in obtaining the best instruction for her by placing her under the charge of an eminent master, when she was only twelve years of age. At the age of fourteen, her voice had developed into an organ of great power and sweetness. It was a high soprano of extensive register, ranging from C below the line to D in alt, and of admirable quality, clear, resonant, and perfectly pure. The young girl possessed powers which only needed culture to lift her to a high artistic place, and every one who heard her predicted a commanding career. She was sent to Vienna to study under the best German masters, and she devoted herself to preparation for her life-work with an ardor and enthusiasm which were the best earnest of her future success.
On returning to Hamburg in 1849, she easily obtained an engagement, and with the daring confidence of genius she selected the splendid role of Lucrezia Borgia as the vehicle of her debut. Mme. Grisi had fixed the ideal of this personation by investing it with an Oriental passion and luxury of style; but this did not stay the ambition of the debutante of fifteen years. Theresa at this time was very girlish in aspect, though tall and commanding in figure, and it may be fancied did not suit the ripe and voluptuous beauty, the sinister fascination of the Borgia woman, whose name has become traditional for all that is physically lovely and morally depraved. If the immature Titiens did not adequately reach the ideal of the character, she was so far from failing that she was warmly applauded by a critical audience. She appeared in the same part for a succession of nights, and her success became more strongly assured as she more and more mastered the difficulties of her work. To perform such a great lyric character at the age of fifteen, with even a fair share of ability, was a glowing augury.
This early introduction to her profession was stamped by circumstances of considerable romantic interest. A rich young gentleman, a scion of one of the best Hamburg families, became passionately enamored of the young cantatrice. After a brief but energetic courtship, he offered her his hand, which Theresa, whose young heart had been touched by his devotion, was not unwilling to accept, but the stumbling-block in the way was that the family of the enamored youth were unwilling that his future wife should remain on the stage. At last it was arranged that Theresa should retire from the stage for a while, the understanding being that, if at the end of nine months her inclination for the stage should remain as strong, she should return to the profession. It was tacitly a choice between marriage and a continuance of her professional ambition. When the probation was over, the young cantatrice again appeared before the footlights, and the unfortunate lover disappeared.