In the year 1832 German opera in its original form was introduced into England for the first time, and London learned to recognize the grandeur of Beethoven in opera, as it had already done in symphony and sonata. “Fidelio” had been already presented in its Italian dress, without making very much impression, for the score had been much mutilated, and the departure from the spirit of the composer flagrant. The opera, as given by artists “to the manner born,” was a revelation to English audiences. The intense musical vigor of Beethoven’s great work was felt to be a startling variety, wrought out as it was in its principal part by the genius of a great lyric vocalist. This was Mme. Schroeder-Devrient, who, as an operatic tragedienne, stands foremost in the annals of the German musical stage, though others have surpassed her in merely vocal resources, and who never has been rivaled except by Pasta.
She was the daughter of Sophia Schroeder, the Siddons of Germany. This distinguished actress for a long time reigned supreme in her art. Her deep sensibilities and dramatic instincts, her noble elocution and stately beauty, fitted her admirably for tragedy. In such parts as Phedre, Medea, Lady Macbeth, Merope, Sappho, Jeanne de Montfaucon, and Isabella in “The Bride of Messina,” she had no pere. Wilhelmina Schroeder was born in Hamburg, October 6, 1805, and was destined by her mother for a stage career. In pursuance of this, the child appeared at the age of five years as a little Cupid, and at ten danced in the ballet at the Imperial Theatre of Vienna. With the gradual development of the young girl’s character came the ambition for a higher grade of artistic work. So, when she arrived at the age of fifteen, her mother, who wished her to appear in tragedy, secured for her a position at the Burgtheater of Vienna, where she played in such parts as Aricie in “Phedre,” and Ophelia in “Hamlet.” The impression she made was that of a great nascent actress, who would one day worthily fill the place of her mother. But the true scope of her genius was not yet defined, for she had not studied music. At last she was able to study under an Italian master of great repute, named Mazzatti, who resided in the Austrian capital.