In this opera the principal interest pivots on the mother. The sensuous, sentimental, or malignant phases of love are replaced by the purest maternal devotion. It was left for Mme. Viardot to add an absolutely new type to the gallery of portraits on the lyric stage. We are told by a competent critic, whose enthusiasm in the study of this great impersonation did not yet quite run away with his judicial faculty: “Her remarkable power of self-identification with the character set before her was, in this case, aided by person and voice. The mature burgher woman in her quaint costume; the pale, tear-worn devotee, searching from city to city for traces of the lost one, and struck with a pious horror at finding him a tool in the hands of hypocritical blasphemy, was till then a being entirely beyond the pale of the ordinary prima donna’s comprehension—one to the presentation of which there must go as much simplicity as subtile art, as much of tenderness as of force, as much renunciation of woman’s ordinary coquetries as of skill to impress all hearts by the picture of homely love, desolate grief, and religious enthusiasm.” M. Roger sang with Mme. Viardot in Paris, but, when the opera was shortly afterward reproduced in London, he was replaced by Signor Mario, “whose appearance in his coronation robes reminded one of some bishop-saint in a picture by Van Ryek or Durer, and who could bring to bear a play of feature without grimace, into scenes of false fascination, far beyond the reach of the clever French artist, M. Roger.” The production of “Le Prophete” saved the fortunes of the struggling new Italian Opera House, which had been floundering in pecuniary embarrassments.
The last season of Mme. Viardot in England was in 1858, during which she sang to enthusiastic audiences in many of her principal characters, and also contributed to the public pleasure in concert and the great provincial festivals. The tour in Poland, Germany, and Russia which followed was marked by a series of splendid ovations and the eagerness with which her society was sought by the most patrician circles in Europe.
Her last public appearance in Paris was in 1862, and since that time Mme. Viardot has occupied a professional chair at the Conservatoire. In private life this great artist has always been loved and admired for her brilliant mental accomplishments, her amiability, the suavity of her manners, and her high principles, no less than she has been idolized by the public for the splendor of her powers as musician and tragedienne.