The transformation of Covent Garden Theatre into a spacious and noble opera-house in 1847, and the secession of the principal artists from Her Majesty’s Theatre, were the principal themes of musical gossip in the English capital at that time. The artists who went over to the Royal Italian Opera were Mines, Grisi and Persiani, Mlle. Alboni (then a novelty on the English stage), and Signors Mario, Tamburini, Salvi, Ronconi, Hovere, and Marini. M. Persiani was the director, and Signor Costa the chef d’orchestre. Although the company of singers was a magnificent combination of musical talent, and the presentation of opera in every way admirable, the enterprise had a sickly existence for a time, and it was not until it had passed through various vicissitudes, and came finally into the hands of the astute Lumley, that the enterprise was settled on a stable foundation.
From 1850 to 1858 Mme. Persiani sang with her usual brilliant success in all the principal cities of Europe, receiving, for special performances in which she was a great favorite, the then remarkable sum of two hundred pounds per night. Her last appearance in England was in the spring of 1858, when she performed in “I Puritani,” “Don Pasquale,” “Linda di Chamouni,” and “Don Giovanni.” In the following winter she established her residence in Paris, with the view of training pupils for the stage. Only once did she depart from her resolution of not singing again in opera. This was when Signor Mario was about to take his benefit in the spring of 1859. The director of the Theatre Italiens entreated Persiani to sing Zerlina to the Don Giovanni of Mario, to which she at last consented. “My career,” she said, “began almost in lisping the divine music of ‘Don Giovanni’; it will be appropriately closed by the interpretation of this chef-d’ouvre of the master of masters, the immortal Mozart.” Mme. Persiani died in June, 1867, and her funeral was attended by a host of operatic celebrities, who contributed to the musical exercises of a most impressive funeral. Mme. Persiani, aside from her having possessed a wonderful executive art in what may be called the technique of singing, will long be remembered by students of musical history as having, perhaps, contributed more than any other singer to making the music of Donizetti popular throughout Europe.
The Greatest of Contraltos.—Marietta Alboni’s Early Surroundings.—Rossini’s Interest in her Career.—First Appearance on the Operatic Stage.—Excitement produced in Germany by her Singing.—Her Independence of Character.—Her Great Success in London.—Description of her Voice and Person.—Concerts in Taris.—The Verdicts of the Great French Critics.—Hector Berlioz on Alboni’s Singing.—She appears in Opera in Paris.—Strange Indifference of the Audience quickly turned to Enthusiasm.—She competes favorably in London with Grisi, Persiani, and Viardot.—Takes the Place of Jenny Lind as Prima Donna at Her Majesty’s.—She extends her Voice into the Soprano Register.—Performs Fides in “Le Prophete.”—Visit to America.—Retires from the Stage.