There was a time early in the century when the voice of Rosamunda Pisaroni was believed to be the most perfect and delightful, not only of all contraltos of the age, but to have reached the absolute ideal of what this voice should be. She even for a time disputed the supremacy of Henrietta Sontag as the idol of the Paris public, though the latter great singer possessed the purest of soprano voices, and won no less by her personal loveliness than by the charm of her singing. Pisaroni excelled as much in her dramatic power as in the beauty of her voice, and up to the advent of Marietta Alboni on the stage was unquestionably without a rival in the estimate of critics as the artist who surpassed all the traditions of the operatic stage in this peculiar line of singing. But her memory was dethroned from its pedestal when the gorgeous Alboni became known to the European public.
Thomas Noon Talfourd applied to a well-known actress of half a century since the expression that she had “corn, wine, and oil” in her looks. A similar characterization would well apply both to the appearance and voice of Mlle. Alboni, when she burst on the European world in the splendid heyday of her youth and charms—the face, with its broad, sunny Italian beauty, incapable of frown; the figure, wrought in lines of voluptuous symmetry, though the embonpoint became finally too pronounced; the voice, a rich, deep, genuine contralto of more than two octaves, as sweet as honey, and “with that tremulous quality which reminds fanciful spectators of the quiver in the air of the calm, blazing summer’s noon”; a voice luscious beyond description. To this singer has been accorded without dissent the title of the “greatest contralto of the nineteenth century.”
The father of Marietta Alboni was an officer of the customs, who lived at Casena in the Romagna, and possessed enough income to bestow an excellent education on all his family. Marietta, born March 10, 1822, evinced an early passion for music, and a great facility in learning languages. She was accordingly placed with Signor Bagioli, a local music-teacher, under whom she so prospered that at eleven she could read music at sight, and vocalize with considerable fluency. Having studied her solfeggi with Bagioli, she was transferred to the tuition of Mme. Bertoletti, at Bologna. Here she had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Rossini, in whom she excited interest. Rossini gave her some lessons, and expressed a high opinion of her prospects. “At present,” he said to some one inquiring about the young girl’s talents, “her voice is like that of an itinerant ballad singer, but the town will be at her feet before she is a year older.” It was chiefly through Rossini’s cordial admiration of her voice that Morelli, one of the great entrepreneurs of Italy, engaged her for the Teatro Communale of Bologna. Here she made her first appearance as Maffeo Orsini,