Women in Music | The Diva | Late Romantic | Classical
The nineteenth century was the age of the great diva, the female opera-singer who performed roles in which she usually ended up mad, abandoned or dead, but who mesmerized audiences with the power of her voice. The theatre was not seen as a respectable work-place and for most of the century female opera-singers were not regarded as reputable women. Their talents were usually ascribed to natural gifts rather than the outcome of hard work and training, and their private lives were subject to intense media scrutiny. Early divas included Giuditta Pasta (1798–1865), who created the demanding title role in Bellini’s Norma, and the uninhibited Maria Malibran (1808–36). Malibran’s younger sister Pauline Viardot-Garcia (1821–1910) impressed many of the leading figures of the day, including Berlioz, Dickens, Gounod, George Sand and Turgenev, with her intensely tragic performances.
An increasing respectability in the diva’s reputation was largely the result of the image carefully cultivated by the ‘Swedish Nightingale’ Jenny Lind (1820–87), who always wore white, undertook charitable work and emphasized her devout Protestant Christianity. Nevertheless, the middle-class American singer Clara Louise Kellogg (1842–1916), before she made her debut in 1861, told her friends she would understand if they never spoke to her again. The undoubted ‘queen of song’ during the nineteenth century was the coloratura soprano Adelina Patti (1843–1919), around whom sprang up numerous stories of irresponsible, capricious behaviour.
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