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Londen Published for the Proprietors of the European Magazine by Lupton Relte, 13 Cornhill, 1" June 182
THE distinguished Character, who forms the subject of our present memoir, was born in Sinigaglia, a small town in the Papal territories, about the year 1782. Though the accident of birth can add nothing, in the sight of universal reason, to those mental or physical qualities which lead to excellence, and which nature only can bestow, it is, however, due to the celebrated ANGELICA CATALANI to say, that she was born of parents highly respectable though poor; and that this circumstance, which in England only facilitates the approach to the temple of fame, was nearly depriving the world of those splendid powers, which are the admiration of the present, and will continue to be the theme of future ages. Madame Catalani owed more to birth than to fortune; and she was, therefore, destined to take the veil, like other females, similarly circumstanced. When fortune and birth stand at a distance, and view each other with a jealous eye, the one too proud to court, and the other too capricious to favour, the nunnery is the only asylum which the pride of birth has discovered in Italy to secure the fair sex from the contingencies of circumstances and situations. Angelica, however, discovered such superior powers during her noviciate "in singing the praises of her Creator, that her parents were induced by the solicitation of friends, to change their intention of withdrawing their daughter from all commerce with the world. She was accordingly suffered to cultivate her musical powers; and the combined energies of nature and of art soon qualified
her to take the first parts in serious opera. Her vocal powers, however, were not the only qualities which recommended her to public favour. Beauty and youth, when accompanied by elegance and grace of deportment, will not easily yield their contested sovereignty to the dominion of music. There is a witchery in beauty as well as in sound; and it is so difficult to say which exercises the strongest influence over the heart and its affections, that the admirers of the fair Angelica were at a loss to determine which recommended her most to public esteem: in the latter, however, she stood unrivalled; and in the former she had many competitors; and if her innocence and beauty were more highly esteemed, it was only be cause they were found connected with such extraordinary endowments. It is certain, however, that the grace and elegance of her movements and person, heightened and refined as they were by the severe dignity of virtue, rendered her one of those miracles of nature which only certain ages are permitted to behold.
Her celebrity procured her an invitation from the Prince and Princess of Brazil, now King and Queen of Portugal. The opera house at Lisbon boasted at this time of the first Italian singers in Europe. The fascinating Grassini, and the still more enchanting Crescentini, were among its principal ornaments; and to the instructions of the latter, who was deemed a prodigy in his art, Madame Catalani owes much of the celebrity which she has since obtained, She remained five years in
Lisbon, on a salary of three thousand moidores, and was honoured with presents of great value. During her residence in this capital, she married Monsieur Vallebraque, still retaining the name which had raised her to such celebrity instead, however, of Signora, she was henceforth known by the name of Madame Catalani. She received letters of recommendation to the royal family of Spain, from the Princess of Brazil, who was particularly attached to her; and whose esteem was less founded on her professional eminence, than on her private virtues.
In Spain she was honored with the friendship of the royal family, and became extremely popular with the nobility and gentry during her residence at
After having visited the French metropolis, in 1806 she arrived in England, and appeared at the Opera House, in the Hay-market, in the latter end of that year. Her annual salary was only £2,000, and one benefit, a sum not more than half what she received at Lisbon; but she looked forward to that encouragement which, if it be not always, at least should be always, the prize of superior attainments; and her expectations were amply realized.
Madame Catalani made her first appearance on the 13th of December, 1806, in the character of Semiramide; and,' to give a full display of her powers, a new composition of Portogallo was substituted for Bianchi's original music, as being more suited to her natural and exquisite powers: she was accordingly received with the most unbounded applause, and her fame became every day more firmly established.
In 1808, her salary was encreased to £5,250 and two clear benefits. Her health, however, did not keep pace with her fortune, and became as variable as the climate. Madame Dussek accordingly was to perform in serious opera, and take the part of Buffa whenever Madame Catalani was unable to perform. A fracas however took place between her and Mr. Taylor in 1809, which diminished her popularity in England. Mr. Taylor offered her £6,000 and three clear benefits, but though this engagement was highly liberal she refused to accept of it. The public attributed her refusal to a spirit of avarice, but in doing so, they judged by first appearances. The real motives
that prompt us to action, like the latent causes of natural effects, seldom hang on the surface of things, and it requires time and opportunity to trace them to their source. Hence it is that public opinion is always fallible, though not always erroneous, when its object is the immediate public conduct of individuduals; they generally refer the conduct of distinguised persons to a better or worse source than that from which it emanated. The cause of this error seems to be, that the public judge of all individuals alike who are placed in similar situations, without reflecting that every individual is the creature of habits, feelings, and impulses, which belong to no other but himself, that these feelings exercise an influence over him which reason can seldom repel or bend to its own designs and that consequently out of fifty individuals who happen to act alike, not five may be prompted to it by similar motives. One rule, however, should never be forgotten in regulating our judgments, and that is, that the motive to which we ascribe any action should always be compared with the general tenor and character of the actor's life; and, out of all the possible motives to which it can be referred, always to select that which harmonizes best with this general tenor and character. Whoever is guided by this rule, and what rule can we discover that approaches nearer to infallibility, must instantly free Madame Catalani from the imputation of avarice, in her quarrel with Mr. Taylor. Her liberality, and the readiness with which she has been always known to attend, and promote the objects of all charitable institutions, are known and published throughout Europe; and, even when her health has sometimes prevented her from singing in aid of such institutions, her purse has contributed to effect that good which was sought for from her vocal assistance. The delicacy of her health frequently obliged her to decline many engagements, which were sufficiently tempting, if avarice had been the god of her adoration; and when we know that she refused 240,000 roubles, about 10,000 guineas, from the Muscovite nobility for giving ten concerts in their ancient capital, we cannot think of ascribing her refusal of Mr. Taylor's offer to a spirit which, if it had existed, would have certainly gratified itself by
embracing the offer of the Muscovite nobility. Perhaps the state of her health in 1809 was not the sole cause of her refusing Mr. Taylor's offer. She thought her brother's talents not sufficiently appreciated by the situation appointed him in the orchestra, and therefore, as Mr. Taylor refused him the place to which she thought him entitled, it is certain that she acted more under the influence of her feelings than of her reason at the moment. To him, however, who can make no allowance for that irritability of feeling which is the inseparable attendant of genius, we can only say, that he knows too little of the human heart to estimate as he ought the moral value of human actions; for though weakness and irritability are not to be defended, yet as they form a part of our nature, and are frequently found united with virtues of a superior order, they should not be too hastily condemned.
Another circumstance contributed, at this moment, to render Madame Catalani less popular, namely, her refusing to sing for a charitable institution. The public erroneously attributed this refusal, as well as her difference with Mr. Taylor, to motives of avarice, but if this were the real cause of her refusal, how can we explain the fact, that she sent twenty guineas as a private donation to that very charity? If this be the manner in which avarice manifests itself, it were well for charitable institutions that all the world were misers.
After the fracas between her and Mr. Taylor, she appeared occasionally at private musical parties. She performed at the principal towns in the three kingdoms; at the grand music meetings at Oxford and Cambridge, and at several charitable institutions. She was at length induced to go to Paris, where the King of France granted her the patent of the Theatre Royal Italian, with a yearly salary of £7,000 sterling. This Theatre, which was then by far the most elegant in Paris, she managed with great ability for four years, and alternately engaged the celebrated composers, Paer and Spontine, to conduct the musical department. She also engaged the first singers of Italy, both male and female. The receipts, however, were trifling whenever she did not sing herself, so that her attention to the interests of the establishment became a fatigue, to which her health
was unequal, and she determined to resign the charge and visit the capitals of Europe. She went first to Berlin, where she was received by his Prussian Majesty with the most flattering respect. The Prussians were at a loss which to admire most, her surprising talents or beneficence. Of this she received the most honourable testimonies from all the Prussian courts, and his Majesty sent her, accompanied by a most gracious letter, the grand medal of the Academy, (similar to that which the Great Frederick sent to Voltaire.) This letter was published in all the journals of the time.
From Berlin she proceeded to Hanover, where she was graciously received by his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, and all the ladies of the court. She was crowned at the Theatre with her usual success, and after giving a concert for the benefit of the poor, she departed for Stutgard We are informed that the melody of her voice made such an impression on the late King, who was passionately fond of music, that he pronounced her name a few minutes before his death.
From Stutgard she went to Munich, but, in consequence of some trifling misunderstanding, she departed without singing. She was persuaded, however, to return shortly after, and was affectionately embraced by the Queen, who greatly regretted the mistake which had taken place. The King
was not less attentive to her, and recommended her to the friendship of his daughter, the Empress of Austria.
Vienna was the next Theatre of Madame Catalani's vocal powers. Here her success was unparalleled; and a simple statement of facts will easily evince the enthusiasm with which she was received. The great room of the Redoubt was filled to excess at each of her concerts, though it contains 3,000 persons, and the tickets of admission were very high. The Emperor, as a mark of his royal favor, presented her with a superb ornamental of opal, enriched with diamonds. Here her benevolence and liberality to the poor, who always participated in her success, displayed itself as usual. Every mouth resounded her praise, and the magistracy of the city, to testify the high sense which they entertained of her character, caused a medal to be struck which bears an inscription highly flattering to her.
Madame Catalani had long cherished a wish to visit Russia, from which she received many invitations. On leaving Austria, therefore, she proceeded to St. Petersburgh, where she commenced with a concert, the tickets for which were fixed at twenty-five roubles. The success which attended her performance the first night was so great, that several hundred persons were disappointed of seats each succeeding night. She was persuaded to give her concluding concert at the public exchange, where she was honoured with the presence of 4,000 individuals. The receipts of this concert she devoted to the relief of twohundred distressed families in St. Petersburgh. Such is the illustrious character who has been charged with avarice in the metropolis of the British empire! We must confess it gives us sincere pleasure that it should fall to our lot to present these proofs of her liberality to the public, or at least to that portion of the public who honor our pages with a perusal. At her departure from St. Petersburgh, the Empress embraced her in the most affectionate manner, and the reigning Empress presented her with a pair of gold ear-rings, and a diamond necklace. The Emperor Alexander, not less sensible of her virtues, kissed her hands at her departure, and made her a present of a magnificent girdle of brilliants. She remained four months in Russia, during which time she gave concerts at St. Petersburgh, Riga, Moscow, and Wilna, which produced her, exclusive of all expenses and the sums she bestowed on charity, upwards of 15,000 guineas. When she went from Moscow to Warsaw, she was presented on her arrival with a letter from the Muscovite nobility, offering her, as we have already observed, 240,000 roubles, if she would come and give ten concerts at their ancient capital during the winter. Apprehending her health would not endure the severity of the climate, she declined the flattering and advantageous invita
rapidity, strength, and sweetness. She gave another concert on the 30th of July, the profits of which amounted to upwards of £.300, and which she devoted to the funds of the Westminster General Infirmary; and, indeed, the whole tenor of her life shews the mistaken prejudice, which had been at one time excited against her in this country.
From London, Madame Catalani proceeded to Glasgow; and afterwards visited Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, and Liverpool: here she was joined by Mr. Yaniewicz, who has ever since been the sole director of her concerts. From Liverpool she proceeded to Leeds, and next visited Sheffield, where she was suddenly taken ill while the audience were assembling, or rather after the greater part of them had assembled. The effect of her illness produced a temporary suspension of her vocal powers; and she continued three days in this alarming state. She left Sheffield without a concert, promising to return_shortly, which she did, after visiting Birmingham, Bath, and Clifton. From Sheffield she proceeded to Nottingham, and from thence to London, where she still continues. During this excursion, she has cleared above £.6000 over and above the heavy expenses, which she must have necessarily incurred. She is now performing in London, where her success is without example. At this, however, we feel no surprize; for since she first commenced her musical career to the present moment, she has been not only the first singer in Europe, but in fact the only singer who may be truly said to have had no competitor. The public mind never hesitated for a moment between the comparative merits of her and any other performer; and when we say the public mind, we do not mean the English public alone, but that public of which all the nations in Europe are composed. No country could produce a second to her, though Italy, France, and England have produced singers of whom, perhaps, it would have been said, "the force of nature could no farther go," if the illustrious Angelica Catalani had been silently immured in a nunnery, and her transcendent powers known only to her cloistered sisters, whose innocence or credulity would, in all probability, have deemed them rather the work of inspiration, than one of those unattainable gifts, which nature bestows on her own peculiar favourites.