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De Senectute Cantorum
by [?]

“All’eta di settanta

Non si ama, ne si canta.”

Italian proverb.

“I am not sure,” writes Arthur Symons in his admirable essay on Sarah
Bernhardt, “that the best moment to study an artist is not the moment
of what is called decadence. The first energy of inspiration is gone;
what remains is the method, the mechanism, and it is that which alone
one can study, as one can study the mechanism of the body, not the
principle of life itself. What is done mechanically, after the heat of
the blood has cooled, and the divine accidents have ceased to happen,
is precisely all that was consciously skilful in the performance of an
art. To see all this mechanism left bare, as the form of a skeleton is
left bare when age thins the flesh upon it is to learn more easily all
that is to be learnt of structure, the art which not art but nature
has hitherto concealed with its merciful covering.”

Mr. Symons, of course, had an actress in mind, but his argument can be
applied to singers as well, although it is safest to remember that
much of the true beauty of the human voice inevitably departs with the
youth of its owner. Still style in singing is not noticeably affected
by age and an artist who possesses or who has acquired this quality
very often can afford to make lewd gestures at Father Time. If good
singing depended upon a full and sensuous tone, such artists as
Ronconi, Victor Maurel, Max Heinrich, Ludwig Wullner, and Maurice
Renaud would never have had any careers at all. It is obvious that any
true estimate of their contribution to the lyric stage would put the
chief emphasis on style, and this is usually the explanation for
extended success on the opera or concert stage, although occasionally
an extraordinary and exceptional singer may continue to give pleasure
to her auditors, despite the fact that she has left middle age behind
her, by the mere lovely quality of the tone she produces.

In the history of opera there may be found the names of many singers
who have maintained their popularity and, indeed, a good deal of their
art, long past fifty, and there is recorded at least one instance in
which a singer, after a long absence from the theatre, returned to the
scene of her earlier triumphs with her powers unimpaired, even
augmented. I refer, of course, to Henrietta Sontag, born in 1805, who
retired from the stage of the King’s Theatre in London in 1830 in her
twenty-fifth year and who returned twenty years later in 1849. She
had, in the meantime, become the Countess Rossi, but although she had
abandoned the stage her reappearance proved that she had not remained
idle during her period of retirement. For she was one of those artists
in whom early “inspiration” counted for little and “method” for much.
She was, indeed, a mistress of style. She came back to the public in
Linda di Chaminoux and H. F. Chorley (“Thirty Years’ Musical
Recollections”) tells us that “all went wondrously well. No magic
could restore to her voice an upper note or two which Time had taken;
but the skill, grace, and precision with which she turned to account
every atom of power she still possessed,–the incomparable steadiness
with which she wrought out her composer’s intentions–she carried
through the part, from first to last, without the slightest failure,
or sign of weariness–seemed a triumph. She was greeted–as she
deserved to be–as a beloved old friend come home again in the late
sunnier days.