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PAGE 2

De Senectute Cantorum
by [?]

“But it was not at the moment of Madame Sontag’s reappearance that we
could advert to all the difficulty which added to the honour of its
success.–She came back under musical conditions entirely changed
since she left the stage–to an orchestra far stronger than that which
had supported her voice when it was younger; and to a new world of
operas.–Into this she ventured with an intrepid industry not to be
overpraised–with every new part enhancing the respect of every real
lover of music.–During the short period of these new performances at
Her Majesty’s Theatre, which was not equivalent to two complete Opera
seasons, not merely did Madame Sontag go through the range of her old
characters–Susanna, Rosina, Desdemona, Donna Anna, and the like–but
she presented herself in seven or eight operas which had not existed
when she left the stage–Bellini’s Sonnambula, Donizetti’s Linda,
La Figlia del Reggimento, Don Pasquale; Le Tre Nozze, of Signor
Alary, La Tempesta, by M. Halevy–the last two works involving what
the French call ‘creation,’ otherwise the production of a part never
before represented.–In one of the favourite characters of her
predecessor, the elder artist beat the younger one hollow.–This was
as Maria, in Donizetti’s La Figlia, which Mdlle. Lind may be said to
have brought to England, and considered as her special property….
With myself, the real value of Madame Sontag grew, night after
night–as her variety, her conscientious steadiness, and her adroit
use of diminished powers were thus mercilessly tested. In one respect,
compared with every one who had been in my time, she was alone, in
right, perhaps of the studies of her early days–as a singer of
Mozart’s music.”

It was after these last London seasons that Mme. Sontag undertook an
American tour. She died in Mexico.

The great Mme. Pasta’s ill-advised return to the stage in 1850 (when
she made two belated appearances in London) is matter for sadder
comment. Chorley, indeed, is at his best when he writes of it, his pen
dipped in tears, for none had admired this artist in her prime more
passionately than he. Here was a particularly good opportunity to
study the bare skeleton of interpretative art; the result is one of
the most striking passages in all literature:

“Her voice, which at its best, had required ceaseless watching and
practice, had been long ago given up by her. Its state of utter ruin
on the night in question passes description.–She had been neglected
by those who, at least, should have presented her person to the best
advantage admitted by Time.–Her queenly robes (she was to sing some
scenes from Anna Bolena ) in nowise suited or disguised her figure.
Her hair-dresser had done some tremendous thing or other with her
head–or rather had left everything undone. A more painful and
disastrous spectacle could hardly be looked on.–There were artists
present, who had then, for the first time, to derive some impression
of a renowned artist–perhaps, with the natural feeling that her
reputation had been exaggerated.–Among these was Rachel–whose bitter
ridicule of the entire sad show made itself heard throughout the whole
theatre, and drew attention to the place where she sat–one might even
say, sarcastically enjoying the scene. Among the audience, however,
was another gifted woman, who might far more legitimately have been
shocked at the utter wreck of every musical means of expression in the
singer–who might have been more naturally forgiven, if some humour of
self-glorification had made her severely just–not worse–to an old
prima donna;–I mean Madame Viardot.–Then, and not till then, she
was hearing Madame Pasta.–But Truth will always answer to the appeal
of Truth. Dismal as was the spectacle–broken, hoarse, and destroyed
as was the voice–the great style of the singer spoke to the great
singer. The first scene was Ann Boleyn’s duet with Jane Seymour. The
old spirit was heard and seen in Madame Pasta’s Sorgi! and the
gesture with which she signed to her penitent rival to rise. Later,
she attempted the final mad scene of the opera–that most complicated
and brilliant among the mad scenes on the modern musical stage–with
its two cantabile movements, its snatches of recitative, and its
bravura of despair, which may be appealed to as an example of vocal
display, till then unparagoned, when turned to the account of frenzy,
not frivolity–perhaps as such commissioned by the superb creative
artist.–By that time, tired, unprepared, in ruin as she was, she had
rallied a little. When–on Ann Boleyn’s hearing the coronation music
of her rival, the heroine searches for her own crown on her
brow–Madame Pasta turned in the direction of the festive sounds, the
old irresistible charm broke out;–nay, even in the final song, with
its roulades, and its scales of shakes, ascending by a semi-tone,
the consummate vocalist and tragedian, able to combine form with
meaning–the moment of the situation, with such personal and musical
display as form an integral part of operatic art–was indicated: at
least to the apprehension of a younger artist.–‘You are right!’ was
Madame Viardot’s quick and heartfelt response (her eyes were full of
tears) to a friend beside her–‘You are right! It is like the
Cenacolo of Da Vinci at Milan–a wreck of a picture, but the
picture is the greatest picture in the world!'”