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De Senectute Cantorum
by [?]

The great Mme. Viardot herself, whose intractable voice and noble
stage presence inevitably remind one of Mme. Pasta, took no chances
with fate. The friend of Alfred de Musset, the model for George Sand’s
“Consuelo,” the “creator” of Fides in Le Prophete, and the singer
who, in the revival of Orphee at the Theatre Lyrique in 1859,
resuscitated Gluck’s popularity in Paris, retired from the opera stage
in 1863 at the age of 43, shortly after she had appeared in Alceste!
(She sang in concert occasionally until 1870 or later.) Thereafter she
divided her time principally between Baden and Paris and became the
great friend of Turgeniev. His very delightful letters to her have
been published. Idleness was abhorrent to this fine woman and in her
middle and old age she gave lessons, while singers, composers, and
conductors alike came to her for help and advice. She died in 1910 at
the age of 89. Her less celebrated brother, Manuel Garcia (less
celebrated as a singer; as a teacher he is given the credit for having
restored Jenny Lind’s voice. Among his other pupils Mathilde Marchesi
and Marie Tempest may be mentioned), had died in 1906 at the age of
101. Her sister, Mme. Malibran, died very young, in the early
Nineteenth Century, before, in fact, Mme. Viardot had made her debut.

Few singers have had the wisdom to follow Mme. Viardot’s excellent
example. The great Jenny Lind, long after her voice had lost its
quality, continued to sing in oratorio and concert. So did Adelina
Patti. Muriel Starr once told me of a parrot she encountered in
Australia. The poor bird had arrived at the noble age of 117 and was
entirely bereft of feathers. Flapping his stumpy wings he cried
incessantly, “I’ll fly, by God, I’ll fly!” So, many singers, having
lost their voices, continue to croak, “I’ll sing, by God, I’ll sing!”
The Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, himself a man of considerable years when
he published his highly diverting “Musical Reminiscences,” gives us
some extraordinary pictures of senility on the stage at the close of
the Eighteenth Century. There was, for example, the case of Cecilia
Davis, the first Englishwoman to sustain the part of prima donna and
in that situation was second only to Gabrielli, whom she even rivalled
in neatness of execution. Mount Edgcumbe found Miss Davies in
Florence, unengaged and poor. A concert was arranged at which she
appeared with her sister. Later she returned to England … too old to
secure an engagement. “This unfortunate woman is now (in 1834) living
in London, in the extreme of old age, disease, and poverty,” writes
the Earl. He also speaks of a Signora Galli, of large and masculine
figure and contralto voice, who frequently filled the part of second
man at the Opera. She had been a principal singer in Handel’s
oratorios when conducted by himself. She afterwards fell into extreme
poverty, and at the age of about seventy (), was induced to come
forward to sing again at the oratorios. “I had the curiosity to go,
and heard her sing He was despised and rejected of men in The

. Of course her voice was cracked and trembling, but it was
easy to see her school was good; and it was a pleasure to observe the
kindness with which she was received and listened to; and to mark the
animation and delight with which she seemed to hear again the music in
which she had formerly been a distinguished performer. The poor old
woman had been in the habit of coming to me annually for a trifling
present; and she told me on that occasion that nothing but the
severest distress should have compelled her so to expose herself,
which after all, did not answer to its end, as she was not paid
according to her agreement. She died shortly after.” In 1783 the Earl
heard a singer named Allegranti in Dresden, then at the height of her
powers. Later she returned to England and reappeared in Cimarosa’s
Matrimonio Segreto. “Never was there a more pitiable attempt: she
had scarcely a thread of voice remaining, nor the power to sing a note
in tune: her figure and acting were equally altered for the worse, and
after a few nights she was obliged to retire and quit the stage
altogether.” The celebrated Madame Mara, after a long sojourn in
Russia, suddenly returned to England and was announced for a benefit
performance at the King’s Theatre after everybody had forgotten her
existence. “She must have been at least seventy; but it was said that
her voice had miraculously returned, and was as good as ever. But when
she displayed those wonderfully revived powers, they proved, as might
have been expected, lamentably deficient, and the tones she produced
were compared to those of a penny trumpet. Curiosity was so little
excited that the concert was ill attended … and Madame Mara was
heard no more. I was not so lucky (or so unlucky) as to hear these her
last notes, as it was early in the winter, and I was not in town. She
returned to Russia, and was a great sufferer by the burning of Moscow.
After that she lived at Mitlau, or some other town near the Baltic,
where she died at a great age, not many years ago.”