Who was Adelina Patti?
One of the new sound files on the What’s the Score? website is of a piece called the Adelina Patti Galop. Among the sheet music selected for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project, there are several pieces inspired by this lady, including the galop, The Adelina Patti Polka, The Adelina Waltz and the Patti Quadrilles.
Probably the most famous singer of her time, Adelina Patti has been described as the second most celebrated woman in the world in the year 1900, after Queen Victoria. Born in 1843, into an Italian family of singers while her parents were working in Madrid, she toured the USA as a child prodigy and made her London début at the age of 18 in the demanding role of Amina in Bellini’s La sonnabula. From that point, she dominated the stage at Covent Garden for a quarter of a century, as well as performing in all the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas.
Her personal life had a degree of turbulence not unusual in such circles. She married the Marquis de Caux in 1868, the French tenor Ernesto Nicolini in 1886 (after a lengthy affair) and finally the Swedish Baron Rolf Cederström in 1899. A shrewd businesswoman, she could command enormous fees and amassed a considerable fortune. In 1878, she purchased Craig-y-Nos Castle and its estate, near Brecon, where she built her own private theatre, a miniature version of La Scala, Bayreuth and Drury Lane, rolled into one. She retired officially in 1906, but continued to make charity performances until the beginning of the First World War. She died at Criag-y-Nos in 1919 at the age of 76.
Although singing was doubtless in her genes and Patti always claimed she was self-taught,
she did receive lessons from family members when she was a child. In her heyday, she was renowned for her astonishing vocal agility and stamina, as well as for the beauty and purity of her tone. Her remarkable vocal technique meant that recordings she made in her 60s, in the early years of the 20th century, do more than hint at what she must have been like in her prime.
John Rosselli, in his book Singers of Italian opera: the history of a profession (CUP, 1992)
describes her in these terms: “The highest paid opera singer in history, in real terms, was probably the soprano Adelina Patti. Her doll-like looks and pure, even vocal emission masked a notable competence in running her career and a will of iron.”
- Listen to the Adelina Patti Galop
- View the score