Singers and Musical Personalities ~   Maria Malibran (1808 - 36)

1.   Malibran

Maria Malibran 1808 - 36

1.   Portrait of Maria Malibran (c.1834). Artist unknown. Oil on canvas. Original in the collection of the Royal Academy of Music. [Image in the public domain].

Maria Malibran, known as La Malibran, was baptised María de la Felicidad García.  Her stage name arises from her marriage to an American banker, François Eugène Malibran.  In her later years she became Maria Malibran de Bériot after marriage to the Belgian violinist Charles de Bériot.  Malibran was born in 1808 in Paris and died at the age of 28 while appearing at the Manchester Festival.

Of Spanish extraction, she was a mezzo-soprano of exceptional vocal range, power, and agility.  María and her mezzo-soprano sister, Pauline Viardot (who lived until 1910 and became a celebrated vocal coach), were first instructed by their father, the tenor Manuel García, and at five years of age María sang a child’s part in Ferdinando Paer’s Agnese in Naples.

Malibran became one of the most thrilling operatic divas of the early nineteenth century. In her singing and acting, as well as in her life, she embodied the spirit of Romanticism.  

In 1811 her father travelled to Italy to further his operatic career.  In Naples Maria studied theory and piano with Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833) and Auguste Panseron (1796-1859). Hérold had won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1812 but left Rome in September 1813 and settled in Naples where, apart from teaching Maria, he also taught the daughters of Joachim Murat (brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte), the King of Naples.  Panseron replaced him as Maria's tutor until the Garcías left Naples for the premiere of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia in February of 1816 in Rome. Around March-October 1816 Maria attended a boarding school in Hammersmith, England, run by French Benedictine nuns.   Thus, Maria's international upbringing provided her with skills in Spanish (spoken at home), Italian (learned in Naples), French (probably also spoken at home and used in her lessons with Hérold and Panseron and at the Hammersmith boarding school) and, now, English.

Malibran made her London debut at the King’s Theatre in 1825 as Rosina in Gioacchino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. She performed with her father’s company at the Park Theatre in New York City for the next two years in operas by Rossini and Mozart and in two operas written for her by her father.  After a brief marriage to escape her father’s control, Malibran made a sensational debut at the Théâtre-Italien, Paris, in Rossini’s Semiramide in 1828. She then divided her time between Paris and London until she went to Italy in 1832 to sing in such operas as Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and La sonnambula and in the title role of Maria Stuarda, which she created for Gaetano Donizetti at La Scala in Milan.

In 1836, a month after her marriage (three days after a French court annulled her marriage to Malibran) to the violinist Charles de Bériot and six months after her 28th birthday, she fell from a horse and soon died.

[Text based on material in the Encyclopedia Britannica and other sources in the public domain.]

2. Malibran 2

Maria Malibran 1808 - 36

2.   La Malibran (1808 - 36), 1834 by François Bouchot (1800–1842).  Original in musée de la Vie romantique, dépôt du Louvre, Paris.  [Image in the public domain.]

Malibran first appeared on stage in Naples with her father in Paër’s Agnese, when she was 8 years old.   When she was 17, she was a singer in the choir of the King's Theatre in London. When prima donna Giuditta Pasta became indisposed, García suggested that his daughter take over in the role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville. The audience loved the young mezzo, and she continued to sing this role until the end of the season.

When the London season closed, García immediately took his operatic troupe to New York. The troupe consisted primarily of the members of his family: Maria, her brother, Manuel, and their mother, Joaquina Sitchez, also called 'la Briones'. Maria's younger sister, Pauline, who would later become a famous singer in her own right under the name of Pauline Viardot, was then only four years old.

This was the first time that Italian opera was performed in New York. Over a period of nine months, Maria sang the lead roles in eight operas, two of which were written by her father. In New York, she met and hastily married a banker, Francois Eugene Malibran, who was 28 years her senior. It is thought that her father forced Maria to marry him in return for the banker's promise to give Manuel García 100,000 francs. However, according to other accounts, she married simply to escape her tyrannical father. A few months after the wedding, her husband declared bankruptcy, and Maria was forced to support him through her performances. After a year, she left Malibran and returned to Europe.

In Europe, Malibran sang the title role at the premiere of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. The opera was based on Friedrich Schiller's play Mary Stuart, and as it portrayed Mary, Queen of Scots in a sympathetic light, censors demanded textual amendments, which Malibran often ignored.

Malibran became romantically involved with the Belgian violinist, Charles Auguste de Bériot. The pair lived together as a common-law couple for six years and a child was born to them in 1833 (the piano pedagogue Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot), before Maria obtained an annulment of her marriage to Malibran. Felix Mendelssohn wrote an aria accompanied by a solo violin especially for the couple.

In Britain, Malibran was closely associated with the Scottish tenor John Templeton.  At various times they appeared together in the Devil's Bridge, Marriage of Figaro, The Students of Jena, Fidelio and Maid of Artois.

[Text based on various sources in the public domain including the Urban Dictionary.]



Maria Malibran 1808 - 36

3.   La Malibran dans le rôle de Desdémone de l’Othello, by Théodore Chasseriau (1819-1856), black chalk, heightened with white and blood, Musée du Louvre. [Image in the public domain.]

Malibran was most closely associated with the operas of Rossini. The composer extolled her virtues:

Ah! That wonderful creature! With her disconcerting musical genius she surpassed all who sought to emulate her, and with her superior mind, her breadth of knowledge and unimaginable fieriness of temperament she outshone all other women I have known....

Among other operas, she sang the title role in Tancredi and in Otello, in which it appears that she sang both the roles of Desdemona and of Otello. Other appearances included those in Il turco in Italia, La Cenerentola, and Semiramide (both Arsace and the title role).

She also sang in Giacomo Meyerbeer's Il crociato in Egitto in Paris in September 1825, an opera which Rossini, as director of the Théâtre-Italien, introduced to the French capital and which launched Meyerbeer's European reputation.

Malibran enjoyed great success in Bellini's operas Norma, La sonnambula and I Capuleti e i Montecchi (as Romeo). She also sang the Romeo role in two other then-famous operas: Giulietta e Romeo by Zingarelli and Giulietta e Romeo by Vaccai. Bellini wrote a new version of his I puritani to adapt it to her mezzo-soprano voice and even promised to write a new opera especially for her, but he died before he was able to do so.

Malibran's tessitura was remarkably wide, from G below middle C to high E (G3 – E6), and her extreme range extended from D3 to F6 in altissimo, which allowed her to sing easily roles for contralto as well as high soprano. Her contemporaries admired Malibran's emotional intensity on stage. Rossini, Donizetti, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Liszt were among her fans.

The painter Eugène Delacroix however, accused her of lacking refinement and class and of trying to 'appeal to the masses who have no artistic taste.'

Describing her voice and technique, French critic Castil-Blaze wrote, 'Malibran's voice was vibrant, full of brightness and vigour. Without ever losing her flattering timbre, this velvet tone that has given her so much seduction in tender and passionate arias. [...] Vivacity, accuracy, ascending chromatics runs, arpeggios, vocal lines dazzling with strength, grace or coquetry, she possessed all that the art can acquire.'

By 1834, Malibran had moved to England and began to perform in London. In late May 1836, she starred in The Maid of Artois, written for her by Balfe. Earlier that year she had returned to Milan to sing the title role in the premiere of Vaccai's Giovanna Gray.

[Text based on the Urban Dictionary and other contemporary sources.

4, Leonora

Maria Malibran 1808 - 36

4.   Maria Malibran as Leonora, cross-dressed as Fidelio in the prison scene of Beethoven’s Fidelio. Published London, October 10th, 1836.

On 5 July 1836 Maria was riding with friends in Regent's Park in London when she suffered an accident that led to her untimely death at the age of 28. The incident was remembered by one of her companions, Lord William Lennox:

'On setting off at a canter, she plied her light riding-whip too severely upon the horse's neck. The animal, usually quiet, got his mettle up, and suddenly increased his pace. A clatter of some horses behind added to his excitement, and in a few seconds the rider had lost all control over her steed.'

'I was a few paces in the rear, and called upon Mr and Mrs Clayton to check their speed at once. Bounding round the inner circle of Regent's Park at an awful pace, Malibran, feeling herself lost, shouted for help, when a policeman rushed forward and seized the horse by the bridle. Unprepared for this sudden movement, the rider was precipitated against the wooden paling, and fell exhausted to the ground. '

Despite the seriousness of her injury and the pain she suffered, Maria immediately followed through with a series of four performances at Drury Lane in London: The Maid of Artois (July 5th and 7th), Fidelio and the second act of La sonnambula (July 6th), and the complete La sonnambula (July 8th). Her last operatic performance was on 16 July 1836, when she sang The Maid of Artois and the last act of La sonnambula at Drury Lane. She received thunderous applause and ended the evening's performance singing God Save the King.

After her death in Manchester, her body was temporarily buried in the collegiate church after a public funeral before being moved to a mausoleum in Laeken Cemetery, near Brussels in Belgium.

[Text based on Lord William Pitt Lennox, Fifty Years' Biographical Reminiscences, (London 1863) vol. 2, p. 207-9; quoted in Fitzlyon, p. 211, the Urban Dictionary and other contemporary sources]

Malibran Anecdotes

Malibran's final concert  ~  Garcia and Malibran ~ Maid of Artois ~ Dramatic Effects ~ Charles Auguste de Bériot ~ Otello ~ Templeton and Malibran ~ Spontaneity ~ New York and Paris ~ Little Pierre’s Song ~ Garcia, Malibran and an unexpected visitor

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