Maria Malibran

From Academic Kids

The soprano Maria Malibran (1808-1836) was one of the most famous opera singers of the 19th century. She was known for her stormy personality and her dramatic intensity, and she became a legendary figure after her death at age 28. Contemporary accounts of her voice describe the range, power and flexibility as extraordinary.

Malibran was born as Maria Francesca García into an musical family of Spanish background in Paris. Her father, Manuel Garcia, was a tenor whose voice was much admired by Rossini, who created the role of Count Almaviva for him in his The Barber of Seville. Garcia was also a composer and an influential vocal instructor, and he was her first voice teacher. He was described as inflexible and tyrannical, and the lessons he gave his daughter became constant quarrels between two powerful egos.

Malibran first ascended the opera stage when she was 17, as a singer in the choir of the King's Theatre in London. When prima donna Giuditta Pasta took ill, Garcia suggested that his daughter take over in the role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville. The audience loved Maria and she continued to sing this role until the end of the season. When the season closed, Garcia immediately took his operatic troupe to New York in order to bring culture to the natives there. The troupe consisted primarily of the members of his family: Maria, her brother, Manuel, and her younger sister, Pauline Garcia-Viardot, who would later become a famous singer in her own right.

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 43 years her senior. It is thought that her father forced Maria to marry him in return for the banker's promise to give Manuel Garcia 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, based on Friedrich Schiller's play Mary Stuart, aroused the fury of the censors, who demanded textual amendments, which Malibran typically ignored.

Malibran became romantically involved with the Belgian violinist, Charles de Beriot. The pair lived together as a common-law couple for six years and a child was born to them in 1833, 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 April 1836, Malibran fell from her horse during a hunt and suffered injuries from which she never recovered. She refused to see a physician and continued to perform, appearing on crutches. She died five months after the accident.

Malibran is most closely associated with the operas of Rossini — she sang Tancredi, Otello, Il Turco in Italia, La Cenerentola, and Semiramide but also sang in Meyerbeer's Il Crociato in Egitto and enjoyed great success in Vincenzo Bellini's operas La Sonnambula I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Bellini wrote a new version of his I Puritani to adapt it to her voice and even promised to write a new opera especially for her, but he died before he was able to.

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."

The German filmmaker Werner Schroeter made a film about her: The Death of Maria Malibran (1971).

Reference

  • Maria Malibran: A Biography of the Singer, Howard Bushnell, 1979.
  • Maria Malibran: Diva of the Romantic Age April FitzLyon, 1987.
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