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Past Images of the Month - November 2017

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Fanny Persiani as Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.  Watercolour by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780-1860). [c.1838].  Royal College of Music Collection / ArenaPAL. www.arenapal.com

Fanny Persiani as Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Watercolour by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780-1860). [c.1838]. Royal College of Music Collection / ArenaPAL. www.arenapal.com

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PERSIANI, Fanny (b.Rome, 4 October 1812; d.Neuilly-sur-Seine, 3 May 1867)


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Libretto for the London premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor , Her Majesty's Theatre, 1838.

The Royal Opera, Covent Garden is running its current production of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor throughout November.  It happens that this year sees the 150th anniversary of the death of Fanny Persiani, the soprano for whom the title role was composed and whose outstanding performance in the Naples premiere (Teatro San Carlo, 26 September 1835) ensured the work's legendary success.  She repeated the role in many other European houses including London's Her Majesty's Theatre on 15 April 1838, where her performance was recorded in the watercolour shown here.

We quote here the entry on Persiani in the first edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1870-1889 (and reprinted in all editions up to 1954).  This was written by Florence A. Marshall, widow of the collector Julian Marshall, a former owner of the watercolour.

  1. FANNY PERSIANI [was] one of the most accomplished singers of the 19th century.  She was the second daughter of Nicol0 Tacchinardi who had fitted up a little theatre for the use of his pupils at his coutry house, near Florence, and here, at 11 years of age, Fanny played a principal part.
  2. In 1830 she married the composer Giuseppe Persiani (1804-69), and in 1832 made her début at Leghorn, in Francesca da Rimini, an opera by Fournier, where she replaced Madame Caradori.  Her success was sufficient to lead to her subsequent engagement at Milan and Florence, then at Vienna, where she made a great impression, afterwards at Padua and at Venice.  Here she played in Romeo e Giulietta, Il pirata, La gazza ladra, L'elisir d'amore and Tancredi, in the last two of which she performed with Pasta.  Her success was complete.  In 1834, at Naples, Donizetti wrote for her his Lucia di Lammermoor, which always remained a favourite part with her.
  3. When she first appeared at the Opéra in Paris (in Lucia, Dec. 12, 1837) she was much admired by connoisseurs, but her talents hardly met with the recognition they deserved until after her excellent performance of the part of Carolina in the Matrimonio segreto.
  4. Her first appearance in London (1838) was as Amina in the Sonnambula, and, although she had been preceded in the part by Malibran and Grisi, she achieved a success which increased at each performance.  She was always, however, a greater favourite with artists and connoisseurs than with the public at large.  This was partly due to the poverty of her stage-presence.  She was exceedingly refined in appearance, but small and thin, with a long, colourless face, not unsightly, like her father, but, as Chorley puts it, 'pale, plain and anxious,' with no beauty but her profusion of fine fair hair, while in  her dress she was singularly tasteless.  Her voice, too, was against her rather than in her favour; it was a thin acute soprano, of great range upwards, clear and penetrating, but full or mellow, blending ill with other voices, and always liable to rise in pitch.  But the finish of her singing has been rarely equalled, probably never surpassed.  As an actress she preserved sensibility, grace and refinement, but lacked passion and animation.
  5. From 1838 she sang alternately in London and Paris for many years.  Fétis says that a sudden hoarseness, which attacked her in London in 1843, proved the beginning of a throat-complaint that ultimately forced her to quit the stage for ever.  But she sang in London, in opera, in 1847, 1848 and 1849 and at the Italiens, in Paris, in Oct. 1848.  In 1850 she went to Holland, and subsequently to Russia.  After performing in almost all the principal countries of Europe, she, in 1858, accepted an engagement from E. T. Smith and appeared at Drury Lane in several of her old parts - Linda, Elvira in I Puritani, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, etc.  In December of that year Madame Persiani took up her residence in Paris, but afterwards removed to Italy.  Her portrait, by Chalon, in water-colours, was in the collection of the late Julian Marshall.
  6. F[lorence]. A.M[arshall].

Persiani as Lucia on the title page of an English edition of an extract from the opera, London, [c.1839]. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Libretto for performance Pietro l'Eremita, Her Majesty's Theatre, London, 1842.

Persiani as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. Lithograph by Rigo Frères after Alexandre Lacauchie.  Plate to Galerie des Artistes Gramatiques de Paris.  Paris, 1841. Text accompanying the preceding image.

Flyer for a concert at the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden on 13th June 1849.