Of Giulia Grisi a critic wrote in the London “Times”: “There are certain striking features in every one of her impersonations, to forget which is utterly impossible for those who are able to feel and appreciate such traits in the exhibition of vocal an dramatic art. She was equally admirable in lyric tragedy, lyric comedy, and lyric melodrama; such traits were as plentiful as with less gifted artists they are rare.”
Grisi combined with this remarkable versatility a capacity for study and love of improvement in her art truly wonderful, an example by which many of the young singers might profit were they to lay it to heart; in fact, her whole artistic life was one of constant effort to attain perfection. No vocalization was too trivial for her careful study, no part beneath her creative instinct. She loved her public with a devotion amounting to reverence; with the veneration of a priestess she made her offering of song at the altar of art; her profession was to her a holy duty.
Her noble appreciation o f the public was strikingly shown in her unvarying promptitude to keep her part in the fulfillment of their pleasures. She rarely disappointed them; ill or well, she was ready to appear when announced.
The public knew they were sure of her, and sought the opera in a comfortable state of confidence that no sudden announcement of change of bill would confront them, as in the case of more than one capricious prima donna of those days.
Giulia Grisi, the daughter of Gaetano Grisi, an officer of engineers under Napoleon, was born at Milan in 1812.
The tastes of the family were decidedly musical and artistic, the father having dramatic ability, and the mother taking delight in vocal work.
An elder sister, Giuditta, who was born in 1805 and died in 1840, was a singer of considerable ability and fame; but the name of Grisi, as known to the world, was made famous by the celebrated Giulia. Grisi was the niece of famous Grassini, and a cousin, Carlotta Grisi, was distinguished as a dancer.
Giulia’s vocal talent manifested itself at a very early period, and it was carefully fostered and cultivated by Giuditta. Her subsequent teachers were Filippo Celli, Madame Boccabadati, and Guglielmi.
At the age of seventeen she made her debut at Bologna, creating a very favorable impression, and raising glowing hopes about her future. Her voice and personal charms were both pronounced to be eminently distinctive, and the grace of her style, and the promising dramatic force of her acting, at once secured the sympathy of the audience.
Like Pasta, she carried off a moderate stature by a noble bearing and handsome features, which expressed an intellectual variety and a charming individuality. To Pasta she was also akin in dramatic genius and fire.
Her progress was unusually rapid. Within a year after her debut Rossini predicted a great future for her. At the conclusion of a short engagement at Florence, Grisi appeared at La Scala in Milan, where she met Pasta, then at the zenith of a splendid career, who aided her with counsel and instruction.
She also attended a course of study under Mariani, and was further aided by Rossini and Bellini. Rossini was exceedingly gracious to the fair young aspirant, and Bellini recognized in the young artist all the qualifications for a perfect Adalgisa.
Strangely enough, when the opera was first brought out, the first act proved almost a fiasco; and it was not until the duet for Norma and Adalgisa in the second act that the audience began to applaud. Dissatisfied with her engagement at Milan, and unable to get herself released form it by ordinary means, the impulsive Giulia took to flight, and escaping across the frontier reached Paris, where she found her aunt, Madame Grassini, her sister Giuditta, and Rossini, who was then director of the Theatre des Italiens.
The patronage of Rossini soon procured her an engagement, and she made her first appearance in the title role of his new opera, “Semiramide.” She was supported by Eckerlin and Tamburini, and her success was immediate and triumphant. For sixteen consecutive years she was engaged at the Italiens.
On April 8, 1834, she made her first appearance in London in “La Gazza ladra”; but her principal triumph was achieved in “Anna Bolena,” in which opera she had the cooperation of Lablache and Rubini. This was the period of phenomenal casts.
The celebrated quartet of Grisi, Lablache, Tamburini, and Rubini was world renowned. It lasted for some time.
A substitute for Rubini was found in Mario; but when Lablache and Tamburini fell out there were not reserves to draw upon. The quartet dwindled to a duet; but the duet of Mario and Grisi became equally famous.
These delightful artists are now invariable associated together. Heine (“Parisian Letters”) coupled them in a poetic simile as “the rose, the nightingale among the flowers, and the nightingale, the rose among the birds.”
Between 1834 and 1861 Grisi missed only on season in London – that of 1842. Her health was robust, and enabled her to undergo severe and repeated exertions.
In 1854, with Mario, she made a tour of the United States. She was received very coldly at Madrid in 1859, and at once relinquished her engagement. Rest was prescribed.
In 1861 Gye, director of the Royal Italian Opera of London, proposed a contract stipulating that Grisi should not appear in public for five years. As soon as the term had expired she surprised the public by appearing at Her Majesty’s Theater in “Lucrezia Borgia.” The performance was a comparative failure. Grisi withdrew from the opera, but continued to sing at occasional concerts with undiminished popularity.
She had for years made London her headquarters, and on leaving it in 1869 to pay a visit to Berlin had no intention of not returning to the capital where she had obtained her greatest and most prolonged successes. Inflammation of the lungs, however, seized her, and after a short attack she died at the Hotel du Nord, Berlin, November 25, 1869.
Grisi married in 1836 to the Count de Melcy, but the union proved a most unhappy one. A warm attachment sprang up between her and Mario, and received the sanction of the Church after she had succeeded in procuring a divorce from her first husband. By Mario, she had three daughters. The Emperoro Nicholas jestingly referred to them as “grisetts.” “Pardon me, sire,” was the reply, “they are marionettes.”