Mario – Marchese di Candia
Theophile Gautier, on hearing for the first time the exquisite voice of Mario, listened in rapt attention. When the aria ceased, he seemed lost in wonder, and said, the soft tone of the last note still lingering in his ear, “It is a nightingale singing in a thicket”; then, after a pause, “Yes, he excels in the rendering of tender thoughts – love, melancholy, regret for an absent home, and all the soft sentiments of the soul.”
Never was youth more richly gifted for the operatic stage than was Mario. Beauty of voice, face, and figure, with the most winning grace of Italian manner, were all his. For the stage he was born, and to the stage he remained faithful during his artistic life.
To the brilliance of his success in opera he brought one great helping quality, the eye for color and all the important details of costume. His figure on the stage looked as if it had stepped out of the canvas of Titian, Veronese, or Tintoretto. Never was an actor more harmoniously and beautifully dressed for the characters he impersonated – no mean advantage, and no slight indication of the complete artistic temperament.
Mario, Marchese di Candia, was born in 1812 at Genoa, of an old and noble family. His father had been a general in the Piedmontese army; and he himself was an officer in the Piedmontese Guard, when he first came to Paris in 1836, and immediately became a great favorite in society.
But, he was then only an amateur, and as yet all unfitted for public singing. Tempted as he was by the offers made to him by Duponchel, the director of the Opera – which are said to have reached the sum of 1500 francs a month, a large sum for a beginning – and pressed by the embarrassments created by expensive tastes, he still hesitated to sign such a contract. Finally persuaded to do so, he compromised the matter by signing only the Christian name, under which he became so famous – Mario.
After a course of training under Michelet, Ponchard, and Bordogni, he made his debut, November 30, 1838, in the title role in “Robert le Diable.” His success was pronounced but he had yet to learn to be dramatic as well as musical.
In 1840 he passed from the Academie to the Italian Opedra, as best suited to his nationality. His first appearance in London was in “Lucrezia Borgia,” June 6, 1839; but it was not until 1846 that he took the place of Rubini, and was acknowledged as the most perfect stage lover ever seen.
The only failure, if it can be so called, was in his attempt to sing the title role in “Don Giovanni,” a part in which Nourrit and Garcia had failed to cussed. In Mario’s case this failure is to be accounted for by the fact that the character of reckless profligate was not in keeping with his temperament; in fact, he was too amiable to secure the approval of his audience.
Mario seldom sang in oratorio, although passionately fond of sacred music, which strongly appealed to his sensitive nature. At Birmingham Festival in 1849 he sang “Then shall the righteous,” in “Elijah”; and at Hereford in 1855, “If with all your hearts,” in the same work.
Mario sang, after this, in each season at Paris, and in London, improving steadily both in acting and singing, though it fell to his lot to create but few new characters – scarcely another besides that of the “walking lover” in “Don Pasquale,” a part which consisted of little more than the singing of the serenade “Com e gentil.” In other parts he only followed his predecessors, thought with a grace and charm which were peculiar to him, and which may possibly remain forever unequaled.
“It was not,” said Chorely, “till the season of 1846 that he took the place of which no wear and tear of time had been able to deprive him.” He had then played Almaviva, Gennaro, and Raoul, and had shown himself undoubtedly the most perfect stage lover ever seen, whatever may have been his other qualities or defects. His singing in the duet of the fourth act of “Les Huguenots” raised him again above this; and in “La Favorita” he achieved, perhaps, his highest point of attainment as a dramatic singer.
For twenty five years Mario remained before the public of Paris, London, and St. Petersburg, constantly associated with Grisi. In the earlier years (1843-46) of that brilliant quarter of a century, he took the place of Rubini in the famous quartet, with Tamburini and Lablache; this, however did not last long; and he soon remained alone with Grisi, the sole remaining star of the original constellation.
To this gifted prima donna Mario was united, after the dissolution of her former marriage; and by her he had three daughters.
He left the stage in 1867, retired to Paris, and then to Rome. There he was subsequently appointed curator of the museum, and there he died, December 11, 1883.
He made two tours of the United States in 1854 (with Grisi) and in 1874.