The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Giovanni Mario

Giovanni Mario

A carte-de-visite portrait of the great tenor Giovanni Mario (1810-1883).

Of aristocratic birth, Giovanni Mateo Mario, Cavaliere di Candia, was an officer until he deserted the army for political reasons. He studied in Paris with Bordogni and Ponchard, and had his début at the Paris Opéra in 1838, in the title role of Robert le Diable. During his career he appeared to great acclaim at all the major opera houses of the world, including St Petersburg, New York and Madrid. Elegantly handsome, with a winning stage presence, he had an extraordinarily sweet-toned voice.

Mario made his London début at Her Majesty’s Theatre as Gennaro in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia on 6 June 1839 and was seen in that role by Queen Victoria two days later. The Queen found his voice ‘very fine and full of feeling’ and noted in her journal that he was ‘tall, quite young and very handsome’. During the next 28 years the Royal family heard Mario on many occasions, sometimes at Covent Garden where he sang from 1847, and sometimes in concerts performed at Buckingham Palace. The last time the Queen heard him sing was at the ceremony to mark the laying of the foundation stone of the Royal Horticultural Hall in Westminster on 20 May 1867, when he ‘sang his solo beautifully’.

His partnership with Giulia Grisi from 1839 was one of the most successful in operatic history. Their personal relationship lasted until her death, but they were never able to marry. Their daughter, Mrs. Godfrey Pearce, later wrote her father’s biography, The Romance of A Great Singer: A Memoir of Mario, published 1910.

Mario retired from the stage in 1871, although he returned to tour the United States with Adelina Patti 1872-1873. From then until his death, he lived in poverty, having spent all the considerable earnings of his long career.

Mario died in Rome on 11 December 1883. Queen Victoria was ‘much grieved’ to hear of poor Mario’s death’, writing her journal that ‘[h]e was the greatest Tenor that ever existed and had a most heavenly rich voice…and sang with such feeling. Who could ever forget him as Gennaro in “Lucrezia Borgia” or as the Prophète in which he looked so magnificent in the Coronation scene. But above all, his rendering of Raoul in the “Huguenots”. That duet with Valentine, given by him and poor Grisi (she, also gone) was the finest thing possible…We used to go again and again to the Opera, only for that scene. He died of inflammation of the lungs. We heard the news through Mr. Cusins and I had him telegraphed to, to attend the funeral and place a wreath from me. Mr. Cusins saw Mario the day before his death, and he still sent me a message.’

Photographed by Disdéri of Paris.


Code: 123081
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© Paul Frecker 2019