The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Giulia Grisi

Giulia Grisi

In 1854, the Italian soprano Giulia Grisi (1811-1869) toured the United States with Giuseppe Mario, whom she married in 1856. Roles were written for her by Bellini in I Puritani and by Donizetti in Don Pasquale. Her first teacher was her sister, Giuditta Grisi (1805-1840), a mezzo-soprano who married and retired in 1834.

Born in Milan in 1811, she was the daughter of one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Italian officers. She came from a musically gifted family, her maternal aunt Giuseppina Grassini (1773-1850) being a favourite opera-singer both on the continent and in London: her mother had also been a singer, and her elder sister Guiditta and her cousin Carlotta were both exceedingly talented, the latter as a ballet dancer.

Giulia was trained to a musical career, and made her stage debut as Emma in Rossini's Zelmira at Bologna in 1828. Rossini and Bellini both took an interest in her, and at Milan she was the first to play the part of Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma, in which Giuditta Pasta took the title role. Grisi appeared in Paris in 1832, as Semiramide in Rossini’s opera, and had a great success; and in 1834 she appeared in London, making her debut as Ninetta in La gazza ladra.

Her voice was a brilliant dramatic soprano, and her established position as a prima donna continued for thirty years. She was a particularly fine actress, and in London opera her association with such singers as Luigi Lablache, Giovanni Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Giovanni Mario was long remembered as the palmy days of Italian opera.

In 1854 she toured America with Mario, with whom she was conducting a long-term affair. She had married Count Gérard de Melcy in 1836, but he refused her a divorce. Finally in London, Guilia was able to marry the love of her life. Mario in private life was the Marquis Giovanni de Candia; the couple had five daughters and a boy. They shared homes in Paris and London, spending summers at Mario's family palace in Sardinia (Palazzo de Candia). One of their daughters, Cecelia Maria de Candia, became a recognized author and married Lord Pearse.

Giulia Grisi died in Berlin on 29 November 1869.

Photographed by Disdéri of Paris.


Code: 123079
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