excerpt from 'Reminiscences of the Opera' pp. 253-5 (621 words)

excerpt from 'Reminiscences of the Opera' pp. 253-5 (621 words)

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Reminiscences of the Opera

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I went over to Berlin in person to offer to the Countess my escort to London; and on Saturday, the 7th of July, this interesting debut took place, in Donizetti's "Linda di Chamouni." The Sontag once more trod those boards which had been the scene of her early triumphs. The sympathy her reappearance had created was evidenced by the enthusiastic, and it may be said, affectionate reception with which she was greeted by an overcrowded house. The cheering was universal, genuine, unusually prolonged. That she herself should be at first deeply affected, even to tears, at a greeting so heart-felt and spontaneous, was well conceivable. The revival of old memories, at those exciting and once familiar sounds, joined to the thought of the causes which had placed her in that arena, must have moved her pro- foundly. A glance at the box where sate the husband and children for whose sake this great and noble sacrifice had been made, gave her the necessary courage. Sontag subdued her emotion. In a few minutes she was once more the artist, and the artist alone.

That a halo of interest was thrown around the high-placed lady, who had descended from her pedestal, and quitted the pride and charm of her social and domestic life to resume professional duties, long since laid aside, was perfectly intelligible. But it was not as the heroine of a romance of real life that Sontag reappeared; not as the Countess, who from well-appreciated motives had reassumed the dramatic mantle. It was as the artist alone that she had come to earn the suffrages of the public — as the artist alone that she desired to be judged. It was to sound judgment, and not to mere curiosity and sympathy, however legitimately awakened, that she appealed. And in that judgment she found her reward. Her return to the stage was one long triumph.

All had felt that it must be a marvel, if, after more than twenty years, this gifted prima donna could return with her powers unimpaired. Yet the marvel was here — an unquestionable fact. Her voice was "as fresh, pure, and beautiful as ever." Madame Sontag brought back an artistic skill, matured and perfected by the continued study which, since her retirement, had been to her a labour of love. The beauty, which had exercised so great a fascination over an elder generation, was, strange to say, but little changed. It was remodelled rather than effaced, whilst the figure seemed almost untouched by time. The pleasing contour of the face, the beaming and expressive eye, and, above all, the winning smile which formerly had stolen away so many hearts, were all there. Men declared that with the most clear and searching of opera- glasses they could not give her more than five-and-twenty. She was, in truth, a living marvel! And, more strange than all, the Sontag who had been deemed by a former' generation somewhat deficient as an actress (although the most exquisite of soprano singers), was discovered to have warmth, animation, expression, even power, as a dramatic artist! The fascination of her histrionic talent came to be as great as that of her faultless execution. The public is said to be a "wayward" creature; but, on the contrary, it is extremely difficult to be moved from prepossessions once formed for good or for evil. Whatever change may supervene in an artist, the public is loath to admit a change into its own formed opinions. Sontag left the stage with the reputation of being "no actress." On her return, it was almost impossible to persuade this public, wedded to traditions, that she was (what really was the case) one of the most finished and exquisite histrionic artists.

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excerpt from 'Reminiscences of the Opera' pp. 253-5 (621 words)


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