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Adelina Patti

Adelina Patti (February 10, 1843 – September 27, 1919) was a highly acclaimed 19th century opera diva, earning huge fees at the height of her career.

Along with her contemporaries Jenny Lind, Thérèse Tietjens and Christina Nilsson, Patti remains one of the most famous sopranos in history due to the pure beauty of her lyric voice and the unsurpassed quality of her bel canto technique. The composer Giuseppe Verdi was not alone in calling her the greatest vocalist that he ever heard.



She was born Adela Juana Maria Patti, the last child of tenor Salvatore Patti (1800–1869) and soprano Caterina Barilli (died 1870). Her Italian parents were working in Madrid, Spain, at the time. As her father was Sicilian, Patti was born a subject of the King of the Two Sicilies. She later carried a French passport, as her first two husbands were French.

Her sisters Amalia and Carlotta Patti were also singers. In her childhood, the family moved to New York City. Patti grew up in the Wakefield section of the Bronx[1], where her family's home is still standing. Patti sang professionally from childhood, and developed into a coloratura soprano. It is believed that Patti learned much of her singing technique from her brother-in-law Maurice Strakosch. Later in life Patti, like many famous singers, claimed that she was entirely self-taught.



Adelina Patti made her operatic debut at age 16 in 1859 in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at the Academy of Music, New York.

Portrait by Franz Winterhalter (1862)

In 1861, at the age of eighteen, she was invited to Covent Garden, to take the soprano rôle of Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula. She had such success that she bought a house in Clapham and, using London as a base, went on to conquer the continent, performing Amina in Paris and Vienna in subsequent years with equal success.

Then, in 1862, she sang John Howard Payne's Home, Sweet Home at the White House for Abraham and Mary Lincoln, who were mourning for their son Willie, who had died of typhoid. The Lincolns were moved to tears and requested an encore. This song would become associated with Adelina Patti. She performed it many times as an encore by popular request.

Patti's career was one of success after success. She sang in the United States, all over Europe, including Russia; and in South America, inspiring popular frenzy and critical raves wherever she went. Her girlish good looks made her an appealing stage presence. In her prime, she reportedly had a beautiful soprano voice of birdlike purity. She excelled in both soubrette roles like Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Rosina in The Barber of Seville; famous coloratura parts like Lucia di Lammermoor and La sonnambula, as well as lyric roles in Gounod's Faust and Roméo et Juliette.

Patti was an unadventurous singer. Her concert programs during the last part of her career invariably consisted of familiar songs, especially "Home Sweet Home", sung to adoring audiences. However, she was an effective actress in lyric roles that called for deep emotions, like Gilda in Rigoletto, Leonora in Il trovatore, Semiramide, and Violetta in La traviata. As her voice matured, she took on weightier parts in operas like L'Africaine, Les Huguenots, and Aida. Overall, though she was perhaps unadventurous and old-fashioned (she sang no verismo parts), her repertoire was quite large and varied.

It is related that impresario Maurice Strakosch presented Patti (his sister-in-law) to sing at Rossini's receptions in Paris. She sang "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, with fioriturae added by Strakosch to show off her voice. "What composition was that?", asked Rossini - "Why, maestro, your own" replied Strakosch. "Oh no, that is not my composition, that is Strakoschonnerie", Rossini retorted. ('Cochonnerie' is a strong French idiom indicating "garbage" and literally meaning "that which is characteristic of or fit for pigs.")[2]

Financial success and recordings

In her prime, Patti demanded to be paid $5000 a night, in gold, before the performance. Her contracts stipulated that her name be top-billed and larger than any other name in the cast. Her contracts also said that while she was "free to attend all rehearsals, she was not obligated to attend any."

In his memoirs, the famous impresario "Colonel" Mapleson recalled Patti's stubborn personality and sharp business sense. She reportedly had a parrot whom she had trained to shriek, "CASH! CASH!" whenever Mapleson walked in the room.

Patti caricatured by the French artist André Gill (1840-1885).

In 1893 Patti created the title role in Emilio Pizzi's Gabriella for its world premiere in Boston. Patti had commissioned Pizzi to write the opera for her. Her last tour to the United States in 1903 was a critical and personal failure. From then on she restricted herself to the occasional concert here or there, or to private performances at the little theater she built in her home at Craig-y-Nos in Wales.

Patti cut twenty-one (gramophone) recordings of songs and operatic arias (some of them duplicates) and one spoken voice recording (a new year's greeting to her husband) at her Welsh home in 1905 and 1906.[3] By then she was aged in her 60s, with her voice well past its prime. Many decades of busy use had weakened her breath control. Nonetheless, the limpid purity of her tone and the smoothness of her legato line remain uniquely impressive. The records also display a lively singing personality as well as a surprisingly strong chest voice and a mellow timbre. Her trill is wonderful and her diction excellent. Overall her discs have a charm and musicality that give us a hint of why, at her peak, she commanded $5,000 a night.

The records were produced by the Gramophone & Typewriter Company (the foreunner of HMV). Patti's piano accompanist Landon Ronald wrote: "When the little trumpet gave forth the beautiful tones, she went into ecstasies! She threw kisses into the trumpet and kept on saying, ‘Ah! Mon Dieu! Maintenant je comprends pourquoi je suis Patti! Oh oui! Quelle voix! Quelle artiste! Je comprends tout! [Ah! Goodness me! Now I understand why I am Patti! Oh yes! What a voice! What an artist! I understand everything!] Her enthusiasm was so naïve and genuine that the fact that she was praising her own voice seemed to us all to be right and proper."

Patti's complete surviving recordings were reissued on CD in 1998 by Marston Records (52011-2).

Personal life

Patti's personal life was not as successful as her professional life. It was not as disastrous as that of many operatic singers. She is thought by some to have had a dalliance with the tenor Giovanni Mario, who is said to have bragged at Patti's first wedding that he had already "made love to her many times."

Engaged as a minor to Henri de Lossy, Baron of Ville,[4] Patti married three times: first, in 1868, to Henri de Roger de Cahusac, marquess of Caux (1826-1889). The marriage soon collapsed; both had affairs and de Caux was granted a legal separation in 1877 and divorced in 1885. The union was dissolved with bitterness and cost her half her fortune. There was a report in The New York Times in April 1875 that the Marquis was killed in a duel in St Petersburg whilst Adelina was fulfilling a professional engagement.

Adelina Patti

She then lived with the tenor Ernesto Nicolini (1834-1898) for many years until, following her divorce from Caux, she was able to marry him in 1886. That marriage lasted until his death and was seemingly happy, but Nicolini cut Patti out of his will, suggesting some tension in the last years.

Patti's last marriage, in 1899, was to Baron Rolf Cederström (1870–1947), a priggish, but handsome, Swedish aristocrat many years her junior. He severely curtailed Patti's social life. He cut down her domestic staff from 40 to 18, but gave her the devotion and flattery that she needed. He became Patti's sole legatee. After her death, he married a woman much younger than he. Their only daughter, Brita Yvonne Cederström (born 1924), became Adelina Patti's sole heir.

Patti had no children, but was close to her nieces and nephews. The Tony Award-winning Broadway actress and singer Patti LuPone is a great-grand niece and namesake.

In her retirement, Adelina Patti, Baroness Cederström, settled in the Swansea valley in south Wales, where she purchased Craig-y-Nos Castle.[5] There she had her own private theatre, a miniature version of the one at Bayreuth.[6] She made some of her recordings at Craig-y-Nos.

She also funded the substantial station building at Craig y Nos/Penwyllt on the Neath and Brecon Railway.[7] In 1918, she presented the Winter Garden building from her Craig-y-Nos estate to the city of Swansea. It was re-erected and renamed the Patti Pavilion. She died at Craig-y-Nos and eight months later was buried near her father at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.


  • Cone, Frederick (2003). Adelina Patti: Queen of Hearts. New York: Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 0931340608. 
  • Klein, Herman (1977). Andrea Hicks. ed. The Reign of Patti. Opera Biographies. New York: Arno Press. ISBN 0405096860. 
  • Mapleson, James Henry (1966). Harold Rosenthal. ed. The Mapleson Memoirs; The Career of an Operatic Impresario, 1858-1888. New York: Appleton-Century. ISBN 0370000803. 
  • Scott, Michael. The Record of Singing to 1914. Duckworth. ISBN 0715610309. 


  1. ^ Bronx County Clerk's Office
  2. ^ Wilhelm Koch (Ed.), Aus meinem Kunst- und Bühnenleben. Erinnerungen des Bassisten Karl Formes (Cologne 1888).
  3. ^ Discography compiled by W. R. Moran and appears in the appendix to Klein's Reign of Patti referenced above.
  4. ^ George Putnam Upton, "Musical Memories: My Recollections of Celebrities of the Half Century, 1850-1900" (AC McClurg, 1908), page 40
  5. ^ Upper Swansea Valley - Craig-y-nos Castle 1 at
  6. ^ Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales University of Wales Press (2008) [ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6]
  7. ^ Another view of Craig y Nos / Penwyllt looking south on 14th April 2006. It has been documented that the substantial station building was funded by opera singer Adelina Patti who lived at Craig-Y-Nos Castle

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