Grisi, Giulia

1811-1869

Illustrious dramatic soprano; born in Milan; the daughter of an officer in Napoleon's army. She came from a family of singers, Josephina Grassini being her mother's sister, while her sister Giuditta, six years her senior, was a celebrated mezzosoprano. From this sister Giulia probably received her first lessons, but she was soon placed in the Conservatory of Milan, under Marliani. For three years she studied at Bologna under Giacomo Guglielmi, and later under Celli, with whom she remained only three months, but from whom she gained much. At the age of seventeen she made her debut at Milan in Rossini's Zelmina, an unimportant part, but so well sung as to delight all concerned, including Rossini, who prophesied for her a remarkable career, and also procured for her an immediate engagement for the season. She appeared within the year as the prima donna in several operas, one written especially for her. Her youth and inexperience led her to accept a six years' engagement with a shrewd and unprincipled manager at a figure far below her real worth. After two years of singing under these conditions she became dissatisfied with the terms and urged in vain a release from her contract. She escaped to Paris, where her sister and aunt were then stationed, and at once secured an engagement, Rossini offering her the place just left vacant by Malibran, a most unusual compliment; and her first Parisian appearance was made in the title role of his Semiramide. From this time forth her triumph was complete.

From 1832 to 1849 she was engaged almost constantly at the Theatre des Italians, alternating from 1834 with the London season, where she appeared first as Ninetta in La Gazza Ladra, at once winning the enthusiastic admiration of the usually cold English opera-goers and critics. Sfye was said to be unapproachable in her dramatic portrayal of Norma. Her voice was sweet, rich, and even through its compass of two octaves, and her execution was faultless. Her personal beauty and charm were such that, combined with her voice and great dramatic gifts, she retained for years the admiration she at first inspired. Her marriage in 1836 to Count de Melcy proved unhappy, but did not long interrupt her career; a divorce took place and some years after she married the tenor, Mario, with whom she had long been associated in opera. She did not retire from London opera until 1861, and five years later reappeared at Her Majesty's Theatre, greatly to the surprise of her audience. After this she occasionally appeared in concert, to which she was entirely equal. She died while on a visit to Berlin. She had delighted the public for about thirty-five years, an unusually long career for a vocalist.