Sontag, Henrietta

1806-1854

 

German soprano singer of great renown, perhaps the greatest singer of her century, and a beautiful' and fascinating woman, whose career was one unbroken series of triumphs. She was born at Coblentz, and received her early instruction in music from her mother, a clever and talented actress. She sang in opera at Darmstadt, in 1812, when she was only six. Her mother later placed her in the Conservatory at Prague, and while there she sang and acted in juvenile parts. She appeared in Boieldieu's Jean de Paris and La Dame Blanche in 1820 at the Prague Theatre, under Weber, then the director of the orchestra. She then studied singing at Vienna with Mme. Fodor-Mainville. When Weber heard her sing in 1823 he offered her the title role in Euryanthe. In 1824 she was engaged for the Leipsic Opera. That year she sang the principal soprano role in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Mass, and from that year her great reputation as a singer dates. She sang in Berlin and London and appeared in Paris in 1826, singing Rosina in The Barber of Seville to tumultuous applause. Sontag achieved a fame and popularity that has never been given to any other German singer. She was the idol of Europe and created the greatest enthusiasm wherever she appeared. She was called " the nightingale of the north," her voice being a soprano, especially brilliant in the high notes, and of exquisite purity and beauty. In appearance the singer was small, slender and graceful, with delicate features, fair hair and large blue eyes. In spite of her great beauty of face and voice, she lacked dramatic power and was seen at her best in works of a light order, excelling in the operas of Weber, Donizetti, Rossini, Mozart and Halevy. Berlioz attributed her unprecedented success and freedom from all criticisms to the fact that she was the possessor of a disposition of such sweetness and serenity as to disarm all criticism. In 1830 Sontag was married to Count Rossi of the diplomatic service of Germany and a member of an old distinguished family. The marriage was kept secret for a long time, but finally Court sanction was obtained and the singer retired from the operatic stage and accompanied her husband to the Netherlands. Her life with him was a very happy one, and she did not appear in public for eighteen years; but in 1848, when Rossi lost his fortune, she returned, with all her vocal powers unimpaired, and her art apparently only more fully developed during her long absence from the boards. The opera which she chose for her reappearance was Linda di Chamouni, by Donizetti, and she appeared in London. She also sang in the roles of Armina, Desdemona, and Susanna. In Paris in 1849 she sang in Donizetti's Don Pasquale, in I Puritani, La Tempesta, Don Giovanni and in The Daughter of the Regiment. She was also exceedingly popular in Semiramide and as Agatha in Der Freischütz. Mme. Sontag made a memorable tour of the United States in 1853, under the management of Bernard Ullman and her husband, Count Rossi. She sang in New York and in other cities of this country, and after her American tour was ended went to Mexico. While arrangements were being made for her appearance in opera there, she was stricken with the cholera and died. Her last appearance was made in the role of Lucrezia in Donizetti's opera. The body of the singer   was taken to Dresden and buried in a convent, near that city, where her sister was a nun.