Categories: Spanish Notables.
A Spanish mezzo-soprano who commonly sang both contralto and soprano parts, and was one of the most famous opera singers of the 19th century. Malibran was known for her stormy personality and dramatic intensity, becoming a legendary figure after her death at age 28. Contemporary accounts of her voice describe its range, power and flexibility as extraordinary.
Malibran was born in Paris as María Felicitas García Sitchez into a famous Spanish musical family. Her father, Manuel García, was a celebrated tenor much admired by Rossini, having created the role of Count Almaviva in his The Barber of Seville. García was also a composer and an influential vocal instructor, and he was her first voice teacher. He was described as inflexible and tyrannical; the lessons he gave his daughter became constant quarrels between two powerful egos.
Malibran first appeared on stage in Naples with her father in Paër’s Agnese, when she was 8 years old. When she was 17, she was a singer in the choir of the King's Theatre in London. When prima donna Giuditta Pasta became indisposed, García suggested that his daughter take over in the role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville. The audience loved the young mezzo, and she continued to sing this role until the end of the season.
In New York, she met and hastily married a banker, Francois Eugene Malibran, who was 28 years her senior. It is thought that her father forced Maria to marry him in return for the banker's promise to give Manuel García 100,000 francs. However, according to other accounts, she married simply to escape her tyrannical father. A few months after the wedding, her husband declared bankruptcy, and Maria was forced to support him through her performances. After a year, she left Malibran and returned to Europe.
She became romantically involved with the Belgian violinist, Charles Auguste de Bériot. The pair lived together as a common-law couple for six years and a child was born to them in 1833 (the piano pedagogue Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot), before Maria obtained an annulment of her marriage to Malibran. Felix Mendelssohn wrote an aria accompanied by a solo violin especially for the couple.
In 1834, Malibran moved to England and began to perform in London. In late May 1836, she starred in The Maid of Artois, written for her by Balfe. Earlier that year she had returned to Milan to sing the title role in the premiere of Vaccai's Giovanna Gray.
In July 1836, Malibran fell from her horse and suffered injuries from which she never recovered. She refused to see a physician and continued to perform. In September 1836 Malibran was in Manchester participating in a music festival at the collegiate church and Theatre Royal on Fountain Street. She collapsed on stage while performing encores at the theatre, but insisted on performing in the church the following morning and died after a week of agony, attended by her private physician. Her body was temporarily buried in the church after a public funeral before being moved to a mausoleum in Laeken Cemetery, near Brussels in Belgium.
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