Marietta Alboni

Marietta Alboni, 1855

Marietta Alboni (March 6, 1826[1] – June 23, 1894) was a renowned Italian contralto opera singer. Together with the charismatic Maria Malibran, she was considered the greatest deeper-voiced female singer of the nineteenth century.[2]



Alboni was born at Città di Castello, in Umbria. She became a pupil of Antonio Bagioli of Cesena, Emilia–Romagna, and later of the composer Gioachino Rossini, when he was the principal of the Liceo Musicale of Bologna. He tested the humble thirteen-year-old girl himself, had her admitted to the school with special treatment, and even procured her an early engagement to tour Stabat Mater through Northern Italy, so that she could pay the completion of her course.[3] Finally, after she had got her diploma and made a modest debut in Bologna, in 1842, as Climene in Pacini’s Saffo, Rossini decided to exert his influence on the impresario Bartolomeo Merelli, Intendant at both Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and Vienna’s Imperial Burgtheater, and got her a triennial engagement; the contract was signed by Rossini himself, as “the mandatary of Eustachio Alboni”, father of Marietta who was still a minor.[4] The singer, besides eventually growing one of the greatest Rossini interpreters in history, remained, throughout her life, deeply grateful and absolutely devoted to her ancient “maestro”, nearly a second father to her.

Her debut at the Teatro alla Scala took place in 1842 as Neocle in the Italian version of Le siege de Corinthe, which was followed by roles in operas by Marliani, Donizetti (Maffio Orsini), Salvi and Pacini. In the season 1844/1845 she was engaged in the Saint Petersburg Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, while, in 1846/47, she toured all the principal cities of Central Europe, finally reaching London and Paris. While in London, “she appeared in leading roles by Rossini and Donizetti (where she outshone Giulia Grisi and Jenny Lind) and also sang Cherubino (performing with Henriette Sontag)”.[5] For the 1848 London run of Les Huguenots, Meyerbeer transposed the role of the page Urbain 'from soprano to contralto and composed the aria "Non! – non, non, non, non, non! Vouz n'avez jamais, je gage" in Act 2' for her.[6] She toured the United States in 1852/53, appearing there with Camilla Urso.

Viardot and Alboni in Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, Covent Garden 1848

In 1853 she wed a nobleman, Count Carlo Pepoli, of the Papal States,[7] but kept her maiden name for the stage. In 1863 she had to retire the first time on account of her husband’s serious mental illness. He died in 1867, and a year later, in 1868, Alboni would take part in the funeral of her beloved master and friend, Rossini, in the Paris Église de la Sainte-Trinité.[8] There she sang, alongside Adelina Patti, the leading soprano of the era, a stanza of Dies irae, "Liber scriptum", adjusted to the music of the duet "Quis est Homo" from Rossini’s own Stabat Mater. Out of deference to her master, she also accepted to re-enter her singing career mainly in order to tour the orchestral version of the Petite messe solennelle through Europe. She felt it as a moral duty since Rossini had once expressed his hope that she would take upon herself to perform it when he was dead. For, —he had said— he had composed it, and especially the new section "O salutaris", just having her voice in mind.[9]

In 1872 she definitively retired from the stage with four performances of Fidalma of Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, at the Paris Théâtre des Italiens[10] but, in fact, she never gave up singing in private. And when, in 1887, the French and Italian Governments agreed upon moving the mortal remains of Rossini back to Italy, to be buried in the Basilica di Santa Croce, in Florence, Alboni put quill pen to paper. She was by then a stout sixty-one-year-old lady of wealth, living in seclusion and no longer used to travelling around; yet she wrote to the Italian Foreign Minister, Di Robilant, proposing that the Petite Messe Solennelle, “the last musical composition by Rossini”, be performed in Santa Croce the day the funeral would be held, and “demanding the honour, as an Italian and a school-pupil of the immortal Maestro, to sing [it herself] in [her] dear and beloved mother-country”. Her wish, however, never came true and she was just given the chance of being present, in mourning and tears, at the exhumation ceremony. The Paris correspondent of the Rome newspaper "Il fanfulla" wrote on the occasion: “photographers snapped in the same shot her who was the greatest performer of Cenerentola and Semiramide, and what is left of him who wrote these masterpieces”.[11]

In 1877 she had remarried—to a French military officer named Charles Zieger. She died at Ville-d'Avray, near Paris, in her "Villa La Cenerentola", and was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Always engaged in charity (often in memory of her Maestro Rossini), she left nearly all her estate to the poor of Paris. In her will she wrote that by singing she had earned all her fortune, and on singing she would pass away, with the sweet thought that she had employed it to encourage and to console.[12]

Free reproduction of an annotation of Marietta Alboni's own vocal range,
personally drawn by herself in a family album

Artistic features

Alboni's voice, an exceptionally fine contralto with a seamless compass of two and one-half octaves—extending as high as the soprano range[13]—was said to possess at once power, sweetness, fullness, and extraordinary flexibility. In passages requiring a sensitive delivery and semi-religious calmness she had no peers, owing to the emotionally moving quality of her velvety tone. She possessed vivacity, grace, and charm as an actress of the comédienne type; but she was not a natural tragédienne, and her attempt at the strongly dramatic part of Norma turned out to be an histrionic failure. Nevertheless, she scored a real triumph in 1750, when she insisted upon making her operatic debut at the Paris Opéra performing the role of Fidès in Meyerbeer's Le prophète, which had just been created the year before by no less than Pauline Viardot.[14] Furthermore, she was able to cope with such dramatic roles as Azucena and Ulrica in Verdi's Il trovatore and Un ballo in maschera, and even with the baritone role of Don Carlo in Ernani (London, 1847).[13]


The following list of the roles performed by Marietta Alboni was drawn up by Arthur Pougin and published in his biography of the singer.[15] It is reported here with the addition of further works and character names according to the sources stated in footnotes.

Marietta Alboni
carte de visite
by André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri


  1. ^ date stated by both Ciliberti and Pougin; the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica gives the year as 1823
  2. ^ Citation: Entry in New International Encyclopedia. Malibran, however, was (in modern terminology) a mezzo-soprano who often sang soprano roles.
  3. ^ of course Rossini himself taught her the part and she later told that all her life long she had kept singing exactly the same variations ("cambiamenti") he had recommended to her (Pougin, 2001, p. 25)
  4. ^ Pougin, 2001, pp. 19-26
  5. ^ Ciliberti
  6. ^ Owen Jander, J.B. Steane, Elizabeth Forbes, Contralto, in S. Sadie, cited, I, p. 934
  7. ^ he bore almost the same name (his full name, however, was Achille Francesco Luigi Carlo Maria, Count Pepoli) and was a distant relative of Carlo Pepoli, the librettist of Bellini’s I puritani (Pougin, 2001, p. 77)
  8. ^ their relationship was still so close that, not having a family vault of his own in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Rossini was temporarily buried in Alboni’s (Pougin, 2001, p. 110, note 66)
  9. ^ Pougin, 2001, pp. 86-89
  10. ^ Pougin, 2001, p. 93
  11. ^ Pougin, 2001, pp. 108-110
  12. ^ Pougin, 2001, p. 111
  13. ^ a b "She was a real contralto from f3 to g5, then, up to c6, she was an excellent soprano. Which enabled her to interpret, with some adjustments ('con qualche «accomodo»'), also Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Amina in La sonnambula and Marie in La fille du régiment (Celletti, pp. 243–244)
  14. ^ Pougin, 2001, pp. 57–67
  15. ^ Pougin, 2001, p. 115-116
  16. ^ Pougin does not mention the character, but it is that of Neocle, transposed for contralto in the Italian version of the opera, and Alboni’s debut role at the Teatro alla Scala (italianOpera, accessed 17. October 2011)
  17. ^ the première of this opera was performed at Prague in 1846 (William Ashbrook, Gordigiani. (2) Gordigiani, Giovanni Battista, in Stanley Sadie, II, p. 489); it should hence be a role created by Alboni
  18. ^ the character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in Jacques Gheusi, Histoire du Théâtre des Italiens de Paris. Neuvième et Dixième époques: 1852-1878, «Avant-scène opéra Paris», N° 65 (supplement), 1984 (Adelaide Borghi-Mamo performed the castrato role of Armando and Rosina Penco that of Palmide)
  19. ^ the character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in the original libretto (cf. italianOpera, accessed 17 October 2011); it is a role created by Alboni (Milan, 1844). According to Casaglia, Alboni performed, instead, a would-be role of Eudossia, which is not even stated by the original libretto among the others characters of this opera
  20. ^ performance not mentioned by Pougin, but stated by Gherardo Casaglia
  21. ^ a b the character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported by Gherardo Casaglia
  22. ^ the character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in the original libretto (cf. italianOpera, accessed 15 October 2011); it is a role created by Alboni (Milan, 1843)
  23. ^ the character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in Charles H. Parsons (ed), Opera premieres: an index of casts. M - Z, Lewiston (NY), Mellen (opera reference index), 1992, p. 1141, ISBN 0889464138; it is a role created by Alboni (Milan, 1843)
  24. ^ the character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in Frederick J. Crowest, Verdi: Man and Musician. His Biography with Especial Reference to his English Experiences, Londra, Milne, 1897, p. 99 (accessible for free online in Open; given the minor nature of the part, however, Alboni would “[substitute] a cavatina for the original duet of the opera” (the part was sung at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, 1858)
  25. ^ a b not mentioned by Pougin
  26. ^ not mentioned by Pougin; source: Gherardo Casaglia; it was a première (Bologna, 1842)
  27. ^ it was a première (Paris, 1851)
  28. ^ the character name is not mentioned by Pougin; in his biography of Balfe, however, William Alexander Barret states that the two primadonnas of La Zingara (an Italian version of The bohemian girl, which was given in the first experimental winter season at Her Majesty's Theatre, in 1858) were Alboni and Marietta Piccolomini (Balfe: His Life and Work, London, Remington, 1882, p. 229; accessible for free online in Open; considering that the latter certainly performed the soprano leggiero part of Arline, (cf., for instance, Music with ease, accessed 15 October 2011), it follows that Alboni interpreted the role of the Queen of the Gypsies


  • (Italian) Rodolfo Celletti, La grana della voce. Opere, direttori e cantanti, 2nd edition (Milano, 2000). ISBN 88-80-89-781-0
  • Henry Fothergill Chorley (1862), Thirty Years' Musical Recollections. Hurst & Blackett, London, Volume II, The Year 1847, 8-13.[1]
  • Galliano Ciliberti, Alboni,Marietta, in S. Sadie, cited, I, p. 59
  • F. M. Colby and T. Williams (Eds.) (1917–1926), New International Encyclopedia (2nd Edition). Dodd, Mead & Co., The University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts.
  • G. T. Ferris, Great Singers (New York, 1893)
  • (French) Arthur Pougin, Marietta Alboni (Paris, 1912)
  • (Italian) Arthur Pougin, Marietta Alboni (Cesena, 2001) (traduzione di Michele Massarelli con aggiunte di Lelio Burgini al testo originale). ISBN 88-8312-178-3
  • Sadie, Stanley (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Grove (Oxford University Press), New York, 1997. ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2

External links

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