Het is vandaag al 140 jaar geleden dat Thérèse Tietjens, een beroemde sopraan uit de negentiende eeuw, aan kanker is gestorven. Haar familienaam was een fameus understatement, zoals het bij Bianca Castafiori’s uit die tijd normaal was trouwens.

Thérèse Carolina Johanne Alexandra Tietjens  was of German birth but, according to some sources, Hungarian extraction. Tietjens received her vocal training in Hamburg and in Vienna. She studied with Heinrich Proch, who was also the teacher of Mme Peschka-Leutner and other prime donne. She made a successful debut at Hamburg in 1849 as Lucrezia Borgia in Donizetti’s opera, a work with which she was particularly associated all her professional life. [zie bovenstaande foto] She sang in Frankfurt from 1850 to 1856 and in Vienna from 1856–1859, but she made her career chiefly in London during the 1860s and 1870s. Among her achievements, she had introduced London to Gounod’s Faust and Mireille, Verdi’s Un ballo in mascheraLes vêpres siciliennes and La forza del destino, and Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor.

Toen ze nog maar pas in Engeland woonde (namelijk in 1861), kreeg ze het bezoek van een berooide landgenoot die haar om geld verzocht om zijn terugtocht naar Hamburg te betalen en tevens een aanbevelingsbrief om aan werk te geraken. Deze brief werd enige tijd later teruggevonden in een huis in de buurt waarin een roofmoord werd gepleegd. Het onderzoek werd toevertrouwd aan Jonathan Whicher en op die manier komt zij ook ter sprake in het boek “De vermoedens van Mr.Whicher” van Kate Summerscale (p.282). Op p.285 pleit zij overigens de verdachte van Whicher vrij door te bevestigen dat het niet de man was aan wie ze de brief en het geld had overhandigd. De beschuldigde zelf had overigens ook al verklaard dat hij bestolen was door een landgenoot die op hem geleek. Hij zou worden vrijgesproken.

During her prime, her powerful yet agile voice was said to span seamlessly a range of three octaves. Many opera historians consider her to have been the finest dramatic soprano of the second half of the 19th century. ‘Her voice was a dramatic soprano of magnificent quality, and her powers as an actress were supreme. The great volume and purity of her voice and her sympathetic and dignified acting combined to make her famous in strong dramatic parts,’ schreef Hugh Chisholm in 1911.

She also grew extremely large: in 1920, the veteran American baritone David Bispham could recall her appearance but not her voice. Shaw, in 1892, remembered how her performances of Lucrezia, of Semiramide, Valentine, Pamina and her Countess had established a sort of belief that all these characters must have been extremely overweight. The public had got used to going to see her, not the roles she performed. She had become loved for her private virtues as much as for her artistic gifts.

Herman Klein, who always retained his high opinion of Tietjens and her art, attended her last performance. It was Lucrezia at Her Majesty’s on 19 May 1877. She had known for some time that her body harboured a malignant growth, and she gave this performance prior to undergoing a surgical procedure designed to ease her affliction. She was really too ill to go on, but insisted. After each of the acts she fainted and had to be resuscitated, but while on stage showed no sign of her physical suffering, and only a few in the audience knew her condition. Her final scream, as Lucrezia realises that Gennaro is dead, sent a shudder through the house, and she did not shirk the painful fall to the stage at the close. The curtain rose twice to the applause, but she was again unconscious and lay motionless. The operation went ahead as planned but it was to no avail: she died in London on 3 October 1877. (Wikipedia)

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