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Pauline Viardot

July 18, 1821 - May 18, 1910
born in Paris, France, composed during the Romantic period
One of the most celebrated singers of the nineteenth century, Pauline Viardot was a favorite Meyerbeer heroine, was involved with Berlioz in the Gluck revival, inspired characters in the novels of George Sand and Ivan Turgenev, became an influential voice teacher, and composed many songs and operas of her own.

Daughter of the Spanish voice pedagogue Manuel del Popolo García and sister of the equally famous but short-lived singer Maria Malibran, Pauline Viardot studied voice with both her parents, composition with Anton Reicha, and piano with, among others, Franz Liszt. When she was 15 her sister died, whereupon Pauline focused her attention on singing. She made her debut the next year, bursting into public life as a three-octave mezzo, and was soon on tour, accompanying herself on the piano in her own songs. Schumann was sufficiently inspired to dedicate his Opus 24 Heine songs to her.

She soon became a fixture of the Théâtre Italien in Paris, specializing in Rossini. She attracted the attention of Berlioz, and eventually appeared in his Les Troyens and Béatrice et Bénédict. In 1840 she married the theater's director, Louis Viardot. The couple toured Europe incessantly, Louis as Pauline's accompanist, and while in St. Petersburg in the mid 1840s she developed an avid interest in Russian music and in Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev. Viardot and Turgenev were rumored to be lovers, with Turgenev perhaps even fathering one of Viardot's children; this remains unproven, but Turgenev did contrive to live near the Viardot family for the rest of his life.

Viardot made a triumphant return to Paris in the 1849 premiere of Meyerbeer's Le Prophète; that opera's role of Fidès became one of her specialties. Ten years later, Berlioz revamped Gluck's Orphée with Viardot in the title role; the singer would also find success in Gluck's Alceste, and for Verdi was an impressive Lady Macbeth.

Viardot retired from the stage in 1863; she, her husband, and children, and Turgenev, moved to Baden-Baden, where she became a much in-demand vocal teacher. She began writing a string of charming little operas with Turgenev librettos and she was the center of attention in the 1870 premiere of Brahms' Alto Rhapsody. Soon after that, Viardot returned permanently to Paris. Through her career she wrote more than 100 songs on texts by leading poets; arranged vocal versions of Chopin mazurkas, and she published a manual that sheds much light on nineteenth century vocal performance practice. ~ James Reel, Rovi
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