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Billington, Elizabeth (née Weichsel)

Billington, Elizabeth (née Weichsel)

Billington, Elizabeth (née Weichsel), famous English soprano; b. London, Dec. 27, 1765; d. near Venice, Aug. 25, 1818. Her mother, a singer, was a pupil of Johann Christian Bach, and Elizabeth, too, had some lessons with him. She received her early musical training from her father, a German oboist. She also studied with James Billington, a double-bass player by profession, whom she married on Oct. 13, 1783. Her operatic debut took place in Dublin (1784), as Eurydice in Gluck’s opera. She went to London, where she appeared as Rosetta in Love in a Village at Co vent Garden on Feb. 13, 1786. Her success was immediate: she was reengaged at Covent Garden and also sang at the Concerts of Antient Music in London. Her career was briefly disrupted by the publication, in 1792, of anonymous Memoirs attacking her private life. This was immediately followed by an equally anonymous rebuttal, “written by a gentleman” defending her reputation. In 1794 she went to Italy, where she sang for the King of Naples. He made arrangements for her appearances at the San Carlo, where she performed in operas by Bianchi, Paisiello, Paer, and Himmel, all written specially for her. After her husband died in 1794, she remained in Italy for 2 more years, then lived in France, where she married M. Felissent. Returning to London in 1801, she sang alternately at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, with great acclaim, at 4, 000 guineas a season. This period was the peak of her success. She retired in 1809, except for occasional performances. After a temporary separation from Felissent, she returned to him in 1817. They settled at their estate at St. Artien, near Venice.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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