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Mara, Gertrud (Elisabeth née Schmeling)

Mara, Gertrud (Elisabeth née Schmeling)

Mara, Gertrud (Elisabeth née Schmeling), famous German soprano; b. Kassel, Feb. 23, 1749; d. Reval, Russia, Jan. 20, 1833. A neglected child, she suffered from disfiguring rickets; her father exhibited her as a violin prodigy in Vienna (1755), and she later played before the Queen (1759); then studied voice with Paradisi. In 1765 she returned to Germany and became a principal singer at Hiller’s concerts in Leipzig (1766); then made her operatic debut in Dresden (1767), but soon returned to Leipzig. She subsequently entered the service of Frederick the Great (1771), singing at the Berlin Royal Opera. Her marriage to the cellist Johann Baptist Mara (1746–1808) brought her grief, for Frederick opposed their union; when the couple tried to leave Leipzig, Frederick had them arrested. However, he eventually consented to their marriage after Gertrud agreed to remain at the Berlin Royal Opera; during this period, she also received instruction in harmony from Kirnberger. In 1779 she finally escaped Berlin, and subsequently sang in other German cities, in the Low Countries, and in Vienna (1780–81); appeared at the Concert Spirituel in Paris (1782), and again as a rival to Todi (1783). In 1784 she went to London, where she gained renown as a result of her participation in the Handel Commemoration performances; subsequently appeared at the King’s Theatre there (1786–91) and also in Turin (1788) and Venice (1789–90; 1792); thereafter mainly in concerts and oratorios in London until 1802, when she and her lover, the flutist and composer Charles Florio, left to tour France, Germany, and Austria; they finally landed in Moscow, but soon separated. Stricken with poverty, she was forced to eke out a meager existence as a teacher. After losing everything in the French destruction of Moscow (1812), she went to Reval as a teacher. In 1819 she made a brief and unsuccessful return to London’s King’s Theatre, then returned to Reval. During the glory days of her career, her voice ranged from g’ to e”.


G. Grosheim, Das Leben der Künstlerin M. (Kassel, 1823; reprint, 1972); G. Burkli, G.E. M. (Zürich, 1835); R. Kaulitz-Niedeck, Die M.: Das Leben einer berühmten Sängerin (Heilbronn, 1929).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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