Mara, Gertrud (1749–1833)

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Mara, Gertrud (1749–1833)

German soprano who was one of the first opera singers to become internationally famous . Name variations: Gertrude Elizabeth Mara; Gertrud Elisabeth Mara; Madame Mara. Born Gertrud Elisabeth Schmeling in Cassel, Germany, on February 23, 1749; died in Revel or Reval (present-day Tallinn), Russia, on January 20, 1833; studied violin; studied with Paradisi in London and Hiller at Leipzig; married Johann Mara (a cellist), in 1773 (divorced 1799).

Gertrud Mara was born Gertrud Elisabeth Schmeling in Cassel, Germany, in 1749. She made a successful debut in Dresden around 1767 and was selected by Frederick II the Great, king of Prussia, to become a court singer in Berlin, much to the consternation of Mozart who deplored her singing and her arrogance. In 1773, against the king's wishes, Gertrud married Johann Mara, a dissolute cellist, who treated her badly. Frederick had granted approval of the marriage only if Mara promised to stay at Berlin for life. After much friction, she left the court in 1778 and toured the Continent, enjoying a celebrated rivalry with Luiza Todi .

In 1784, Mara journeyed to London, where she sang to equally enthusiastic audiences, notably at the Haymarket, and chiefly music by Handel. Though she was connected with the opera in London until 1791, singing in Nasolini's Andromaca and Cleopatra in Handel's Giulio Cesare, she was better suited for concerts and oratorios because of her small stature and poor acting. Her voice, however, has been described as one of great beauty and virtuosity with a range of G to E.

Having divorced Johann, Mara left London in 1802 with a flautist, Florio, with whom she successfully toured Paris, Vienna, and the German cities. Separating from Florio in 1893, she moved to Moscow and was living there in September 1812 when Napoleon's troops set fire to the city. Mara then settled in Reval (present-day Tallinn) and supported herself by teaching, eventually returning to London to sing in 1816.

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