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Pasta, Giuditta (1797–1865)

Pasta, Giuditta (1797–1865)

Italian soprano. Born Giuditta Maria Costanza Negri in Saronno near Milan, Italy, on October 26, 1797; died in Blevio, Lake Como, Italy, on April 1, 1865; studied at the Conservatory of Milan with Bartolomeo Lotto and Giuseppe Scappa.

Debuted (1815); debuted in Paris (1816), London (1817), Vienna (1829), St. Petersburg (1840); created title roles in Pacini's Niobe (1826), Donizetti's Anna Bolena (1830), Bellini's Norma and Amina in La sonnambula (1831).

One of 19th-century Europe's greatest sopranos, Giuditta Pasta influenced Italy's finest romantic composers, Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848), Vincenzo Bellini (1801–1835), and Gioacchino Rossini (1792–1868), all of whom wrote operas for her. Pasta was one of three sopranos who helped mould the first years of the romantic period of opera. She was a superstar along with Henriette Sontag and Maria Malibran .

An Italian of Jewish origin, Pasta was born in Milan, Italy, in 1797. She received her early training from Giuseppe Scappa and Davide Banderali, and made her debut in the première of Scappa's opera Le tre Eleonore, in 1816. This was followed by performances at the Théâtre Italien in Paris in Paer's Il principe di Taranto (1816), and at the King's Theater in London, where she appeared as Telemachus in Cimarosa's Penelope (1817). Pasta then embarked on another year of study, returning to the stage in Pacini's Adelaide Comingo in 1819, in Venice. A subsequent tour of all the major opera centers in Italy culminated in her performance as Desdemona in Rossini's Otello, at the Théâtre Italien in 1821, a triumphant appearance that established her as a major talent.

Pasta's career hit its zenith between 1821 and 1831. She returned to London as Desdemona in 1824, and also performed Zerlina and Semiramide. Highly acclaimed were her portrayals of Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula (1831), and the title role in his Norma (1831), which she sang for her debut at Milan's La Scala, in 1831. Pasta's repertoire also included the title roles in Donizetti's Anna Bolena (1830), Pacini's Niobe (1826), and Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda, and she excelled as Strauss' Electra, Salome, and the Dyer's Wife as well as Marie in Wozzek, all intense roles.

Pasta's brilliance apparently had as much to do with her acting as it did with her vocal quality, which was criticized as uneven toward the end of her career. "Pasta's greatness lay in her naturalness, truth of expression and individual timbre, which enabled her within a phrase, to achieve soul-stirring emotion," writes Kenneth Stern. "She could execute intricate fioritura but channelled her bravura to illuminate the drama, though she was often criticized for faulty intonation. An accomplished actress, her department and portrayal of dignity were without peer."

Pasta formally retired from the stage in 1835, although she continued to make occasional appearances, performing in London in 1837, and in Berlin and Russia in 1840–41. Eventually, it is said, she tired of competing with her own legend. Her last engagement, for which she received $40,000, was with the opera in St. Petersburg, after which she retired to her villa near Lake Como. She died in 1865.


Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol 3. London: Macmillan Press, 1992.

Uglow, Jennifer S., ed. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1985.

suggested reading:

Ferranti-Giulini, M. Giuditta Pasta e i suoi tempi, 1935.

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