Patti, Adelina (1843–1919)

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Patti, Adelina (1843–1919)

Spanish-born soprano who was one of the greatest of her century. Pronunciation: pa-TEE. Name variations: Marchioness de Caux; Baroness Cederström or Cederstrom. Born Adelina Juana Maria Patti on February 19, 1843, in Madrid, Spain; died on September 27, 1919, at Craig-y-Nos Castle, Brecknockshire, Wales; daughter of Salvatore Patti (an Italian singer) and Caterina Chiesa Barili-Patti (a Spanish singer known before her marriage as Signora Barili); younger sister of Carlotta Patti (1835–1889), a singer, and Amelia Patti, who married Maurice Strakosch; raised and educated in New York City; married Louis de Cahuzac, marquis de Caux, in 1868 (divorced 1885); married Ernesto Nicolini (a tenor), in 1885 (died 1898); married Baron Rolf Cederström, in 1899; no children.

Debuted at Covent Garden (1861), Berlin (1861), Brussels (1862), Paris (1862), Vienna (1863), Paris Opéra (1867), Teatro alla Scala (1877), Metropolitan (1887); retired (1906); appeared in recitals 1906–14).

The Spanish-born soprano Adelina Patti was the most renowned singer in Europe and the United States for over 30 years. She was born in 1843, the youngest of three children, into a family of opera singers and musicians. Her parents were opera performers well known in Europe by the time of Patti's birth in Madrid, where they were on tour. Her Italian father was Salvatore Patti; her Spanish mother was Caterina Chiesa Barili-Patti , known before her marriage as Signora Barili. Caterina also had four children from an earlier marriage, and all seven of her children would enjoy successful careers as singers.

When Adelina Patti was four the family moved to New York, where her father became an opera house manager. Her half-brother Ettore Barili gave Patti voice lessons starting at age five; by the age of seven Adelina was recognized as a child prodigy and the next year she gave her debut concert at New York City's Tripler Hall. Audiences and critics at subsequent concerts were stunned by the maturity, range, and purity of her voice. Her success in New York led to a three-year tour of American cities, unprecedented for such a young child, from 1851 to 1854. A second concert tour followed in 1857. Patti's sister Amelia Patti was married to the renowned pianist Maurice Strakosch; he took care of Adelina while on tour and served as her manager, instructor, and accompanist. She received only a minimal education, although her family background and musical training made her fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, and English. Her parents and Strakosch continued training Patti in the demands of operatic singing until they felt she was prepared to sing opera professionally. They arranged for her critically praised debut in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor at the New York Academy of Music in 1859; she was 16, and would perform in opera continually for the next half-century, enjoying a career that was decades longer than that of most opera singers. Soon after her debut Patti faced serious family crises, as her father's struggling opera house failed and her mother left the family in 1860 to return to Rome. Patti then began to provide much of the family's income through her performances.

She toured the eastern United States and the West Indies from 1859 to 1861. In 1861, she went abroad, under the care of her father and Strakosch, to perform in La sonnambula at the Covent Garden opera house in London. She was enthusiastically received in London, where she was to perform every autumn for 25 years.

Patti remained on tour in Europe virtually continuously for 20 years, not returning to New York until 1881. She played to crowded houses in Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, Paris, and across Italy. The operatic roles she chose ranged from light comedy, which she preferred, to tragedy, but whatever role she appeared in, critics were universal in their praise of her acting ability and the emotive power of her voice.

While in Paris in 1866, through her friendship with Empress Eugénie , Patti met the aristocrat Louis de Cahuzac, marquis de Caux, who served as a personal servant to the French emperor Napoleon III. They wished to marry but the marquis was not allowed to retain his privileged position at the French court if he married a working woman. Since Patti would not consider giving up her career, de Caux eventually resigned his post. This freed the couple to marry in 1868, when the new marchioness was 25 years old and her husband 42; however, the marriage lasted less than a decade, and they obtained a legal separation in 1877. As Patti was by then a celebrity throughout Europe and the United States, her marital problems brought scandal to the opera world and were the subject of often sensationalistic newspaper articles in many of the countries she had performed in. In the divorce suit, de Caux charged Patti with an adulterous affair with her co-star, Italian tenor Ernesto Nicolini. She admitted to the affair, but maintained in her defense that de Caux was jealous, controlling, and violent, and that he allowed her no access to her substantial income. The divorce would be finalized in 1885, when de Caux was awarded a settlement of $300,000 from Patti. Freed at last from her unhappy marriage, Patti married Nicolini a few months later.

Despite her personal problems during the separation and divorce, Patti continued to travel widely. She did a concert tour on her return to New York in 1881, followed by two operatic tours of the United States. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, she was the most highly paid and most visible singer in Europe and the United States, receiving press coverage for her appearances as well as for her shocking personal life, legendary jewel collection, enormous wealth, and for her demanding, often capricious personality. She maintained homes across Europe, where she was friends with and frequently host to Europe's royalty and aristocracy. Her fame even led to mentions in contemporary literature and drama, such as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Patti gave a farewell performance at the New York Metropolitan Opera House in 1887. She and Nicolini then left for another extended tour abroad, performing in Spain and Argentina. In 1895, at age 52, Patti gave six farewell appearances at Covent Garden. She and Nicolini

then went into semi-retirement on an estate in Wales called Craig-y-Nos Castle which Patti had purchased some years before, and where she lived with Nicolini prior to their marriage. Patti adopted Wales as the native land she had never truly had, and was respected by the Welsh for her generosity to charitable causes and to her poor neighbors.

Ernesto Nicolini died in 1898. Patti, age 56, remarried a year later. Her third husband, a Swedish aristocrat named Baron Rolf Cederström, was a former military officer who, at the time Patti met him in 1897, was director of the Health Gymnastic Institute in London. At the time of their marriage, Cederström was only 28; their age difference and his occupation made the renowned opera star once again the subject of a flood of news articles and gossip columns.

The urgings of Patti's American fans called her back to the stage in 1903, when she began her last operatic tour at New York's Carnegie Hall. Although Patti was by then considerably older than most opera singers were at retirement, audiences were still moved by her powerful performances. In 1906, at age 63, she made her formal farewell appearance at Albert Hall in London. She also made numerous recordings which have preserved her work and demonstrate the remarkable purity and range which captivated her admirers and which had once led the composer Giuseppe Verdi to call Patti the greatest voice he had ever heard.

Adelina Patti was called out of retirement to perform occasionally at charity events in Wales and England through 1914, when she left the stage for good at age 71. She spent the remaining five years of her life at Craig-y-Nos Castle, where she died in 1919, at age 76. At her wish, her husband buried her in the celebrity cemetery Père Lachaise in Paris. He eventually remarried, selling Craig-y-Nos Castle to the Welsh National Memorial Association which converted it into the Adelina Patti Hospital. The hospital remained in operation until 1986, when the castle and its grounds were turned into a national park and cultural center.


Cone, John F. Adelina Patti: Queen of Hearts. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1993.

Klein, Herman. The Reign of Patti. NY: Century Press, 1920.

Lauw, L. Fourteen Years with Adelina Patti. New York and London, 1884.

Laura York , Riverside, California

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Patti, Adelina (1843–1919)

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