Schneider, Hortense (1833–1920)

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Schneider, Hortense (1833–1920)

French operatic soprano. Born in Bordeaux, France, on April 30, 1833; died in Paris, France, on May 6, 1920.

A tailor's daughter, Hortense Schneider was born in Bordeaux, France, in 1833, and undertook vocal studies there. She left home at age 16 and made her operatic debut in the city of Agen in 1853 in La Favorite, a work by the composer Inès. Said to be strikingly beautiful, she was noticed by the famous actor Berthelier, who introduced her to Jacques Offenbach, the most significant composer of comic opera in 19th-century France. Schneider quickly became the most famous operetta star in Paris, creating the leading roles in Offenbach's La Belle Hélène, Barbe-Bleue, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, La Vie Parisienne, and La Périchole. She also earned the consideration of composer Camille Saint-Saëns for the lead role in his weighty opera Samson and Delilah.

From the inception of her Paris career in 1855 until her retirement in 1878, she created leading roles in many productions. An international star, she appeared in London in 1867 and in St. Petersburg in 1872. Schneider was a realist who recognized that fame, youth and beauty were all fleeting, and she received in her dressing-room men who could help her face the future financially secure. Thus, she entertained, among others, the prince of Wales, Tsar Alexander II (who argued with his son Grand Duke Vladimir as to who would see Schneider first), Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the sultan of Turkey, the khedive of Egypt, and the king of Sweden.

For nearly two decades, she was the undisputed queen of the French musical stage; she was also very likely the most talked-about woman in Paris and the most celebrated grande horizontale of the time. Whether she was a great singer is difficult to determine, but she had personality and stage presence to spare. Schneider spent the last decades of her long life attending the theater and dispensing charity. She never ran out of funds, having accumulated a sizable collection of diamonds and rubies when she was young and desirable. In 1918 she vigorously applauded the young Yvonne Printemps , who was then appearing in La Revue de Paris; thus the former queen of the Second Empire passed the torch to the woman who would soon emerge as the musical stage queen of the Third Republic.


Aronson, Theo. The King in Love: King Edward VII's Mistresses: Lillie Langtry, Daisy Warwick, Alice Keppel and Others. NY: Harper & Row, 1988.

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Schneider, Hortense (1833–1920)

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