Pauline Viardot was more than just a famed singer of her time. Today, she’s also increasingly remembered as a skilled composer.
Born on July 18, 1821 in Paris, she grew up with a musical family. Her father was a tenor, a singing teacher, a composer, and an impresario. Her sister was a professional singer. She spent her childhood traveling and learning piano and singing from her father.
After her father’s death, her mother, also a singer, took over the voice lessons. Despite wanting to be a pianist (she studied with Liszt and played frequently with Chopin), she started focusing on her singing eventually developing a vocal range that expanded from C3 to F6.
She made her opera debut as Desdemona in Rossini’s “Otello” in London and enjoyed a tremendous career that inspired a number of major opera composers, including Meyerbeer and Saint-Saëns; the latter actually dedicated “Samson et Dalila” to her and wanted Viardot to take on the title role, which she declined.
In addition to her vocal output, she also composed a number of works, including five salon operas and over 50 lieder.
She would die in 1910 at the age of 88.
Among the roles that she dominated was that of Eurydice in Gluck’s “Orphée et Eurydice.” She reportedly sang the role over 150 times, the first coming in Paris under the musical direction of Hector Berlioz.
Another opera that she performed often, especially in the 1840s, was “Don Giovanni.” She purchased the original manuscript for the opera in London and maintained it in her Parisian home where many notable artists, including Rossini and Tchaikovsky, visited it.
As for her compositions, “Cendrillon” is undeniably her most famed opera.
Watch and Listen
Here is a performance of her “Cendrillon.”