Giulia Grisi

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Giulia Grisi

Madame the Marquise, Giulia Grisi De Candia, better known as Giulia Grisi, the opera singer, (22 May 1811 in Milan, Italy – 29 November 1869 in Berlin, Germany) was a famous Italian opera singer and Lady member of the Italian nobility. She performed widely in Europe, toured the United States, and South America and was considered to be one of the leading sopranos of the 19th century.

Grisi was related to the Royal House of Greece and she was the wife of Giovanni Matteo Mario de Candia, a noble Lord (Cavaliere), Prince and Marquis of the Kingdom of Sardinia. She is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris—where is buried with her second husband, Sir Giovanni Matteo de Candia (known as "Mario the tenor"). Her grave is marked Giulia de Candia, thus using de Candia's name.[1][2]


Giulia Grisi as Norma
"La Marquise, Juliette de Candia", née Giulia Grisi - photographed circa 1860

Born in Milan, Giulia Grisi was the daughter of one of Napoleon Bonaparte's Italian officers. She came from a musically gifted family, her maternal aunt Giuseppina Grassini (1773–1850) being a favourite opera singer both on the continent and in London. Her older sister, Giuditta and her cousin Carlotta were both artistes, too, the former as a singer and the latter as a ballet dancer. Giuditta was the creator of the pants-role of Romeo in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi.[1]

Not surprisingly, Giulia was trained for a musical career, and she made her stage debut as Emma in Rossini's Zelmira in Bologna in 1828. Rossini and Bellini both took an interest in her, and at Milan she was the first to play the part of Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma, in which the dramatic soprano Giuditta Pasta took the title role.

Grisi appeared in Paris in 1832, as Semiramide in Rossini's opera, and had a great success; in 1834 she made her debut in London as Ninetta in La gazza ladra; and, again in Paris, in 1835 she created the role of Elvira in Bellini's I puritani at the Théâtre-Italien. In 1842, Donizetti wrote the parts of Norina and Ernesto in Don Pasquale for Grisi and Giovanni Matteo De Candia, usually known by his stage-name of Mario, who was to become the love of her life.[1]

Her voice was described as a dramatic soprano which, during her prime, was praised by music critics for its exceptional beauty, even-ness and smoothness. In total, her career spanned 30 years. She was a noted actress and, in London, she appeared regularly with such eminent singers as Luigi Lablache, Giovanni Rubini and Antonio Tamburini.,[1] not to mention Mario. Indeed, the prickly press commentator Henry Chorley praised her and Mario for their success in establishing Italian opera as an important component of the musical scene in London.

In 1854, she and Mario undertook a lucrative tour of the United States of America, where they were treated as major international celebrities.

Grisi had married Count Gérard de Melcy in 1836. The marriage was unhappy but he refused her a divorce for some years. However, eventually Grisi obtained her divorce and married Mario with whom she had six daughters. While living with Mario before their marriage, Giulia and he maintained homes in Paris and London. Once married, however, they returned to Italy and lived at the Villa Salviati in Florence, a property that Mario bought in 1849. Grisi wrote in her diary of the exciting times that they spent there with distinguished guests drawn from the opera world and the aristocracy, including her distant relatives from the royal houses of Greece and Russia and members of the Italian and British nobility.[1]

During a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, while travelling with her family by train, she was involved in an accident, after crossing the border into Germany. She was taken to a hotel in Berlin, where under the care of Dr. Isabell, she spent her last days. She died on 29 November 1869. Her body was then taken by her husband to Paris, where she is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Her tomb stands in front of Molière's, marked by a plain white stone with the inscription "La Marquise, Juliette de Candia".[3]

One of her daughters with Mario, Cecilia Maria de Candia, became a recognized writer. She married an English gentleman, Lord Pearse, and in 1910 published the book The Romance of a Great Singer.



  1. ^ a b c d e Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.) (1911) Hugh Chisholm,ed., Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ But the Encyclopaedia and the Grove's Dictionary contain some errors about the tenor "Mario". See also: Louis Engel From Mozart to Mario, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1886, pp. 332 and 336-337; Thomas Willaert Beale The Light of Other Days, London: Richard Bentley and Son 1890; Cecilia Pearse De Candia and Frank Hird, The Romance of a Great Singer. A Memoir of Mario, London: Smith and Elder & Co., 1910; Francesco Floris e Sergio Serra, Storia della nobiltà in Sardegna, Cagliari, Ed, della Torre 1986.
  3. ^ Find-A-Grave