Alboni was born at Città di Castello, in Umbria. She became a pupil of Antonio Bagioli of Cesena, Emilia–Romagna, and later of the composer Gioachino Rossini, when he was 'perpetual honorary adviser' in (and then the principal of) the Liceo Musicale, now Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini, in Bologna. Rossini tested the humble thirteen-year-old girl himself, had her admitted to the school with special treatment, and even procured her an early engagement to tour his Stabat Mater around Northern Italy, so that she could pay for her studies. After she achieved her diploma and made a modest debut in Bologna, in 1842, as "Climene" in Pacini's Saffo, she obtained a triennial engagement thanks to Rossini's influence on the impresario Bartolomeo Merelli, Intendant at both Milan's Teatro alla Scala and Vienna's Imperial Kärntnertortheater. The rich contract was signed by Rossini himself, "on behalf of Eustachio Alboni", father of Marietta, who was still a minor. The singer remained, throughout her life, deeply grateful to her ancient "maestro", nearly a second father to her.
Her debut at Teatro alla Scala took place in December 1842 as "Neocle" in the Italian version of Le siège de Corinthe, which was followed by roles in operas by Marliani, Donizetti (as "Maffio Orsini" and "Leonora" in the Scala premiere of the Italian version of La favorite), Salvi and Pacini. In the season 1844–1845 she was engaged in the Saint Petersburg Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre; later, in 1846–47, she toured the principal cities of Central Europe, finally reaching London and Paris, where she settled permanently. In London, "she appeared in leading roles by Rossini and Donizetti (where she outshone Giulia Grisi and Jenny Lind) and also sang Cherubino (performing with Henriette Sontag)". For the 1848 London run of Les Huguenots, Meyerbeer transposed the role of the page "Urbain" 'from soprano to contralto and composed the aria "Non! – non, non, non, non, non! Vouz n'avez jamais, je gage" in Act 2' for her. She toured the United States in 1852–53, appearing there with Camilla Urso.
In 1853 she wed a nobleman, Count Carlo Pepoli, of the Papal States, but she kept her maiden name for the stage. In 1863 she had to retire the first time on account of her husband's serious mental illness. He died in 1867. A year later, in 1868, Alboni would take part in the funeral of her beloved master and friend, Rossini, in the Église de la Sainte-Trinité. There she sang, alongside Adelina Patti, the leading soprano of the time, a stanza of Dies irae, "Liber scriptum", adjusted to the music of the duet "Quis est Homo" from Rossini's own Stabat Mater. Out of deference to her master, she also accepted to resume her singing career mainly in order to tour the orchestral version of the Petite messe solennelle around Europe. Rossini had once expressed his hope that she would take upon herself to perform it when he was dead. He had said that he had composed it, and especially the new section "O salutaris", just having her voice in mind.
In 1872 she permanently retired from the stage with four performances of "Fidalma" in Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto, at the Paris Théâtre des Italiens but, in fact, she never gave up singing in private and in benefit concerts. When, in 1887, the French and Italian Governments agreed upon moving the mortal remains of Rossini into the Basilica di Santa Croce, in Florence, Alboni, then a sixty-one-year-old lady living in seclusion, wrote to the Italian Foreign Minister, Di Robilant, proposing that the Petite Messe Solennelle, "the last musical composition by Rossini", be performed in Santa Croce the day of the funeral, and "demanding the honour, as an Italian and a pupil of the immortal Maestro," of singing it herself in her "dear and beloved homeland". Her wish, however, never came true and she was just given the chance of being present at the exhumation ceremony in Paris. The Paris correspondent of the Rome newspaper 'Il Fanfulla' wrote on the occasion: "photographers snapped in the same shot the greatest performer of Cenerentola and Semiramide, and what is left of the man who wrote these masterpieces".
In 1877 she had remarried—to a French military officer named Charles Zieger. She died at Ville-d'Avray, near Paris, in her "Villa La Cenerentola", and was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Always engaged in charity (often in memory of Maestro Rossini), she left nearly all her estate to the poor of Paris. In her will she wrote that by singing she had earned all her fortune, and on singing she would pass away, with the sweet thought that she had employed it to encourage and to console.
Alboni's voice, an exceptionally fine contralto with a seamless compass of two and one-half octaves, extending as high as the soprano range was said to possess at once power, sweetness, fullness, and extraordinary flexibility. She had no peers in passages requiring a sensitive delivery and semi-religious calmness, owing to the moving quality of her velvety tone. She possessed vivacity, grace, and charm as an actress of the comédienne type; but she was not a natural tragédienne, and her attempt at the strongly dramatic part of Norma has sometimes been reported to have turned out a failure. Nevertheless, she scored a real triumph in 1850, when she made her operatic debut at the Paris Opéra performing the tragic role of "Fidès" in Meyerbeer's Le prophète, which had been created the year before by no less than Pauline Viardot. Furthermore, she was able to cope with such dramatic roles as "Azucena" and "Ulrica" in Verdi's Il trovatore and Un ballo in maschera, and even with the baritone role of "Don Carlo" in Ernani (London, 1847).
The following list of the roles performed by Marietta Alboni was drawn up by Arthur Pougin and published in his biography of the singer. It is reported here with the addition of further works and character names according to the sources stated in footnotes.
- Anna Bolena, by Donizetti - Anna
- L'assedio di Corinto, by Rossini - Neocle
- Un ballo in maschera, by Verdi - Ulrica
- Il barbiere di Siviglia, by Rossini - Rosina
- La Cenerentola, by Rossini - Cenerentola
- Charles VI, by Halévy - Odette
- Consuelo, by Giovanni Battista Gordigiani - Anzoletto
- Così fan tutte, by Mozart - Dorabella
- Il crociato, by Meyerbeer - Felicia
- Un curioso accidente, pastiche with music by Rossini
- David, oratorio, by Muhlig
- Don Giovanni, by Mozart - Zerlina
- Don Pasquale, by Donizetti - Norina
- La donna del lago, by Rossini - Malcolm and Elena
- L'ebrea, by Pacini - Berenice
- Ernani, by Verdi - Don Carlo, Giovanna
- La favorite, by Donizetti - Léonor
- La fille du régiment, by Donizetti - Marie
- La gazza ladra, by Rossini - Pippo and Ninetta
- Giovanna d'Arco, cantata, by Rossini
- Giulietta e Romeo, by Vaccai - Romeo
- Il giuramento, by Mercadante - Bianca
- Ildegonda, by Marco Aurelio Marliani - Rizzardo
- L'Italiana in Algeri, by Rossini – Isabella
- Lara, by Salvi - Mirza
- Linda di Chamounix, by Donizetti - Pierotto
- Lucrezia Borgia, by Donizetti - Maffio Orsini
- Luisa Miller, by Verdi - Federica
- Maria di Rohan, by Donizetti - Gondi
- Martha, by Flotow - Nancy
- Il matrimonio segreto, by Cimarosa – Fidalma
- Handel, oratorio by Händel
- La pazza per amore, by Coppola - Nina
- Norma, by Bellini - Norma
- Le nozze di Figaro, by Mozart - The page (Cherubino)
- Oberon, by Weber - Fatima
- Petite messe solennelle, mass by Rossini
- Le prophète, by Meyerbeer - Fidès
- La reine de Chypre, by Halévy - Catarina
- Rigoletto, by Verdi - Maddalena
- Saffo, by Pacini - Climene
- Semiramide, by Rossini - Arsace
- La sibilla, by Pietro Torrigiani - Ismailia
- La sonnambula, by Bellini - Amina
- Stabat mater, Marian hymn, by Rossini
- Tancredi, by Rossini - Tancredi
- Il trovatore, by Verdi - Azucena
- Zerline, by Auber - Zerline
- La zingara, by Balfe - Queen of the Gypsies
- Les Huguenots, by Meyerbeer - The page (Urbain)
- Date stated by both Ciliberti and Pougin; the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica gives the year as 1823.
- Entry in Harold Rosenthal & John Warrack (ed.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, Oxford UK, Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 6, ISBN 0-19-311321-X.
- Rossini himself taught her the part and she later told that all her life long she had kept singing exactly the same variations ("cambiamenti") he had recommended to her (Pougin, 2001, p. 25).
- Pougin, 2001, pp. 19-26.
- It was given in 1843 under the title of Elda (William Ashbrook, Favorite, La, in Sadie, II, p. 141).
- Owen Jander, J.B. Steane, Elizabeth Forbes, Contralto, in S. Sadie, cited, I, p. 934.
- He bore almost the same name (his full name, however, was Achille Francesco Luigi Carlo Maria, Count Pepoli) and was a distant relative of Carlo Pepoli, the librettist of Bellini's I puritani (Pougin, 2001, p. 77).
- Their relationship was still so close that, not having a family vault of his own in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Rossini was temporarily buried in Alboni's (Pougin, 2001, p. 110, note 66).
- Pougin, 2001, pp. 86-89.
- Pougin, 2001, p. 93.
- On 23 December 1880 she appeared once again, with a deep emotion, on the stage of the Paris Opéra (Pougin, 2001, pp. 103-104) for a benefit performance
- Pougin, 2001, pp. 108-110.
- Pougin, 2001, p. 111.
- The reproduction is modelled after the copy published in Pougin, 2001, p. 9.
- "She was a real contralto from f3 to g5, then, up to c6, she was an excellent soprano. Which enabled her to perform, with some adjustments ('con qualche «accomodo»'), also Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Amina in La sonnambula and Marie in La fille du régiment" (Celletti, pp. 243–244). In fact, her voice could reach down to f3 only while practising: in public her lowest note was g3. Alboni also reported that on practising she could sometimes climb up to e6 flat (Pougin, 2001, p. 96).
- Article: Alboni, Marietta, in Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead, 1905, I, p. 285. Not all sources, however, agree with the autor of NIE; surely not Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was very keen on opera, somewhat of a connoisseur. "Alboni was sublime in Norma, last night," he wrote to his best friend Charles Sumner on 15 February 1853, "Would you had been with us, in our snug box." (quoted in Christoph Irmscher, Public Poet, Private Man: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at 200, University of Massachusetts Press, 2009, p. 6. ISBN 9781558495845). Walt Whitman went even farther likening "Alboni in the children's scene in Norma" to a marvel of Nature, such as "the wild sea-storm" he had once seen "one winter day, off Fire island", or "night-views … on the field, after battles in Virginia, or the peculiar sentiment of moonlight and stars over the great Plains, western Kansas" (Seeing Niagara to advantage, in Complete Prose Works, Kila MT/US, Kessinger Publishing, 2004, pp. 179-180, ISBN 9781419113703)
- Pougin, 2001, pp. 57–67.
- Ciliberti; Celletti, pp. 243-244.
- Pougin, 2001, p. 115-116.
- Pougin does not mention the character, but it is that of Neocle, transposed for contralto in the Italian version of the opera. It was Alboni's debut role at the Teatro alla Scala (italianOpera. Retrieved 17. October 2011).
- The première of this opera was performed at Prague in 1846 (William Ashbrook, Gordigiani. (2) Gordigiani, Giovanni Battista, in Stanley Sadie, II, p. 489) It should hence be a role created by Alboni.
- The character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in Jacques Gheusi, Histoire du Théâtre des Italiens de Paris. Neuvième et Dixième époques: 1852-1878, «Avant-scène opéra Paris», N° 65 (supplement), 1984 (Adelaide Borghi-Mamo performed the castrato role of Armando and Rosina Penco that of Palmide).
- The character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in the original libretto (cf. italianOpera. Retrieved 17 October 2011); it is a role created by Alboni (Milan, 1844). According to Casaglia, Alboni performed, instead, a would-be role of Eudossia, which is not even stated by the original libretto among the other characters of this opera.
- According to the sources reported by the website musicabresciana.it, Alboni had already sung in Verdi’s Ernani, at Teatro Grande of Brescia, in 1844, evidently performing the minor role of Giovanna as the main role of Elvira had been interpreted by soprano Augusta Boccabadati (as stated by Marcello Conati, Observations on the early reviews of Verdi's "Ernani", in Pierluigi Petrobelli (ed), Ernani yesterday and today : proceedings of the international conference : Modena, Teatro San Carlo, december 9-10, 1984, Parma, Istituto Nazionale di Studi Verdiani, 1989, p. 268, ISBN 88-85065-06-6). Boccabadati was the elder sister of more famous Luigia (cf. article: Boccabadati, Luigia (Luisa), in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 10, 1968, accessible online in Treccani.it).
- Performance not mentioned by Pougin, but stated by Gherardo Casaglia.
- The character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported by Gherardo Casaglia.
- The character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in the original libretto (cf. italianOpera. Retrieved 15 October 2011); it is a role created by Alboni (Milan, 1843).
- The character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in Charles H. Parsons (ed), Opera premieres: an index of casts. M - Z, Lewiston (NY), Mellen (opera reference index), 1992, p. 1141, ISBN 0-88946-413-8. This role was created by Alboni (Milan, 1843).
- The character name, not mentioned by Pougin, is reported in Frederick J. Crowest, Verdi: Man and Musician. His Biography with Especial Reference to his English Experiences, Londra, Milne, 1897, p. 99 (accessible for free online in Open Library.org). Given the minor nature of the part, however, Alboni would “[substitute] a cavatina for the original duet of the opera” (the part was sung at Her Majesty's Theatre, London, 1858).
- Not mentioned by Pougin (non operatic performance).
- Not mentioned by Pougin. Source: Gherardo Casaglia; it was a première (Bologna, 1842).
- It was a première (Paris, 1851).
- The character name is not mentioned by Pougin; in his biography of Balfe, however, William Alexander Barret states that the two primadonnas of La Zingara (an Italian version of The bohemian girl, which was given in the first experimental winter season at Her Majesty's Theatre, in 1858) were Alboni and Marietta Piccolomini (Balfe: His Life and Work, London, Remington, 1882, p. 229; accessible for free online in Open Library.org). Considering that the latter certainly performed the soprano leggiero part of Arline (cf., for instance, Music with ease. Retrieved 15 October 2011), it follows that Alboni expectedly interpreted the contralto role of the Gypsy Queen.
- (Italian) Rodolfo Celletti, La grana della voce. Opere, direttori e cantanti, 2nd edition (Milano, 2000). ISBN 88-8089-781-0
- Henry Fothergill Chorley (1862), Thirty Years' Musical Recollections. Hurst & Blackett, London, Volume II, The Year 1847, 8–13.
- Galliano Ciliberti, Alboni, Marietta, in S. Sadie, cited, I, p. 59
- F. M. Colby and T. Williams (Eds.) (1917–1926), New International Encyclopedia (2nd Edition). Dodd, Mead & Co., The University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts.
- G. T. Ferris, Great Singers (New York, 1893)
- (French) Arthur Pougin, Marietta Alboni (Paris, 1912; accessible for free online in gallica.bnf.fr Bibliothèque nationale de France)
- (Italian) Arthur Pougin, Marietta Alboni (Cesena, 2001) (translated into Italian by Michele Massarelli with additions to the original text by Lelio Burgini). ISBN 88-8312-178-3
- Sadie, Stanley (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Grove (Oxford University Press), New York, 1997. ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Alboni, Marietta.|
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- Coro Lirico Città di Cesena (Italian)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., eds. (1905). "Alboni, Marietta". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. Accessible online in Internet Archive.