Giulia Grisi

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Giulia Grisi
Giulia grisi donna anna.JPG
Grisi as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni
Born 22 May 1811
Milan, Italy
Died 29 November 1869 (aged 58)
Berlin, Germany
Nationality Italian
Occupation Opera singer (soprano)
Spouse(s) Giovanni Matteo Mario

Giulia Grisi[1] (22 May 1811 – 29 November 1869)[2] was an Italian opera singer. She performed widely in Europe, the United States and South America and is widely considered to be one of the leading sopranos of the 19th century.[3][4]

Her second husband was Giovanni Matteo Mario de Candia (also known as "Mario the Tenor"), scion of a noble family of the Kingdom of Sardinia. She is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Her grave is marked "Juliette de Candia", using the de Candia name.

Early life[edit]

Grisi as Semiramide[5]
La Marquise, Juliette de Candia, née Giulia Grisi, photographed circa 1860

Born in Milan, Giulia Grisi was the daughter of Gaetano Grisi, one of Napoleon's Italian officers, and Giovanna née Grassini.[6] 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, 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.[3]

Grisi was trained for a musical career, making her stage debut as Emma in Rossini's Zelmira in Bologna in 1828.

Operatic career[edit]

Rossini and Bellini both took an interest in her, she was the first to play the part of Adalgisa in Bellini's Norma in Milan, in which the dramatic soprano Giuditta Pasta took the title role. Grisi appeared in Paris in 1832 in the title role of Semiramide in Rossini's opera and was 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 the premiere of Bellini's final opera, 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.[3]

Her voice was described as a dramatic soprano which, during her prime, was praised by music critics for its exceptional beauty, evenness and smoothness. Her career spanned 30 years in total. She was a noted actress, appearing regularly in London with such eminent singers as Luigi Lablache, Giovanni Battista Rubini and Antonio Tamburini,[3] not to mention her husband, Mario. Indeed, the prickly press commentator Henry Chorley praised both her and Mario for their success in establishing Italian opera as an important component of the London music scene.

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

Personal life[edit]

Grisi first married Count Gérard de Melcy[3] in 1836. The marriage was unhappy, but he refused her a divorce for some years. In 1838, her husband discovered a letter written to her by Frederick Stewart, 4th Marquess of Londonderry (then Lord Castlereagh) and the two men fought a duel on 16 June of that year. Lord Castlereagh was wounded in the wrist; the Count was uninjured. After the duel, Grisi left her husband and began an affair with Lord Castlereagh. From her love-affair to Lord Castlereagh, they issued a son:
- George Frederick Ormsby[7], born in November 1838, in London.
Since Lord Castlereagh had no legitimate children by his wife, George Frederick was brought up by his father. After Grisi and Lord Castlereagh's relationship ended, he brought their son to see her whenever she was in England.[8]

Whilst living with "Mario" Giovanni de Candia before their marriage, Giulia and Mario kept homes in Paris and London. Eventually, Grisi obtained her divorce and married Mario, with whom she had six daughters. Once married, the couple settled in Fulham, London Borough, and had a family of six daughters:
- Bella Maria de Candia, born 25 December 1857, Fulham, London, UK, died in December 1861 in Brighton.
- Clelia de Candia, born in 1855, Fulham, London, UK, death date unknown; she was married to Sir Arthur Powys Vaughan, on May 1875 at St.George's Hanover Square, London[9].
- Cecilia Maria de Candia, born December 24, 1853, Brighton, UK, died May 26, 1926, Bordighera, Italy; she married Sir Godfrey Robarts Pearse, on 29 February 1872 at St.Pauls, Wilton Grove, London.
- Maria Angelina de Candia, born in Chelsea, London, UK, December 1850, died 24 December 1853, Paris, France.
- Rita de Candia, born on March 11, 1849, Ashburnham House, Chelsea, London, UK, died in Berlin, Germany, after 1886.
- Giulia de Candia, born in June 1842, died on January 22, 1844, Paris, France.

They frequently returned to Italy, living seasonally at the Villa Salviati in Florence, a property Mario had purchased in 1849. Grisi wrote in her diary of the exciting times spent there with distinguished guests drawn from the world of opera and the aristocracy.[10] But she rather preferred their private family vacations at their cottage in Bordighera the place where she felt at home.


Grave of Giulia Grisi

During a trip to Saint Petersburg, Russia, while traveling by train with her family, Grisi was involved in an accident after having crossed the border into Germany. She was taken to a hotel in Berlin, where she spent her last days under the care of a Dr. Isabell. She died there on 29 November 1869, aged 58. Her husband took her body to Paris, where she was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Her tomb stands before that of Molière, marked with a plain white stone with the inscription "Juliette de Candia".[11]


Her incredibly rich operatic career was compiled in musical records, pictures, and, paintings. Upon her death, her husband donated a large amount for the creation of Sopranos' scholarships at the Paris Opera, the theater that first gave fame to Guiglia's voice.
One of her daughters with Mario, Cecilia Maria de Candia, became a recognized writer and married an English gentleman, Godfrey Robarts Pearse, Lord Pearse, and in 1910 published the book The Romance of a Great Singer – A Memoir of Mario.[10]



  1. ^ National Portrait Gallery | Giulia Grisi |
  2. ^ "Grisi, Giulia" by Elizabeth Forbes, Grove Music Online; 28 July is occasionally reported as her birthday; that date is the birthday of her sister Giuditta.
  3. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911, p. ?
  4. ^ Encyclopaedia and The New Grove Dictionary of Opera contain some errors about the tenor "Mario". See also: Beale 1890; De Candia and Hird 1910; Engel 1886, pp. 332 and 336–337; and Floris and Serra 1986.
  5. ^ Grisi as Semiramide. Lithograph by Rigo frères et Cie after A. Lacauchie, Paris, c. 1832, Museum of Music History
  6. ^ Henry Sutherland Edwards (1900). Grove, George, ed. A Dictionary of Music and Musicians: Grisi, Giulia. Macmillan & Co. Retrieved 4 March 2017.
  7. ^ National Portrait Gallery | G.F. Ormsby |
  8. ^ Kendall-Davies 2003, pp. 60—61
  9. ^ Sr. Arthur Powys-Vaughan marriage record |
  10. ^ a b Mrs Godfrey Pearse; Frank Hird (1910). The Romance of a Great Singer. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  11. ^ Find-A-Grave profile,; accessed 20 November 2015.


  • Beale, Thomas Willert (1890), The Light of Other Days, London: Richard Bentley and Son
  • Chisholm, Hugh (ed.) (1911), Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh edition). Cambridge University Press
  • De Candia, Cecilia Pearse; Frank Hird (1910), The Romance of a Great Singer. A Memoir of Mario, London: Smith and Elder & Co.
  • Engel, Louis (1886), From Mozart to Mario, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1886, pp. 332 and 336–337;
  • Floris, Francesco; Sergio Serra (1986), Storia della nobiltà in Sardegna, Cagliari, Ed, della Torre .
  • Kendall-Davies, Barbara (2003), The Life and Work of Pauline Viardot Garcia: The years of fame, 1836–1863, ed. Cambridge Scholars Press.

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