Giulia Grisi

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Giulia Grisi

Giulia Grisi (22 May 1811, Milan – 29 November 1869, Berlin) 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.[1][2]

She married as her second husband Giovanni Matteo Mario de Candia (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, thus using de Candia's name.

Early life[edit]

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.

Operatic career[edit]

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, in the title role of 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 the premiere of Bellini's fuinal 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.[1]

Her voice was described as a dramatic soprano which, during her prime, was praised by music critics for its exceptional beauty, evenness 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, after they were married, she and Mario undertook a lucrative tour of the United States of America, where they were treated as major international celebrities.

Personal life[edit]

Grisi had married Count Gérard de Melcy[1] 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. Their son, George Frederick Ormsby, was born in November 1838 and brought up by his father, who had no legitimate children by his wife. After Grisi and Lord Castlereagh's relationship ended, whenever she was in England he brought their son to see her.[3]

While living with Mario before their marriage, Giulia and he maintained homes in Paris and London. Eventually, Grisi obtained her divorce and married Mario with whom she had six daughters. Once married, 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.[4]


Grave of Giulia Grisi

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, aged 58. Her husband took her body to Paris, where she was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Her tomb stands in front of Molière's, marked by a plain white stone with the inscription "Juliette de Candia".[5]

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.[citation needed]



  1. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911, p. ?
  2. ^ Encyclopaedia and the 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.
  3. ^ Kendall-Davies 2003, pp. 60—61
  4. ^ The romance of a great singer, by De Candia, Cecilia Maria & Pearse, Frank Hird (1910) UK
  5. ^ Find-A-Grave profile,; accessed 20 November 2015.


  • Beale, Thomas Willaert (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.