Adelina Patti was the reigning diva of the latter half of the nineteenth century. A guaranteed audience draw from the very start, she burst onto the concert scene in her mid-teens and proceeded to dominate the vocal world for the duration of her career.
The daughter of two Italian opera singers, Patti was born while they were touring in Madrid on February 19, 1843. She studied voice with her half-brother, and was soon giving concert tours with the violinist Ole Bull, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and others. At the age of 16 she sang the title role in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in New York City, and then toured the United States, capitalizing on her youth as an element of spectacle. In 1961, she made her debut at Covent Garden as Amina in La Sonnambula; London, and that theater specifically, would remain the center of her career.
Her voice was described as being very pure and with great flexibility. Because of this, she was best suited to playing vulnerable and ebullient young girls, and continued to do so even in the later stages of her career. As she matured she phased in a number of heavier roles, but she never stepped outside her natural vocal limits. The operas of Gounod, which she sang under his direction, were particular triumphs for Patti, and in 1876 she was the first to sing the role of Aida in London. An enormously successful 1879 tour of the United States helped cement her already considerable fame.
Patti's only real failure was an 1885 attempt at Bizet's Carmen — a role that has stumped many a famous singer. But the setback was inconsequential; she continued to appear with great success in Paris, Milan, Brussels, Monte Carlo, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid, and Lisbon. In 1888, Patti sang for the first time in South America, receiving predictably warm receptions in Buenos Aires and Montevideo. In 1895, she gave a series of six "farewell" performances at Covent Garden; this was quite a misnomer, because while they did mark her last operatic performances in London, she continued to appear in numerous other cities, and gave a number of subsequent "farewell" tours. Her actual final public performance was not until 1914.
Patti made two series of recordings, first in 1905 and then again the following year. Although she was over 60 years old at the time, her voice still had a lovely purity and superb flexibility. They certainly do not represent her at the height of her abilities, but they give a clear sense of her extraordinary vocal gifts, and the care with which she nurtured them over the course of a long career.
Patti was married three times: first to the Marquis de Caux, then to the Italian tenor Nicolini, with whom she sang on many occasions, and finally (in 1899) to the Baron Cederstrom, with whom she finally settled down at her castle at Craig-y-Nos, Wales.