The eyelid is a little heavy but the look is deep and the attitude, face tilted, of a noble softness. Lovingly painted by Ary Scheffer in 1840, Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) poses with adult gravity for a very young girl. No doubt because the young artist then saw a crucial year, that of her marriage to Louis Viardot, translator of Cervantes, theater director and journalist with liberal convictions, nearly twenty years her senior.
But who is this muse who will become the inspiration and the interpreter of all the musical elite of the XIX?e century? His parents are of Spanish origin: the singer Maria Joaquina Sitches and the famous tenor Manuel Garcia, to whom Rossini entrusted the creation of his most famous roles including the seductive Almaviva du Barber of Seville. He will end his adventurous career – as far as the United States – as a renowned teacher.
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Like father, like son. Manuel Garcia junior, and, much more, Maria Malibran (1808-1836), elder sister of Pauline, have a golden voice. Adored by the romantic generation, Maria died of a fall from her horse at the age of 28, leaving the public inconsolable: “Where now vibrates this living harp attached to your heart?” “, cries Alfred de Musset.
An astonishing range, a charismatic actress
Her younger sister first places her hands on the piano, and it suffices to evoke the admiration of Franz Liszt to understand what talent must have been hers. Binding friendship with Clara Schumann, future wife of Robert and incomparable virtuoso, she willingly takes to the keyboard with her. Yet, lulled by family voices, Pauline opted for the lyrical art and excelled there, as evidenced by the incredible variety of roles she played or created during a prestigious career.
As we would like the sound recording to have been invented earlier, giving us the trace of this “organ” with a range so astonishing that Pauline Viardot was able to sing the three heroines of Don Giovanni ! She venerated Mozart’s masterpiece so much that she acquired the autograph manuscript and then offered it to the conservatory library.
Her contemporaries describe her as a charismatic actress, burning the boards, capsizing sensitive souls. “Mme Viardot is sublime, enthuses Hector Berlioz in 1859. She has accents, poses, facial expressions that will turn your heart. (…) She will be my Dido later. “
And what a fortune we would have given to attend, a year later, this private session in Pauline’s living room: Wagner was giving the audition of the second act of his Tristan and Isolde. The singer sang of course Isolde, giving the answer to the composer himself in the role of Tristan …
Muse of the geniuses of music, literature and painting
But Pauline Viardot was also the accomplice, the confidante, the muse … of literary geniuses like Tourgueniev, who entrusted him with his daughter while he was detained in Russia, painting like Delacroix and, of course, music: from Chopin – she played with him, sang during his funeral – to Gabriel Fauré, via Gounod and Saint-Saëns.
In her Parisian apartment, during her retirement from Bougival or “exiled” in Baden-Baden, due to the republican commitment of her husband, she was the hostess of a host of personalities: Flaubert, Zola, Dickens, Heinrich Heine …
Linked with another remarkable woman, George Sand, she even became the romantic heroine, the author of The Devil’s Pond drawing inspiration from Pauline to imagine Consuelo’s fate. A young singer whose eventful journey passes through Venice, Bohemia and Austria where she meets… Joseph Haydn.
Composer, mainly for the voice, Pauline Viardot leaves very beautiful melodies of which one can taste the variety and the flavor on the site of the Palazzetto Bru Zane of Venice (bru-zane.com). Accompanying with perfect poetic refinement the recital of mezzo-soprano Aude Extrémo – whose face is not unlike that of Pauline – pianist Étienne Manchon salutes its finesse and diversity of writing.
“We can detect both her acute science of the keyboard and her experience as a singer who expects connivance and support from the instrument,” he assures. Listen to this passionate, almost tortured flame of its Russian melodies and, in contrast, the chiseled delicacy when it pays homage to medieval music. ” And to marvel at the “Step ahead “ that Pauline Viardot seems to have on the masters of the XXe century, “The Debussy, Ravel or Chausson whose innovations she announces “.