"The Swedish nightingale
", and "the sweetest voice
in the world", Jenny Lind was possibly the greatest singer of the nineteenth century. She died in 1887, not living into the recording age as the other candidate Adelina Patti
did, so all we have to go on is reputation and description, but the reputation is huge. This was only enhanced by the fact that on her American tour of 1850-2 none other than P.T. Barnum
brought her out. Words like purity
, and agility
are often used to describe her voice.
Johanna Maria Lind was born in Stockholm on 6th October 1820, and debuted there in 1838 as Agathe in Weber's Der Freischütz. After three years singing in Sweden she moved to Paris but suffered setbacks, including a temporary voice loss. She studied more under Manuel García II (1805-1906), a bass, scientist, teacher, and inventor of the laryngoscope.
Real success came when in 1844 she transferred to Berlin on the encouragement of Meyerbeer. She debuted as Norma, a role that was one of her best known, and later that year Meyerbeer created an opera Feldlager in Schlesien for her. She became very famous for her performances throughout Germany, Austria, and Scandinavia: in Vienna she got thirty curtain calls after a performance of Norma, and after singing Amina in Bellini's La Sonnambula she gained the extraordinary honour of having the Empress herself throw a bouquet to her.
Lind sang for Queen Victoria in Dresden in 1846, and in 1847 she was poached by London, by the impresario Benjamin Lumley to be the star in his Her Majesty's Theatre. She remained mainly in England for the rest of her life. Verdi wrote I Masnadieri for her to sing at Her Majesty's. Her opera career in London was short: she retired from opera with her Alice in Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable on 10th May 1849. After this she stuck to recitals and oratorios.
Barnum organised her first sensational, sell-out tour of America. There was a frenzy. All sorts of things were named after her (polkas, buildings, soups,...), thirty thousand people mobbed her arrival in New York harbour on board the S.S. Atlantic in September 1850, and concert tickets changed hands for ludicrously high prices ($625 for her New York debut at the Castle Garden Theatre on the 11th, and that's in 1850 dollars). She fell out with Barnum the following year but continued touring. In all she made some $200 000, much of which went to charity. She was renowned all her life for being charitable, and in later years philanthropy was the purpose of many of her concerts.
Her accompanist on the tour was Otto Goldschmidt, founder of the Bach Choir, whom she married in Boston before her return to England in 1852. In 1883 she became Professor of Singing at the Royal College of Music, and she died at Malvern in Worcestershire on the 2nd November 1887.
Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera