Maria Malibran

Maria Malibran
Maria Malibran

The mezzo-soprano (she commonly sang both contralto and soprano parts) Maria Malibran (24 March 1808 – 23 September 1836), was one of the most famous opera singers of the 19th century. Malibran was known for her stormy personality and dramatic intensity, becoming a legendary figure after her death at age 28. Contemporary accounts of her voice describe its range, power and flexibility as extraordinary.


Life and career

Malibran was born in Paris as María Felicitas García Sitches into a famous Spanish musical family. Her father, Manuel García, was a celebrated tenor much admired by Rossini, having created the role of Count Almaviva in his The Barber of Seville. García was also a composer and an influential vocal instructor, and he was her first voice teacher. He was described as inflexible and tyrannical; the lessons he gave his daughter became constant quarrels between two powerful egos.

Early career

La Malibran, François Bouchot (1834). musée de la Vie romantique, dépôt du Louvre, Paris

Malibran first appeared on stage in Naples with her father in Paër’s Agnese, when she was 8 years old. When she was 17, she was a singer in the choir of the King's Theatre in London. When prima donna Giuditta Pasta became indisposed, García suggested that his daughter take over in the role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville. The audience loved the young mezzo, and she continued to sing this role until the end of the season. When the season closed, García immediately took his operatic troupe to New York. The troupe consisted primarily of the members of his family: Maria, her brother, Manuel, and their mother, Joaquina Sitchez, also called "la Briones". Maria's younger sister, Pauline, who would later become a famous singer in her own right under the name of Pauline Viardot, was then but four years old.

This was the first time that Italian opera was performed in New York. Over a period of nine months, Maria sang the lead roles in eight operas, two of which were written by her father. In New York, she met and hastily married a banker, Francois Eugene Malibran, who was 28 years her senior. It is thought that her father forced Maria to marry him in return for the banker's promise to give Manuel García 100,000 francs. However, according to other accounts, she married simply to escape her tyrannical father. A few months after the wedding, her husband declared bankruptcy, and Maria was forced to support him through her performances. After a year, she left Malibran and returned to Europe.

In Europe, Malibran sang the title role at the premiere of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda The opera, based on Friedrich Schiller's play Mary Stuart, aroused the fury of the censors, who demanded textual amendments, which Malibran typically ignored. Malibran became romantically involved with the Belgian violinist, Charles Auguste de Bériot. The pair lived together as a common-law couple for six years and a child was born to them in 1833 (the piano pedagogue Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot), before Maria obtained an annulment of her marriage to Malibran. Felix Mendelssohn wrote an aria accompanied by a solo violin especially for the couple. Malibran sang at the Paris Opera among other major opera houses. In Paris, she met and performed with Michael Balfe.

Last years and death

In 1834, Malibran moved to England and began to perform in London. In late May 1836, she starred in The Maid of Artois, written for her by Balfe. In July 1836, Malibran fell from her horse and suffered injuries from which she never recovered.[1] She refused to see a physician and continued to perform. She died several months after the accident in Manchester. She is buried in Laeken Cemetery, Belgium.

Roles and vocal style

Malibran's Hotel, Brussels,1899 – a town hall today

Malibran is most closely associated with the operas of Rossini – she sang, among others, Tancredi (title role), Otello (both Desdemona and title role), Il turco in Italia, La Cenerentola, and Semiramide (both Arsace and title role) but also sang in Meyerbeer's Il crociato in Egitto and enjoyed great success in Bellini's operas Norma, La sonnambula and I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Romeo). Besides Bellini's Romeo, she also performed the same character in two other then-famous operas: Giulietta e Romeo by Zingarelli and Giulietta e Romeo by Vaccai. Bellini wrote a new version of his I puritani to adapt it to her mezzo-soprano voice and even promised to write a new opera especially for her, but he died before he was able to.

Malibran's confort vocal range was remarkably wide, from G below middle C to high E (G3 – E6),[2] and her extreme range extended from D3 to F6 in altissimo,[3][4] which allowed her to easily sing roles for contralto as well as high soprano. Her contemporaries admired Malibran's emotional intensity on stage. Rossini, Donizetti, Chopin, Mendelssohn and Liszt were among her fans. The painter Eugène Delacroix however, accused her of lacking refinement and class and of trying to "appeal to the masses who have no artistic taste." Describing her voice and technique, French critic Castil-Blaze writes, “Malibran's voice was vibrant, full of brightness and vigor. Without ever lost her flattering timbre, this velvet that given her so much seduction in tender and passionate arias. [...] Vivacity, accuracy, ascending chromatics runs, arpeggios, vocal lines dazzling of strength, grace or coquetry, she posseded all the art can make you acquiering.”[2]


Malibran in the façade of Teatre Principal, Barcelona. (1847)


Several films depict the life of Maria Malibran:

1) Maria Malibran (1943) directed by Italian director Guido Brignone and starring Moldovan-born Austrian soprano and actress Maria Cebotari.[5]

2) La Malibran (1944) directed by French auteur Sacha Guitry starring Géori Boué, celebrated singer of the Opéra de Paris.[6]

3) The German filmmaker Werner Schroeter made a film about her: The Death of Maria Malibran (1971) starring Candy Darling.[7]

Other media

The mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli dedicated her 2007 album "Maria" to the music composed for Malibran and her most famous roles, as well as an extensive tour and DVD concert dedicated to La Malibran. In 2008 Decca released a recording Bellini's "La Sonnambula" with Cecilia Bartoli in the lead role using many cadenzas that la Malibran herself used and that restored the tessitura of the role to the high mezzo-soprano range (as Giuditta Pasta and Maria Malibran sang it).


  1. ^ Teresa Radomski (2005). "Manuel García (1805–1906):A bicentenary reflection". Australian Voice 11: 25–41. Retrieved 28 August 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Saint Bris, Gonzague (2009) (in French). La Malibran. Belfond. pp. 37 and 104. ISBN 978-2-7144-4542-1. 
  3. ^ Geoffrey S. Riggs, The assoluta voice in opera. ISBN: 0-7864-1401-4, pp. 137–141.
  4. ^ William Ashbrook, Donizetti and his Operas, 1983, p. 634.
  5. ^ IMDB page:
  6. ^ IMDB page:
  7. ^ IMDB page:


  • I. Nathan, Life of Mme. Maria Malibran (London, 1846)
  • Arthur Pougin, Maria Malibran, histoire d'une cantatrice (Paris, 1911; English translation, London, 1911); Clément Languine, La Malibran (Paris, 1911)


  • Bushnell, Howard (1979), Maria Malibran: A Biography of the Singer
  • FitzLyon, April, (1987), Maria Malibran: Diva of the Romantic Age

External links

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