Home / Musical scholarship on line / Articles / Pons, José – Rosine Stoltz at the Académie Royale de Musique

Print content of page

Pons, José – Rosine Stoltz at the Académie Royale de Musique




Rosine Stoltz (1815-1903) is remembered nowadays as the creator of the title role of Donizetti’s La Favorite on 2 December 1840. This great mezzo-soprano was to reign almost unchallenged on the stage of the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris – Salle Le Peletier – from that date until her precipitate departure six years later. A legendary figure endowed with inordinate ambition, she strove all her life to forge her own legend. Even her birth was wreathed in mystery: she claimed to be of noble Spanish descent and to have been placed under the protection of the Duchesse de Berry. More prosaically, she was born in Paris in 1815 under the name of Victoire Noël, the daughter of humble concierges. After studying singing with Alexandre Choron, she appeared under various names in Lille, Spa, Antwerp and Brussels, in small roles or even as a chorister. As she gradually gained in assurance, she attracted attention as Rachel in Halévy’s La Juive in Brussels, alongside Adolphe Nourrit.

At the age of twenty-two, sponsored by Nourrit, she was engaged by Edmond Duponchel at the Paris Opéra. At that same moment, the career of the great dramatic soprano Cornélie Falcon was gradually going into eclipse, even though she was still very young (she retired in 1840, her voice shattered). Rosine Stoltz began to replace Falcon in her roles of predilection. That year, 1837, was also destined to be a fateful one that marked a key stage in the history of opera singing: Adolphe Nourrit left the Opéra,  to be supplanted as first tenor by Gilbert Duprez. The two men stood for opposing and essentially incompatible vocal and musical aesthetics: the former continued the French classical tradition of elegiac beau chant, while the latter imposed more dramatic musical resources and the famous ‘ut de poitrine’ (top C sung with chest voice) that unleashed such passions. Rosine Stoltz made her Opéra debut as Rachel on 25 August 1837, before taking on Valentine in Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots – two roles created by Cornélie Falcon – and subsequently Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. She was praised at this time for her wide-ranging soprano with fine low notes, her nobility of expression, and her clear and resonant pronunciation. She participated in many premieres, including Halévy’s Guido et Ginevra (Ricciarda) on 5 March 1838, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini (Ascanio) on 10 September of the same year, Le Lac des fées (Marguerite) by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber – all three works opposite Gilbert Duprez – and then a short opera by Count Mario Aurelio Marliani on a text by Eugène Scribe, La Xacarilla (in the role of Lazarillo).

With La Favorite (1840), Rosine Stoltz reached the top of her profession, but her haughty and difficult character, her whims and caprices, her mythomania and her pathological jealousy of her partners earned her a solid cohort of adversaries both among the public and in the press, which could hardly be said to treat her gently. Moreover, she had become the mistress of Léon Pillet, the new director of the Paris Opéra. He displayed boundless admiration for her, showered her with gifts and privileges (he died a ruined man) and declared: ‘She is Malibran without the faults.’ Such wilful blindness was not without its consequences, for Stoltz came to regard herself as the joint director of the Opéra! After Agathe in Weber’s Der Freischütz in June 1841, she sang Caterina Cornaro in Halévy’s new opera La Reine de Chypre on 22 December of the same year, again opposite Duprez (Gérard de Coucy). The role of Catarina was certainly to remain the most indisputable triumph of her career. On 15 March 1843 Halévy’s Charles VI on a libretto of Casimir Delavigne (in which she created the role of Odette) enjoyed only mitigated success, as did Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien, roi du Portugal (Zaïda). Halévy had written a new opera, Le Lazzarone (The scoundrel), for the young and highly promising tenor Italo Gardoni. Pillet accepted the work on the express condition that the principal role of Beppo should be rewritten for his mistress. This was duly done, and Le Lazzarone appeared on the stage of the Académie Royale de Musique on 29 March 1844. The role of Baptista, reduced as far as possible, was assigned to the divine Julie Dorus-Gras. On the night of the premiere, while she was singing her principal number, muffled laughter was heard in the audience, soon turning into general hilarity. Stoltz, wishing to upstage her supposed rival, had started to eat macaroni on stage like a real lazzarone, unwinding an immense tangle of pasta above her head. Poor Dorus-Gras, as one might well imagine,was greatly affected by this: ‘In this world, you have to defend yourself as best you can’, Stoltz declared stoically.

From that moment onwards, her star began seriously to wane. After Desdemona in Rossini’s Otello, she donned the garb of Mary, Queen of Scots in Louis Niedermeyer’s five-act opera Marie Stuart (6 December 1844), alongside Italo Gardoni (Earl Bothwell) and Julie Dorus-Gras (Elizabeth I of England). The next two works she premiered, L’Étoile de Seville by Michael William Balfe (17 December 1845) and Le Roi David by Auguste Mermet (3 June 1846), added nothing to her glory. The premiere of Robert Bruce on 30 December 1846 turned out to be disastrous for Stoltz. In a single evening, she was made to pay back with interest – as her biographer Gustave Bord pointed out – the arrears of an irritation with her that had accumulated over several years. The work, which admittedly amounted to very little, was presented as an operatic pasticcio devised by Niedermeyer from various pieces by Rossini, though with the latter’s agreement. Pillet had been unable to persuade the ageing composer to produce a new work for his mistress. Stoltz was apparently unwell on the night of the premiere: after starting brilliantly, her performance declined sharply and was booed by the audience; the fatal blow had been struck. After a few more performances, anticipating her eviction, she announced her departure. Pillet himself was dismissed shortly afterwards. Nevertheless, the singer’s farewell performance, on 22 April 1847 was a triumph, Rosine Stoltz at the Académie Royale de Musique showing how fickle the public was – or how well the claque in her favour had been organised. Rosine Stoltz appeared again at the Paris Opéra in 1854-55, notably in Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète, a work Pillet had commissioned for her. But in the end the role of Fidès had already been created by Pauline Viardot-Garcia in 1849.

    Person - 1
  • STOLTZ, Rosine (1815-1903)
  • Works - 8
  • Benvenuto Cellini (Wailly & Barbier / Berlioz)
  • Favorite, La (Royer, Scribe & Vaëz / Donizetti)
  • Freischütz (Kind & Servières / Weber)
  • Huguenots, Les (Scribe / Meyerbeer)
  • Juive, La (Scribe / Halévy)
  • Prophète, Le (Scribe / Meyerbeer)
  • Display more
    Theme - 1
  • Institution – Opéra de Paris