Adelina Patti: Bird-like Baroness from the Bronx

Opera is not our usual beat here on Travalanche, but we’ve had many occasions to need to write about it, as many opera singers performed in vaudeville, many impresarios bankrolled both theatrical forms, and many composers have proven relevant here as well. The name Adelina Patti (1843-1919) has popped up here from time to time mostly as a point of cultural reference (among other things, singers like Stuart and Sissieretta Jones billed themselves in reference to her), so we thought it advisable to briefly talk about her.

Patti was an almost exact contemporary of Jenny Lind. Both of her parents were Italian opera singers. Two sisters were also professional singers and her brother was a violinist. Adelina was born in Madrid while the family was on tour. When she was a child, the Pattis immigrated to Wakefield, in the Bronx, so America gets to claim her for our own, though Spain and Italy both have excellent claims on her.

She debuted at age 16 at the Academy of Music and rapidly became an international sensation, thanks to tours of North and South America and the Continent as far east as Moscow. She was prized for the purity and warmth of her voice, her skills as an actress, and her youthful charm and beauty. Verdi and Tchaikovsky were fans, as were the Lincolns, to whom whom she sang “Home, Sweet Home” in Washington D.C. in 1862. Throughout her heyday the 1870s and ’80s Patti sang in productions of il trovatore, La traviata, Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, Aida and others, throughout the world, amassing a huge fortune.

In 1868 she married Henri de Roger de Cahusac, Marquess of Caux, but the marriage rapidly unraveled, though they weren’t officially divorced until 1885. In 1878, shortly after their legal separation, Patti purchased the Welsh castle, Craig-Y-Nos, undertaking massive renovations over the years including new wings, a clock tower, a conservatory, a winter garden, and most notably, her own private opera theatre. She lived here for years with both her second husband tenor Ernest Nicolini, and her third husband Baron Rolf Cederström. It is now a hotel and tourist attraction. Naturally it is said that the castle is haunted by the ghosts of Patti and her husbands.

Patti had married her longtime lover Nicolini in 1886; they were together until his death 1898. In the ’90s, as a performer she mostly gave solo recitals of popular favorites, and her voice acquired newfound depth and character. Like The Great Caruso, she also became a recording star, undoubtedly giving her the greatest reach as a populist entertainer.

In 1899, Patti married third and last husband Baron Rolf Cederström, who was was 27 years her junior. Both worshipful and controlling, he is associated mostly with her years of retirement. Patti’s last rigorous tour was in 1903 but her voice was shot and the tour was a failure, although she continued to sing less challenging selections in public occasionally for years afterward. Her last public appearance was in October 1914 at a charity event for World War One victims. Her remaining years were spent strictly as Baroness Cederström, mistress of Craig-Y-Nos.