Pauline Viardot, born Michelle Ferdinande Pauline García was a French mezzo-soprano of Spanish descent. She was born in 1821 and she spoke fluent Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, English and German. When she was young she studied piano, counterpoint, harmony and voice. She gave her first concert performance when she was only fifteen years old in Brussels.
Pauline is best known for having promoted what critics call the Gluck Renaissance. Gluck was a composer of Italian and French opera born in 1714.
Pauline was a multitalented artist and singer of international fame who played an active role in the revival of Gluck’s music in Britain during the 19th century; she was able to convince a large public as well as the connoisseurs that Gluck’s music was worth reviving, especially in a country where the composer’s works had never gained ground. Already in 1841, she caused a sensation with her repertoire; but it was only in 1859 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, with the version of Gluck’s opera Orphée arranged by her and Berlioz, that she celebrated one of the greatest triumphs of her career. This performance seemed to mark the effective beginning of the so-called Gluck Renaissance. Only Viardot could help to get the opera established in England. Her interpretations there, were always very successful and she performed in other cities of Britain and Ireland such as Dublin, Manchester and Liverpool. But when Orphée was played at the Royal Italian Opera in London, it was quite a failure because Viardot had to be replaced by Róza Csillag, who was not able to measure up to the unique and irreplaceable Pauline. Viardot’s sublime interpretation of Orphée inspired also writers and other artists such as Charles Dickens and the painter Frederic Leighton, who became regular guests in her salon. Viardot’s endeavours to popularize the music of Gluck show the importance of the artist who is able to mediate between the composition and the audience.

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