Francesca Vella, In Search of Voice

The Festival of Ideas event around Jenny Lind at which Dr. Vella will be presenting builds on the partnership between Cambridge University Library and the Wisbech & Fenland Museum, which holds Jenny Lind and Otto Goldschmidt materials as part of its Townshend manuscript collection. A highlight of the Wisbech collections is I villande skogen, a Swedish folk song handwritten by Jenny Lind, which will be performed by library staff at the event.

Music @ Cambridge: Research

One of the big frustrations the modern opera scholar experiences when approaching the subject of nineteenth-century singers is that the large majority of their voices are lost. No matter how deep you dig into the extant materials—press reports, biographies, lithographs, signature songs and so forth—that unique essence that (we’re told) defines us as individuals can’t, before the age of sound recording, be recovered.

Jenny Lind as Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, c. 1850

That’s one of the impasses I ran into as I was researching the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind (1820-1887), one of the greatest nineteenth-century musical celebrities. Following her training and early career on the continent, she caused a furore at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, where she debuted as Alice in an Italian translation of Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable in 1847. She then performed a variety of bel canto roles, building her reputation as an extraordinary coloratura…

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