Sue Young Histories

Giulia Grisi 1811 – 1869

May 28, 2009

Giulia Grisi 1811 – 1869 was an Italian opera singer.

Giulia Grisi was an advocate of homeopathy, and she carried her own remedy chest with her.

Giulia Grisi was a friend of Pauline Viardot García, Adelina Patti,

Madame Giulia Grisi was, of course, much distressed by this contretemps. She had recourse, however, to the homeopathic remedies which she always carried with her, and after a time was herself again.

These  remedies were for the most part in the form of stimulants, which, however, Mdme. Grisi took only  in the smallest quantities. Her medicine chest contained a dozen half pint wicker covered bottles, which held, besides orgeat and other syrups, brandy, whisky, hollauds, port wine, and bottled stout.

Born in Milan, Giulia Grisi was the daughter of one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Italian officers. She came from a musically gifted family, her maternal aunt Giuseppina Grassini being a favourite opera singer both on the continent and in London; her mother had also been a singer, and her elder sister, Giuditta and her cousin Carlotta were both exceedingly talented, the former as a singer as well (she was the creator of Romeo ’s role in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi), the latter as a dancer.

Giulia was trained to a musical career, and made her stage debut as Emma in Rossini’s Zelmira in Bologna in 1828. Rossini and Bellini both took an interest in her, and at Milan she was the first to play the part of Adalgisa in Bellini’s Norma, in which Giuditta Pasta took the title role.

Grisi appeared in Paris in 1832, as Semiramide in Rossini’s opera, and had a great success; and in 1834 she appeared in London, making her debut as Ninetta in La gazza ladra. In 1842, Donizetti wrote the parts of Norina and Ernesto in Don Pasquale for Grisi and Giovanni Matteo Mario, usually known by his stage name of Mario, who was to become the love of her life.

Her voice was a brilliant dramatic soprano, and her established position as a prima donna continued for thirty years. She was a particularly fine actress, and in London opera she had association with such singers as Luigi Lablache, Giovanni Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Mario.

In 1854 she toured with Mario in America. She had married Count Gerard de Melcy in 1836, but he refused her a divorce. Finally, in London, Giulia was able to marry Mario. In private life he was the Marquis Giovanni de Candia from the House of Candia; they had five daughters and a boy.

While living with Mario, Giulia shared homes in Paris, London and spent summers at Mario’s family palace in Sardinia (Palazzo de Candia, after their marriage they returned to Italy and lived at Villa Salviati in Florence a property that Mario bought in 1849.

Grisi wrote in her diary of her most exciting times and famous guests from the opera world as well as the nobility such as her distant relatives from the royal houses of Greece and Russia she also hosted Mario’s family and friends from the Italian and British nobility.

During a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, while travelling with her family by train, she was involved in an accident, after crossing the border into Germany. She was taken to a hotel in Berlin, where under the care of Dr. Isabell, she spent her last days.

She died on 29 November, 1869. Her body was then taken by the Marquis de Candia to Paris, where she is buried at Père la Chaise cemetery. Her tomb stands in front of Molière’s, marked by a plain white stone with the inscription marquise “Giulietta de Candia”.

One of her daughters with Mario, Cecilia Maria de Candia, became a recognized writer and married Lord Godfrey Pearse.