Bonkers, basically. The story of opera singer Adelina Patti is one of the most eye-popping of all the tales we explore in this series. The saga starts in Madrid, where Patti was born in 1843, before it takes us to Clapham in South London, moves around the world and ends in a haunted castle in Wales. As well as being in possession of a stunning voice, Patti made an absolute fortune, was friends with Tchaikovsky, was a billiard champion, owned one of the world’s first ice-making machines, and built a theatre in her back garden decorated with images of herself and kitted out with a mechanical auditorium floor. She once threw a party where 450 bottles of Champagne were drunk. Who ever said that opera was boring?
If it weren’t for the pandemic, Dave and James were planning to record this episode on location at Patti’s former pile in Wales. Instead, they’re relying on documents and diaries – and their brilliant regular guest Michael Volpe – to tell the story of Patti’s madcap 63-year career.
A child prodigy, Patti remains one of the legends of opera. She made her professional debut in 1859 in New York when she was 16, before being invited to sing at Covent Garden two years later. She was a smash so she… bought a house in Clapham. She used it as a base to conquer Europe. Soon she was touring the world, singing for Presidents and royalty. So in demand was Patti, it is said, that she could demand to be paid $5,000 a night IN GOLD in advance. That’s the equivalent of $100,000 a night in today’s money.
We don’t want to spoil the story but we can’t wait for you to hear this episode. Patti left her recording until the end of her career, when Fred and colleagues went to her Welsh castle with their gear to capture her voice. Their recollections of what went on there are recounted here in their incredible detail. Although her voice was not in its prime due to her age, the Patti recordings are things of beauty. You can almost hear the stories, and the scars and bumps of a life well lived, in the songs she committed to the gramophone. We hope you enjoy it all.
Michael Volpe first entered the opera world in 1989 and 7 years later established the now-prestigious Opera Holland Park in London. He is currently embarked on a new project to create a new kind of opera company in the South West of England as Executive Director of Iford Arts.
Volpe’s approach to opera for thirty years has been to popularise and demystify. He has a distinct penchant for late Italian rarities in the ‘stab and sob’ repertoire. He has made several successful and startling films showing the impact of opera on individuals, from teenagers in south London to Chelsea fans.
Volpe is the author of the acclaimed autobiography, ‘Noisy at the Wrong Times’, which tells the tale of his upbringing and attendance at Woolverstone Hall, an experimental boarding school. It was named on the Sunday Times ‘100 Biographies to Love’ list.
Music featured in this episode:
- Home Sweet Home by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1905)
- Voi Che Sapete from The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1905)
- The Last Rose of Summer from Martha by Friedrich von Flotow (1905)
Links to things mentioned in this episode:
A documentary about Patti’s life:
This episode was edited by Andy Hetherington.
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We hope you enjoy listening as much as we’ve enjoyed recording them!