Adelina Patti's Giovanna d'Arco Armour
Giovanna d'Arco : Giovanna d'Arco
Presented to the Garrick Club by Baron Cederström, 1920
Photograph of Adelina Patti wearing the armour belongs to the V&A - used here for demostrative purposes
Exhibited in 1996 at the Royal Opera House, London during a Verdi Festival (11 June-3 August)
Verdi’s seventh and “forgotten” opera “Giovanna D’Arco” had been premièred at the Scala Theatre on February 15th, 1845. However, despite the “radiant beauty and indubitable genius” of the Italian soprano Erminia Frezzolini in the lead, the opera had been an absolute failure, so embarrassing Verdi that he stayed away from the Milan Theatre unti 1881. However, despite the composers reservations, a revival was performed in March 1868 at the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris, under the belief that with Adelina Patti in the role it could not but be a runaway success. “But the task lay beyond her powers,” exactly as Verdi had feared: “Patti as Joan of Arc made a captivating picture in helmet and armour. She sang superbly, and ‘lent her admirable talent to the most ungrateful part of her repertoire.’ She galvanised the finer musical passages with something of her own exquisite charm; but she could not imbue with consistency or lasting interest a creation that represents the Maid of Orleans in an absurd if not an objectionable light.” [Herman Klein, “The Reign of Patti”, London 1920, p177-178] Based on Friedrich Schiller’s “Die Jung Frau von Orléans, the libretto by Temistocle Solera has a final scene where, following the burning at the stake, a funeral procession arrives with her body. Suddenly Giovanna opens her eyes and, as though moved by a supernatural force, rises up and takes from the hands of the King, Carlo VII, the French insignia, giving her adieus to the earth and mortal glory. She expires, and an astral light shines down from heaven among the exultations of the blessed and the torments of the damned! The opera was cancelled after just a few performances.
The photograph illustrated shows Patti wearing the armour as the opera was performed in 1868. The armour was given to the Garrick Club by Patti’s third and last husband Baron Cederström. In 1971 it was lent for display at the Royal Opera House, from where it was moved to Craig-y-Nos Castle in the Breacon Beacons in 1989. Here it formed part of a small museum in what was Adelina Patti’s last home, and where she had built her own personal theatre which could seat over 150 people. The opening ceremony took place on the 12th July 1891, when the list of guests included the Spanish Ambassador and Baron Julius Reuter, founder of the Foreign News Agency. Sir Henry Irving was to have given the opening address but was unable to attend so William Terris deputised for him. Patti’s personal passion for dancing was catered for by a floor in the auditorium which could rise up to the level of the floor!
In 1994 the armour moved down the road to the Brecknock Museum where it remains today on permanent loan.