Prima donna Adelina Patti defined beautiful singing for a generation of opera lovers in the 1870s and 1880s. A lyric soprano, she was born in Madrid into a singing family. Her father Salvatore Patti was a capable tenor; her mother Signora Bardil a distinguished soprano. Yet the vicissitudes of artistic life and the shortness of the opera season forced the family to America in 1850. There Adela Juana Maria Patti had her name shortened to Adelina and she appeared on the stage as a singing child prodigy. From ages seven to thirteen she toured North America and the West Indies, but with the onset of puberty she retired to train her voice professionally.
Patti debuted at age sixteen in "Lucia di Lammermoor" and enjoyed a triumph so immediate and spectacular that she instantly became the foremost star on the American scene. Yet stardom in the world of opera was not measured in the mid-19th century by American accolades. She crossed the Atlantic and conquered Convent Garden and the London critics in "La Somnambula" in 1861. She then took Europe by storm, opera house by opera house. She would not return to America until 1881, when she sang at the Academy of Music, the scene of her first operatic triumph. It was the musical event of the year.
In 1882 she returned to perform at the newly opened Metropolitan Opera House for $5,000 a night. The experience of poverty in her girlhood made her insistence on payment in cash prior to stepping on stage. She became the first millionaire singer. Her voice remained in good order until she turned 60, when overuse and strain caused it to fray. After that age she sang intermittent concerts, renjoying quasi-retirement in her estate in Wales. David S. Shields/ALS