Desdemona in Real Danger

The Spanish opera singer, composer, impresario, and singing teacher Manuel Garcia (1775-1832) was father to Pauline Viardot and Maria Malibran, two of the most brilliant dramatic operatic voices of all time. Garcia, it was said, had an extravagant and violent personality that allowed him to produce memorable performances as “Otello” and “Don Giovanni.” However, he also was a strict authoritarian who ruled his household with a despotic and iron fist.

Manuel García in the title role of Otello

Manuel García in the title role of Otello

His daughter Maria inherited some of her father’s features, and she was also known for her stormy personality and dramatic intensity. When Garcia took his operatic troupe to New York, Maria met the banker Francois Eugene Malibran, who was 28 years her senior. When Malibran asked Garcia for the hand of his daughter in marriage, the singer flew into a terrible rage and threatened to kill Maria rather than allowing the wedding to go ahead.

Giuseppe Verdi: Otello, “Niun mi tema”

The very same evening, Garcia and Maria appeared on stage in Verdi’s “Otello” with Garcia taking the title role and Maria featuring as “Desdemona.” As we all know, at one point in the opera the character of Otello stabs Desdemona to death. When Maria saw her father approaching she got a real shock. Instead of the usual cardboard knife covered with silver paper, her father was carrying a real dagger, which he had recently bought.

Portrait of Maria Malibran, 1834

Portrait of Maria Malibran, 1834

Terrified, Maria was convinced that her father was going to kill her over Maliban’s marriage proposal, and she cried out, “Father, Father, for God’s sake do not kill me!” In the event, her fears were groundless as Garcia had merely forgotten to pick up the cardboard knife and was forced to substitute his own. Maria and Malibran did get married in the end, however some cynical voices suggested that Garcia forced Maria to marry Malibran in return for a healthy dowry. Others maintain that she simply married Malibran to escape her tyrannical father. Sadly, only months after the wedding Malibran had to declare bankruptcy, and within a year Maria had left her husband and returned to Europe.

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