|Henriette Sontag by Paul Delaroche, 1831|
It's an operatic post today and I am very pleased to welcome the subject of one of my favourite portraits, Henriette Sontag, later Countess Rossi. She enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top before retiring in her prime, though that was not the end of her tale.
Henriette was born the daughter of opera singer Franziska Martloff and her husband, actor and singer Franz Sontag. She was baptised Gertrude Walpurgis Sontag, later taking Henriette as her stage name. With such a pedigree it was obvious that her upbringing would be a musical one and she first appeared before an audience at the age of five, when her mother brought her out on stage. A decade later she made her operatic debut as Clara in John of Paris to no small acclaim. Utterly dedicated to her operatic career, she then took up a place at the Prague Conservatory, where she studied and honed her craft and distinctive, rich coloratura.
In fact, Henriette had been in Prague for less than a year when Carl Maria von Weber personally selected her to play the title role in his opera, Euryanthe, an engagement that Henriette followed with a performance in the premiere of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 alongside her mother. The young woman became hugely popular, called to perform at the finest theatres and courts of Europe. Her warm and expressive voice was matched with an unassuming and pleasant personality and she was beloved of composers, audiences and critics alike.
By the age of 23, Henriette had the operatic world at her feet. However, romance came calling and she decided to retire after her marriage to Count Carlo Rossi, performing only a handful of times in the years that followed. Instead she chose to concentrate instead on her husband and the seven children they had together, supporting her husband in his diplomatic career. However, in 1848 the family ran into financial problems and Henriette returned to the stage, embarking on an enormously successful tour of the major European opera houses. From then until the end of her life she continued to perform, undertaking a lucrative and acclaimed tour of the United States in 1851, returning three years later for another series of performances.
It was during this final tour that Henriette contracted cholera during a performance in Mexico City and her health declined rapidly. She died in Mexico and was later laid to rest in Marienthal Monastery, Ostritz, the voice that had charmed thousands now silent.