March 31, 2011

Jenny Lind in New York

For all her demure religious virtue, Jenny Lind must have been quite the business woman. The deal she negotiated for a concert tour of America with P. T. Barnum included all her expenses as well as a $1000 per concert fee- a staggering sum at the time.

She arrived in New York in 1850, and was met at the dock by 40,000 people. Her first concert - for charity- was at the Castle Garden Theater which was located on an island off the southern tip of Manhattan. Originally a fort in the harbor, the structure is now a national monument and is surrounded by landfill and part of Battery Park. Visitors to Ellis Island know it as a ticket booth, and the only evidence of Lind's famous concert is a plaque inset into a wall.

Probably old New York has never before or since witnessed a more magnificent scene of beauty and splendor than that which greeted the eye upon this occasion. Looking down from a niche high up in the balcony, the scene to the writer was one never to be forgotten in its rich and bewildeiing beauty. All of the wealth, the taste, the beauty and cultivation of New York's best society was there resplendent in color and glowing with gorgeous magniflcence. The splendid costumes, the rich and varigated colors, the lovely roses filling the air with a soft and delicate perfume, the flashiug jewels and sparkling eyes,—the speaking looks, movement and action, all blending with the subdued murmur of animated voices, made up a scene of fairy like enchantment rarely witnessed more than once in a lifetime, and those who were so fortunate as to behold it will carry it in their minds as a souvenir of memory never to be forgotten. As the time for opening the concert drew near the audience became hushed in mute expectation. At length the supreme moment that they had so anxiously looked forward to arrived. Signor Benedict came quickly forward and took his place at the piano; and a moment later a fair girlish figure glided gracefully forward to the front of the stage and bowed. The vast audience was hushed for a moment and then burst forth in a prolonged thunder of applause. This was so loud and vehement that its effect was to overcome and disconcert the fair singer for a few moments, as the first notes of her "Casta Diva" were a little tremulous and unsteady. But as it progressed her genius reasserted itself and her voice rose steady, clear, strong and vibrant,—full in volume, immense in compass, and under perfect control. Its reverberations filled every corner of the immense building, ringing brightly out from the dome above and sounding distinctly over the waters of the surrounding bay. During the progress of the song the house was "hush as death," but when the last notes died away, the pent up enthusiasm burst forth in repeated and prolonged applause; nor did it cease until she had been repeatedly led forward and deluged with boquets, during which the wildest enthusiasm sought expression in the waving of handkerchiefs—the tossing up of hats and some of the madest antics that enthusiastic frenzy could be capable of. There was but one voice in all that fabel of voices and that was the voice of applause. Irresistable expressions of astonishment and delight escaped from every mouth.    

From Music: A Monthly Magazine, 1896, Jenny Lind's First Concert in America by Ira Gale Tompkins.   

You can read the rest of this fascinating eye witness account here.

From Castle Garden, Lind set out on cross-country tour which brought Barnum half a million dollars. Lind reportedly gave most of her quarter-million earnings away.

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