Hariclea Darcle (1860-1939)

There are masterpieces of musical drama the destiny of which became final in the history of opera owing to singers with a flash of genius. Seemingly, this is how Puccini's Tosca was born, whose protagonist, a superb Romanian soprano from Brăila, lend brilliancy to the opening night on January 14, 1900, at Teatro Constanzi in Rome. It was a crucial moment in bringing the score to the attention of the contemporaries. Without Hariclea Darcle as leading woman, without the aria Visi d'arte (suggested to the author by the singer), and especially without the dramatic force of the interpreter, Tosca may have lingered another half-century (like La Bohème and Turandot) on various stages before joining for good the permanent world repertory. A generous voice with a wide ambit (dramatic soprano and mezzo-soprano), a singular temperament of a thespian tragedian, a celebrated feminine beauty who broke many a heart (composers, such as Puccini, Leoncavallo, Gomes, Mascagni, but also baritone Eugenio Giraldoni, the poets Cincinat Pavelescu and Victor Eftimiu, as well as the King Don Carlos de Brabanza of Spain himself!), the singer Hariclea Darcle (nicknamed by the French composer Charles Gounod Darclée, after the legendary Joan of Arc) was to become a new myth of the musical stage at the beginning of the 20th century, in particular after the premieres of the operas Condor by Gomes, Friend Fritz and I Randzau by Mascagni, Iris and La Wally by Catalani, The Pledge by Vallini, Amy Robsard by Di Lara, Hero and Leander by Mancinelli. Besides these scores of minor importance, there were masterpieces such as Faust, Romeo and Juliet, The Cid (by Gounod), Carmen (by Bizet), Herodiade, Manon, Thais (by Massenet), Othello, La Traviata, Rigoletto, Aida, A Masked Ball (by Verdi), The Huguenots, Africana (by Meyerbeer), The Cavalier of the Rose (by R. Strauss), The Jewess (by Halevy) in Darcle's repertoire. Her performances would reunite in one evening two or three celebrities on the same stage. For instance, at Colon Theater in Buenos Aires, the great Arturo Toscanini conducted a golden trio in Rigoletto (1902): the tenor Enrico Caruso (the Duke of Mantua), Titta Ruffo (Rigoletto), and the soprano Hariclea Darcle (Gilda)! The finest perfumes, powders and cosmetics of the time were named after the Romanian soprano. The Sultan of Turkey, enthused over her artistic performance, awarded her the great order Medgidic (1898), which was designated solely for… men! The unhappy end of her career came when, a year before her death, aged 79, Hariclea Darcle became a ticket collector in a Bucharest neighborhood cinema. And when you come to think that the old Giuseppe Verdi brought to her house in Milan a bunch of flowers only a few days before he departed this world in 1901… This was the tragic fate of a legendary star who turned music into her supreme ideal.

by Viorel Cosma (b. 1927)