Some Family History – Sontag

Today, I wanted to share with you a story from my great-great aunt Isabel Georgina Homewood’s memoir Recollections of an Octagenarian (published in 1932) about the time she saw Henriette Sontag sing in London, England in 1850 or 1851:

[My mother] often went to the Italian Opera, where she and my father had a box which held four.  The four generally consisted of my father and mother, [my older sister] and a girl friend of hers.  On one occasion, when I was seven, my sister’s friend was away and I was taken in her place.  Our dresses were made of white tucked muslin with black ruching round the neck and sleeves and broad black silk sashes, for we were in mourning for my father’s mother.  We drove all the way to London in our own carriage, dressed, and had an oyster supper at my father’s chambers … before going to the opera.

At the opera Sontag and Lablache sang.  The latter was a very fat man. The singing and the ballet enthralled me while I was awake, but I am ashamed to say that I slept a greater part of the time.

How my father found the carriage in the crush outside the Opera House was very bewildering to me; I thought it wonderfully clever of him. (Memoirs of an Octogenarian, pp 15-16).

I love the seven year old perspective of this concert, especially how she recalls Lablache based on his size some seventy or eighty years later.  The image of my great great aunt as a little girl curled up and sleeping in a box in her muslin and black dress at the Opera House is quite precious.  I can just imagine the sounds of the opera swirling around her and London’s upper class sitting nearby dressed in their best.

Here is an image of Lablache:

One of the songs that was likely performed by Sontag and Lablache at the concert that my great great aunt attended was the Sontag Polka or the polka duet:

… the polka duet between Sontag and Lablache never failed to send the public into ecstasies. It was brought out in London in 1851, with similar results. (Music of Yesterday)

Although I could find the score for the music for the duet, I could not find a recording that included any singing.  However, this short clip gives an idea of the tune.  The image below is from the front of the music score and features Sontag and Lablach together, posssibly dancing the polka?

File:PMLP343125-Albert, Charles Louis Napoleon d' - 1809-1886 - The Sontag Galop - Oliver Ditson.pdf

With these lovely images in mind I will work away on my Sontag (or Cephaline) for the fourth time now (sigh), try to get the decreases done properly and hopefully finish it off!



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