Regina Pacini de Alvear was born in Lisbon, Portugal in 1871, and died in 1965, at 94 years of age, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. With the exception of some performances at Covent Garden, her life and career took place almost entirely within the Latin world, where she was celebrated both as a gifted lyric bel canto soprano, and also as First Lady of Argentina for many years, as the wife of Don Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, president of Argentina from 1922 to 1928. She was additonally known in later life as a great benefactor the arts. As a result, her name is not well known in the United States today, as she never, to the best of my knowledge, sang here.
She was born into a musical family, as daughter of the Italian baritone Pietro Andrea Giorgi-Pacini. Regina was born in Lisbon during one of her father’s periods of residency at the Teatro San Carlos, in 1871.
Regina studied in Paris, with Mathilde Marchesi, and made her debut there in 1888, at 17 years of age. Her debut role was Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula. Lucia was part of her early repertoire, and I am always fascinated to think of bel canto sopranos who sang that role when they were still children. Adelina Patti sang it at 16, as her debut at the New York Academy of Music in 1859. Two years later, Patti sang Sonnambula at Covent Garden, age 18, just a year older than Pacini’s debut age in the same opera. Oh, to have heard them! It has always seemed to me so very appropriate to have sopranos of that age in roles like Lucia. I see no reason whatsoever why we could not find child singers today—or at least teen-aged singers—perfectly capable of turning in excellent performances of both Lucia and Cho-Cho-San. It would be a very moving experience. All we need are conductors not determined to blow them off the stage!
Also part of her standard repertoire was Bohème, Rigoletto, Puritani, Manon, and Il Barbiere. Theaters in which she commonly sang were the San Carlos in Lisbon, Covent Garden (where she did an Elisir with Caruso in 1902), the Paris Opéra, La Scala, the Teatro Solís in Montevideo, and the Teatro Politeama in Buenos Aires.
In 1907, Regina Pacini married Dr. Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, who was to become President of Argentina in 1922. She retired from the stage, and during the First World War, the couple resided in Paris, where their patriotic efforts earned for them the Legion of Honor from the French government.
As a distinguished First Lady of Argentina, Pacini dedicated herself to cultural efforts, and in 1938 founded the Casa del Teatro in Buenos Aires, which was a retirement home for actors, similar to the CASA VERDI in Milan. Widowed in 1942, Regina Pacini lived on, until the great age of 94, distributing her fortune on worthy causes to the point where, at the time of her death, she was living simply, on a modest government pension. There is town in Argentina, Villa Regina, which was named after her.
Here, from 1906, when Pacini was 35 and at the height of her career, is an aria of a different kind, far from the florid vocalizing of “Una Voce,” and fully into the world of tragedy, and the long, languid, legato lines of Elvira’s tragic and delusional “Ah, vieni al tempio,” from Bellini’s I Puritani:
Now that is bel canto singing of a particularly high quality; there are no aesthetic breaks in the line, either vocally or stylistically; it is the kind of singing that has traditionally elicited critical terms like “transporting.” It does indeed carry one away to another world, another sensual experience.
Finally, Violetta’s aria “Ah, Forse è Lui”. This is not done, 108 years ago, as we have come to expect to hear it today. She is a bel canto soprano, and a more vigorous, near-verismo sentiment and vocal style have come to dominate this opera, largely because of its subject matter. This is a world removed from that of Rosina and Elvira. I think it helps to remember that Verdi had only died 4 years before this recording was made, and Pacini was 34 years old. She would have been 30 when the maestro died. I mention these dates to drive home the point that Pacini would have had ample time to hear, sing, and prepare this opera while Verdi was still alive, and while many singers were singing Traviata, some of whom might have prepared it under Verdi’s watchful eye. Pacini is likely to have seen many others sing the role. In other words, she can be counted upon to have a pretty decent idea of what other circa 1900 Violettas sounded like. We always have to be careful not to forcibly impose 21st century standards on what is effectively still 19th century style:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfGHGLmt3uY