On February 20, 1882 Wilde was in Cincinnati but not to lecture. It was a stopover on his way to Louisville, KY where he lectured on the following night. Wilde did return to Cincinnati to lecture, as he had planned to do on February 23.
But there was a special reason Wilde was in Cincinnati that day. He was there for the opera.
Upon arriving in Cincinnati Wilde checked into the Burnet House, before driving out to the famous Rookwood Pottery, returning in the late afternoon to give an interview to The Cincinnati Enquirer at the hotel.
In the evening Wilde visited the Cincinnati Music Hall to attend the opera as an honored guest in the director’s box. Confusingly, the opera was held at the Great Music Hall (extant, see below) and not the Opera House where Wilde lectured two days later.
Singing that night at the Great Hall was Adelina Patti (1843—1919) the highly acclaimed Italian opera singer (born in Spain) who was professionally known simply as Patti. She remains one of the most famous sopranos in history owing to the purity and beauty of her lyrical voice and the unmatched quality of her bel canto technique. The composer Giuseppe Verdi, writing in 1877, described her as being perhaps the finest singer who had ever lived and a “stupendous artist”. Like Wilde she was a client of the theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, and was also a guest at The Burnet House.
The concert that Wilde attended was a closing entertainment of selected arias by leading singers from the previous week’s Cincinnati Opera Festival. Patti chose “Bel Raggio” from Semiramide by Rossini.
After the concert, Wilde was taken backstage to be introduced to Madame Patti—and the diva must have a made a lasting impression on him as he mentioned her twice and in complimentary terms years later in his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray:
“Dorian, you mustn’t let this thing get on your nerves. You must come and dine with me, and afterwards we will look in at the opera. It is a Patti night, and everybody will be there. You can come to my sister’s box. She has got some smart women with her.”
“My dear Basil, how do I know?” murmured Dorian Gray, sipping some pale-yellow wine from a delicate, gold-beaded bubble of Venetian glass and looking dreadfully bored. “I was at the opera. You should have come on there. I met Lady Gwendolen, Harry’s sister, for the first time. We were in her box. She is perfectly charming; and Patti sang divinely”.
Take a Bow
As an indication of the publicity engendered by Oscar Wilde in 1882, here we see fashion designs named for Oscar and his friends of the stage: Adelina Patti and Lillie Langtry, plus at least four other design inspired by Wilde himself and aesthetic movement. In addition they’re the Hazel Kirke, which was the name of a play written by Wilde’s friend and associate Steel Mackaye. In keeping with the stage and musical theme, Gerster would be Madame Etelka Gerster-Cardini the Hungarian prima donna.
The Cincinnati Great Music Hall
—Where Wilde attended the opera on February 20, 1882—
© John Cooper, 2023.
Full concert program from the 1882 Cincinnati Opera Festival
Maria Callas, Bel raggio lusinghier – Semiramide – Rossini (You Tube)
Adelina Patti singing “The Last Rose of Summer” (1905)—in diminished quality
Cincinnati Music Hall—Then and Now
Wilde’s Lecture In Cincinnati, February 1882
12 thoughts on “Patti in Cincinnati”
Thank you for this interesting post on OW in Cincinnati. I grew-up there and remember going on a field trip in grade school to the Rookwood Pottery, I have collected it for many years and am an avid collector of Wildeana. I wonder if the Burnett House is still there? There is a Burnett Ave in the neighborhood I grew-up in and assume it is the same person who built the hotel. This has inspired the next time I visit to to the Cincinnati Historical Society and see if they anymore on his visit.
I used to be a member of the OW Society and would like to renew my membership. Can you send me a link?
Thank you for your kinds comments.
The Oscar Wilde Society membership page is here:
The Burnet House built in 1849 on the NW corner of Third and Vine Street, (opened May 30, 1850), was closed and demolished: July 15, 1926.
The programme shows the Cincinnati Opera Festival last night with Patti as the 18th – the closing night. Did she give another performance on the 20th.
Yes. As noted, but not too well explained, this was a closing entertainment of selected arias by leading singers from the previous week’s Cincinnati Opera Festival.
Another great post, John.
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This is a very intriguing post both with respect to the actual meeting of Wilde and Patti and with respect to the possible dating of the novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Has it been found out and pointed out yet when Patti sang in London in the 1870s? Wagner arrived there in 1876, which is mentioned with respect to Wagner’s mentor in England, the Münster-born German Franz (later Francis) Hüffer (Hueffer), father of Ford Madox Ford. So this post raises several questions about England as well.
Hello Jörg, I am not quite sure how you see the meeting between Wilde/Patti affects the dating of Dorian Gray. They met in 1882 and Wilde wrote Dorian Gray eight years later. Could you elaborate?
Sorry, John, for not taking more time to reflect before I wrote. It did occur to me when I had posted the comment that I ought to add that it is the dating of the action of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” that I am concerned about. While it is fiction as such, there may be some hints in the book that should help to date it more precisely. At terminus post quem would have been the publication of “The Renaissance” by Walter Pater. If we knew that Patti had sung in London before she actually met Wilde in 1882, which she might have told him about, this would be another piece in the mosaics of dating the action. Wagner, as I said, came to London in 1876, and Wilde wrote about this in the first paragraph of his essay on the Grosvenor Gallery, mentioning Franz Hüffer (Francis Hueffer). I am sure, there are more hints in Wilde’s life like the one you spotted about his real-life meeting with Patti in Cincinnati.
Ah, I see what you’re saying. Fortunately, Patti performed throughout the 1870s and 1880s (and did not stop touring until 1895) so the period of the action in Dorian Gray, which is generally taken to be contemporary with Wilde, would not be anachronous.
As always John, wonderful coverage. You’re the posthumous press corp for Oscar’s tour. If only some individual were following his movements this closely in real time
Thanks Walter, Well there was a lot of press coverage, fortunately. But no Boswell (bar me, someone once was kind enough to say).