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Giovanni Matteo Mario

Portrait of Mario as Don Giovanni in the 1850s at the Italian Opera House of the Mariinsky Theatre

Giovanni Matteo De Candia,[1] also known as Mario (17 October 1810 – 11 December 1883), was an Italian opera singer. The most celebrated tenor of his era, he was lionized by audiences in Paris and London. He was the partner of the opera singer Giulia Grisi.


Early lifeEdit

Mario was born in Cagliari, Sardinia on 17 October 1810 as Giovanni Matteo De Candia; his inherited titles were Cavaliere (Knight), Nobile (Nobleman) and Don (Sir) in the Kingdom of Sardinia and subsequently the Kingdom of Italy.[2]
His aristocratic family belonged to the Savoyard-Sardinian nobility and social elite, part of the Kingdom of Sardinia ruled by the House of Savoy.[3] His relatives and parents were members of the Royal Court of Turin, while his father don Stefano, marquis de Candia, held the ranks of military general, Royal Governor General of Nice under the Kingdom of Sardinia, and was aide-de-camp to King Charles Felix of Sardinia (house of Savoy).[4][5]

In order to free himself from the burdensome ancestral traditions which he had inherited, and to mitigate his father's opposition to a member of the high-born De Candia family pursuing a 'lowly' musical career, the budding singer adopted the one-word stage name of "Mario" when he made his debut on 30 November 1838.[5] Sometimes, however, he is referred to in print by the fuller appellation of "Giovanni Mario" and he is also called "Mario de Candia".

Mario's decision to become a professional singer arose from accidental circumstances. He was 12 years old when he moved from Cagliari to Turin, where he studied at the Royal Military Academy. Among his fellow students at the academy was the future Prime Minister of Italy, Camillo Cavour. While serving as a second-lieutenant in the King of Sardinia's Guards in Turin, he got some debt. His father refused to help him and the young man, on 24 November 1836, was expelled from the army.[6] Then he left Piedmont and travelled to Paris. The fugitive nobleman was made to feel welcome in Parisian salons and in the city radical milieu, especially in the salon of principessa Cristina Belgiojoso, where he was appreciated as an amateur tenor.[7] For a time he earned his living by giving fencing and riding lessons.

Operatic career, liaison with Grisi and deathEdit

Giulia Grisi
Grisi and Mario in I puritani

Because he possessed an exceptionally fine natural voice, Mario was encouraged by the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer to become a singer. He took singing lessons from two teachers, a Frenchman named Ponchard and the former Italian tenor Marco Bordogni, and proved so gifted that he was swiftly offered an engagement with the Opéra. The young tenor made his debut there on 30 November 1838 as the hero of Meyerbeer's Robert le diable.[5] Meyerbeer had provided a new recitative and aria for him in the second act (the "Mario-Aria"). Mario's performance generated great excitement, and "a new star was born".[8]

Despite scoring an immediate success, owing to the splendid quality of his singing and a dashing stage presence, he did not choose to stay long at the Paris Opéra. In 1839 he was first heard in London, achieving instant success in Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, where he met the famous Italian soprano Giulia Grisi. Then he joined the Théâtre Italien, where such illustrious singers as Maria Malibran, Henriette Sontag, Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, Giulia Grisi, Giovanni Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini, and Luigi Lablache regularly performed. His first appearance there was as Nemorino in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore.[9]

From 1841 Mario and Grisi lived together. The acclaim that Mario received in Italian opera surpassed even that which he had won in French opera, and he soon acquired a Europe-wide reputation for the beauty of his singing and the elegance of his bearing. He possessed a handsome face and a lithe figure (he liked to show off his legs in tights), and his lyrical voice, though less dazzling than that of the older, virtuoso tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini nor so powerful as that of his younger rival Enrico Tamberlik, was described as having a gracefulness and a beguiling, velvety softness that made it unique.[citation needed] The music critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw, who was born in 1856 and therefore could not have heard Mario in his prime, said his singing featured a marked vibrato.

Mario created few operatic parts, the most notable being that of Ernesto in Donizetti's Don Pasquale (1843). However, he sang in the première of Rossini's Stabat Mater and Verdi wrote a new cabaletta for him to sing in the main tenor aria in I due Foscari for a production in Paris. In established roles, Mario's very greatest performances were as the title character in Rossini's Otello of the same name, Gennaro in Lucrezia Borgia, Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Fernando in La favorite, the Duke in Rigoletto, Alfredo in La traviata, Manrico in Il trovatore, Lionel in Martha and many others. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London and the Théâtre Italien in Paris were the scenes of most of his stage triumphs. He sang in London from 1847 until 1867 and again during 1871.

Mario also made occasional appearances elsewhere in England in oratorio, for example at the Birmingham Festival of 1849 and at the Hereford Festival of 1855. Also, he undertook a string of concert tours around the United Kingdom. In about 1849 he acquired the "Villa Salviati" in Florence. At his salon there he received many distinguished cultural figures and members of the European nobility.

In 1854 he toured America with Giulia Grisi, earning much money and adulation during their trans-Atlantic jaunt. Mario could not marry Grisi, because she was the wife of Gérard de Melcy, and although separated from him, divorce was not permitted. Before meeting Mario, Grisi had had a son by Lord Frederick Stewart, a nephew of the famous Robert Castlereagh. The child was acknowledged by Castlereagh with the name Frederick Ormsby, later recognized as adoptive-son through his mather's marriage to Mario as Frederick Ormsby de Candia; socially styled as Fredo de Candia. From the marital union of Mario and Grisi, they had six daughters (three died as children):

  • Rita de Candia, his youngest daughter, never married and became a reporter;
  • Clelia de Candia, married Lord Arthur Powys-Vaughan, a Welshman, and she became a watercolour artist;
  • Cecilia Maria De Candia, his elder daughter, married Sir Godfrey Robarts Pearse, an Englishman, and she became a writer leaving an account of her parents' careers in one of her book "The Romance of a Great Singer".[10]
  • Fredo de Candia, elder adoptive-son, from his wife Grisi natural son conceived in a pre-marital engagement to the British nobleman Lord Frederick Stewart.

During a trip from Paris to Saint Petersburg in 1869, for Mario to perform at the Italian Opera House at the Mariinsky Theater, his wife Giulia Grisi died during their mid-trip stop in Berlin, but Mario went on to sing for the Tsar at the St. Petersburg theatre.[11] During this time his daughters were put under the care of tutors assigned by their godmother, the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaievna, Duchess of Leuchtenberg and president of the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.

Mario bade farewell to the stage at Covent Garden in 1871, but his last performances were concerts in a US tour with Carlotta Patti in 1872-73.

He spent his last years in Rome, where he was a friend of Prince Odescalchi, but he was in some financial difficulties that beset him owing to his habitual extravagance. It is said that he used to smoke cigars continually,[12] even when taking a bath.

A benefit concert was mounted for Mario in London in 1878, and collections reached £4,000,[13] which provided a pension for the singer. He died in Rome in 1883 and was buried in his town, Cagliari, in 1884.

The De Candia ancestral seatEdit

In 1847 Mario bought a house in Sardinia for his mother where she and his brother Carlo lived. It is situated in Cagliari Old Town (Castello), in Contrada S. Caterina 1 (now via Canelles).[14] This house is now a part of a nuns' convent. In the vicinity is located the main family house, called Palazzo de Candia, that became the home of his older brother Carlo and family, located at the bottom of Via dei Genovesi, where until the 16th century stood the Pisan town-walls between the Elephant and the Lion Towers. The façade was possibly designed in the neoclassical style by the architect Gaetano Cima, or maybe by Carlo De Candia himself, whom had studied architecture in Turin together with Cima. On the first floor, there are halls with some frescoes and a terrace with scenic views of the gulf of Cagliari.[15]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ National Portrait Gallery | Giovanni Matteo de Candia (Mario) |
  2. ^ Official list of Sardinian noble families in 1896 at page 7 (in Italian).
  3. ^ In the baptismal register of Mario in Cagliari cathedral, Mario's father is called only cavaliere, not with other titles. On the origin and title of his family see also Floris and Serra 1986
  4. ^ "The Romance of a Great Singer, a Memorior of Mario", based on historical records of count Giovanni M. de Candia by Mrs. Godfrey Pearse & Frank Hird. Edt.Smith, Elder & Co. 1910, 15 Waterloo Place, City of London, UK
  5. ^ a b c De Candia, "The Romance of a Great Singer" 1910): Italian edition: "Il Romanzo di un celebre Tenore. Ricordi di Mario" (Le Monnier, Firenze 1913). This book, however, contains many factual errors.
  6. ^ Letter by Giovanni De Candia to his brother Carlo, October 24, 1836, University (State) Library of Cagliari, section manuscripts. Alberico Lo Faso di Serradifalco, I Sardi di Vittorio Emanuele I, on line edition by Società Araldica Italiana, p. 57.
  7. ^ Jules Janin, "Journal des débats politiques et littéraires", 21 March 1837.
  8. ^ Kühnhold 1998, p. 539. The aria originally was in two parts, an Andante and Marche. Apparently Mario only sang the Scène and Andante. It seems likely that the first singer to perform both parts was Chris Merritt in 1988 in a concert performance of the opera at Carnegie Hall in New York with Eve Queler as the conductor.
  9. ^ Pleasants, p. ?, for an account of Mario's international career and the extent of the adulation accorded to him by audiences during the Victorian Era
  10. ^ Also spelled "Pearse".
  11. ^ Krasovskaya V.M. Балет Ленинграда: Академический театр оперы и балета им. С.М. Кирова. Leningrad, 1961.
  12. ^ Mrs Pitt Byrne, Gossip of the Century, (Downey, London 1899), II, pp. 133-34
  13. ^ Charles Santley, Reminiscences of my Life, Isaac Pitman & Sons, London 1909
  14. ^ Land Register in the Archivio di Stato, Cagliari.
  15. ^ Palazzo De Candia Today

Cited sources

  • De Candia, Cecilia Pearse; Frank Hird (1910), The romance of a great singer; a memoir of Mario. London: Smith and Elder & Co., on the Internet Archive
  • Forbes, Elizabeth (1992), "Mario, Giovanni Matteo" in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (London) ISBN 0-333-73432-7.
  • Kühnhold, Wolfgang (1998). "Meyerbeer's Robert Le Diable: The First Singers of Robert and the 'Mario-Aria' at the Beginning of Act 2 (1998)", written for the Meyerbeer Fan Club, 15 May 1998. Reprinted, as revised by Robert Letellier on 28 July 2007, in Letellier 2007, pp. 534–542.
  • Letellier, Robert Ignatius. Editor (2007). Giacomo Meyerbeer: A Reader. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84718-388-0.
  • Pleasants, Henry (1966),The Great Singers: From the Dawn of Opera to Our Present Time. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-20612-5

Other sources

  • Beale, Thomas Willaert (1890), The Light of Other Days, London: Richard Bentley and Son.
  • Chisholm, Hugh (ed.) (1911), Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh edition). Cambridge University Press.
  • Engel, Louis (1886), From Mozart to Mario, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1886, pp. 332 and 336-337.
  • Floris, Francesco; Sergio Serra (1986), Storia della nobiltà in Sardegna, Cagliari, Ed. della Torre.
  • Todde, Felice (2012), Convenienze e inconvenienze tra Verdi e il tenore Mario", in Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana, Rome Ed. RAI-ERI.
  • Todde, Felice (2016), Il tenore gentiluomo. La vera storia di Mario (Giovanni Matteo De Candia), Varese, Zecchini editore.

External linksEdit