Jenny Lind (1820-1887), one of history’s most famous international opera stars, settled for many years near Wimbledon after taking the world by storm in the mid-19th century.
A pub in Inner Park Road which opened in 1959 is still named after her today and what is now the cancer treatment centre on Parkside (former home of the Toynbee family, see Heritage story, 6 July 2012) was known as Jenny Lind House for some years.
Later known as “the Swedish Nightingale”, Jenny Lind was born exactly 192 years ago tomorrow on 6 October 1820 to a single mother schoolteacher in Stockholm.
Heard at the age of nine singing through an open window, she was taken up by Sweden's Royal Opera. At 17, her career as a soprano was launched with a performance of Von Weber's Der Freischütz (The Marksman), leading to triumphs first in Sweden and then abroad. From 1840, she was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
Said to have shared a romance with the composer Felix Mendelssohn, she nevertheless maintained a strictly respectable image and often performed concerts for charity.
Jenny LInd made her debut in London in May 1847 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in front of Queen Victoria, stunning the audience with her extraordinary voice. That July she took a leading role there as Verdi conducted the world première of his latest opera, I masnadieri.
Mendelssohn died prematurely a few months later and the following year Jenny Lind performed a part he had written for her, raising money for a musical scholarship in his memory. The first recipient was the young Arthur Sullivan, later of operetta fame, whose career she encouraged.
She became a huge celebrity in Britain and her picture appeared on numerous consumer goods from chocolate to snuffboxes and handkerchiefs. However, she became concerned about the image associated with female stage performers and from 1850 onwards restricted her performances to concerts and oratorio.
That year the American showman Phineas T Barnum arranged an extraordinary US tour for her. She insisted he deposit a vast sum of money in a London bank before the start. It proved highly profitable for both of them. A crowd of 30,000 turned out to meet her ship on arrival at New York.
They surrounded her hotel and tickets for her concerts were auctioned, fetching unheard of prices. Jenny Lind mania in America even exceeded that in Britain as products ranging from the “Jenny Lind crib” (a baby’s cot) to soup and cheese sold like hot cakes. Furniture, clothes and pianos were associated with her name and music shops were filled with compositions named after her.
In 1851, after 93 performances, Barnum moved on but Jenny Lind continued her American concert tour, donating the proceeds to charities. A German musician, Otto Goldschmidt, became her accompanist and conductor and they were married in February 1852, returning to Europe in May.
They settled in Dresden where their first son was born but moved to London in 1855 where they had two more children. She continued to perform over the next two decades.
They lived at various addresses near Wimbledon - first at Laurel House in Putney High Street until 1858, then Roehampton Lodge until 1859, Argyle Lodge on Parkside until 1864, and Oak Lea in Victoria Road (now Victoria Drive) until 1874 when they moved to South Kensington.
From 1882, Jenny Lind was Professor of Singing at the Royal College of Music. Her final public performance was in 1883. In her last years they moved to the Malvern Hills where she died of cancer in 1887.
Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt is commemorated at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Her widower was joined by members of the Royal Family and Sir Arthur Sullivan at the memorial's unveiling ceremony on 20 April 1894.
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