In October 1850, George Upton ducked into a Boston concert hall to hear a young, beautiful blond woman named Jenny Lind sing. Lind, who had made her career as an opera singer in England, was embarking on a U.S. tour, and the frenzy that surrounded each of her tour dates was extraordinary—the “Jenny Lind fever” riled up thousands and thousands of people at the 96 stops she would make down the Eastern seaboard.
Tickets sold for astronomical sums, and in the case of Boston, were oversold, meaning that the people outside the theatre rioted at the idea they would not get to see her. She was the Lady Gaga of her age and was considered to be the best singer of the 19th century by many—a “nightingale,” an “angel.” Her appearances caused huge congestion—thousands of people would meet her at the station stops along the way.
Upton, 58 years later (!), would remember Jenny Lind “gliding down the stage with consummate grace” with a clarity that bespoke of the impact she had had on him:
“Her voice, as I remember it, was of full volume and extraordinary range, and had a peculiar penetrating quality also, because of its purity, which made its faintest tone clearly audible…her high notes were clear as a lark’s, and her full voice was rich and sonorous.”
Later, he would go on to say:
“I have borne her in my heart and memory across two generations and she remains for me still the one peerless signer I have heard on the concert stage.”
Unfortunately, Jenny Lind died just as the first audio recording instruments were being invented, so in 1908, when Upton wrote down his memories of Lind and her voice, the only residue that remained was what was in his mind.
Her art had transitioned into being only the memory of that art—the ephemerality of her voice having had no place, in those days, to become less ephemeral.
And yet 60 years later an old man at the end of his life could close his eyes and hear her voice, clear audible, crystallized in his mind even as the notes and the woman that sang them had long dissipated into nothing. What power. Read the rest of this entry »