Adelina Patti

Adelina Patti

Adelina Patti

Last updated: 20 January 2009

Adelina Patti, the greatest soprano of her day, will always be associated with her castle in the Upper Swansea Valley. She gave it the romantic name of Craig-y-Nos - the Rock of Night.

Born in Madrid of Italian parentage on 19 February 1843, Adelina Patti was raised in New York, and gave her first concert there at the age of seven.

Patti first sang at Covent Garden, London, in 1861. From then on, her international career was assured. As a bel canto coloratura soprano she had no rival. Giuseppe Verdi thought she was the greatest singer he had ever heard. Wherever she sang, the public adored her, and she made a fortune.

After her first marriage failed, Adelina Patti took a lover, the married French tenor Ernest Nicolini. In search of privacy, and good trout-fishing for Nicolini, she bought a Welsh country house overlooking the River Tawe near Penwyllt, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons.

Patti named the plain, four-square house Craig-y-Nos: the Rock of Night. She spent the next 40 years and £100,000 (several million in today's terms) making it over it as a Gothic castle. She added a clock tower, two turreted wings, a greenhouse filled with cockatoos and parakeets, and a 150-seat theatre.

The Patti Theatre was dedicated in August 1891. It is still very much in use today. With blue silk plush curtains, her monogram in gold over the proscenium arch, and an act-drop curtain showing Patti in a chariot as Semiramide, it was designed as a shrine to the diva.

When Adelina Patti held court at Craig-y-Nos, the theatre was the centre of events. She performed there privately long after her official retirement. Guests and servants would assemble to see her sing her great roles. Her butler - who couldn't sing - would mime the male roles.

After Nicolini died, Patti married for the third time, at the age of 55. Her new husband, Swedish nobleman Baron Rolf Cederström, was 28. He was rumoured to have been her masseur.

Patti was devoted to her home in Wales, giving annual charity concerts for the poor of Swansea, Bridgend, Ystradgynlais and Ystalyfera. Her generosity made her loved and admired, however much people smiled at her regal manner.

At Craig-y-Nos Patti finally allowed herself to be recorded. When she heard her own voice, her reaction was ecstatic: "Ah! My God! Now I understand why I am Patti! Yes, what a voice! What an artist! I understand all!"

Patti died at Craig-y-Nos on 27 September 1919. Her greatest memorials are her recordings now remastered on CD. Among her many portraits, the ones in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, the Guildhall, Brecon, and the National Portrait Gallery, London, give an idea of her beauty.

Although the famous greenhouse was moved to Swansea and renamed the Patti Pavilion, Craig-y-Nos, her fantasy castle, still has its gardens and theatre.

For information about performances at the Patti Theatre at Craig-y-Nos, call 01639 731167.

Photo: Philip H. Ward Collection of Theatrical Images, Rare Book And Manuscript Library, University of Pennsylvania

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