She’s Gotta Have it

Malibran had borne along the first two acts [of The Maid of Artois] on the first night of performance in such a flood of triumph, that she was bent, by some almost superhuman effort, to continue its glory to the final fall of the curtain. I went into her dressing-room previous to the commencement of the third act, to ask how she felt, and she replied, “Very tired, but” (and here her eye of fire suddenly lighted up) “you angry devil, if you will contrive to get me a pint of porter in the desert scene, you shall have an encore to your finale.” Had I been dealing with any other performer, I should perhaps have hesitated in complying with a request that might have been dangerous in its application at the moment; but to check her powers was to annihilate them. I therefore arranged that, behind the pile of drifted sand on which she falls in a state of exhaustion, towards the close of the desert scene, a small aperture should be made in the stage; and it is a fact that, from underneath the stage through that aperture, a pewter pint of porter was conveyed to the parched lips of this rare child of song, which so revived her, after the terrible exertion the scene led to, that she electrified the audience, and had strength to repeat the charm, with the finale to the Maid of Artois.

—Alfred Bunn, The Stage: Both Before and Behind the Curtain (1840)

Bunn, manager of the Drury Lane Theater and Covent Garden, also wrote the libretto of The Maid of Artois for Michael Balfe. A couple of months after her triumph, Malibran fell off her horse, triggering an illness that would claim her life shortly thereafter. The Countess de Merlin’s 1841 Memoirs of Madame Malibran reports that during Malibran’s final illness, her landlady ventured the opinion that the porter Malibran drank with her customary oyster breakfast might not be agreeing with her. “What can I do?” Malibran replied. “I must take something for my voice, and I find this the best thing I can take.”

One comment

  1. Thank you for this Matthew! I would love to analyze the DNA of those Garcias! They were superhuman: Maria, Pauline (Viardot), and Manuel (who lived to be 100). This tidbit just adds to the Malibran mystique. I don't doubt for a moment that the story is absolutely true.

    I have also read that she used to ride her horse to performances dressed as a man.

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