Enshrining Mozart: "Don Giovanni" and the Viardot circle
19th-Century Music, 25, (2/3), . (doi:10.1525/ncm.2001.25.2-3.165).
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Pauline Viardot-Garcia—known as Meyerbeer's first Fidès in Le Prophète, and in the title role of Gluck's Orphée in the version assembled by Berlioz—was known for her performances of roles in Don Giovanni from the mid 1840s until she retired from the stage in 1863. At least as significant as her dramatic involvement in the opera was her purchase of the autograph of Don Giovanni in London in 1855. From the mid-1850s, the autograph of Don Giovanni held a particular place within the Viardot circle. It was associated with a number of ritualistic discourses comparable with very few such documents before or since. Pauline Viardot preserved the document in an artefact that was as close in construction to a reliquary that its nature would allow, and treated it as a shrine. Its position was described with great pride by Viardot in her correspondence, and visitors to her homes in Paris and Baden-Baden behaved exactly as if they were in the presence of a relic: Rossini genuflected and Tchaikovsky claimed to have been in the presence of divinity. The autograph, coupled to its surrounding ritualistic discourses, was elevated to the status of a national monument when it was displayed at the Exposition Universelle of 1878, and at the anniversary exhibition of Don Giovanni's premiere in 1887. When it was donated to the library of the Conservatoire in 1892 (announced as early as 1889) its sacred and national characteristics were elided. By this time, the autograph of Don Giovanni had contributed substantially to the ongoing nineteenth-century project of enshrining Mozart.
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