It was this horrible decision
It was this horrible decision – do you want to work for the most famous soprano in the world, this great star, this woman celebrated in London, New York and Milano for her voice, for her performances for kings and queens, for her fortune – you know she used to ask five thousand dollars in gold to be paid before she took the stage? – famous for her love affairs, for her adulteries, for her magnificent treatment of every one, and the word was she was a perfect employer, you know, she treated dukes and footmen just the same, she only saw people – do you? Si! Certo! But do you want to work in Wales? What? Where? Oh no, no, no, this place! Dio carne, the first time I saw Wales it was terrible! All these mines, these low down hills, these small people in the rain I could not understand them, the worst food – I mean the worst food, like it would kill a dog. Mist, smoke, fires from the furnaces at night, smoke in the day, like the devil’s factory, the whole country. I thought ‘so this is hell, I have come to hell.’ But then the station and the road she had rebuilt and her castle, Craig-y-Nos, and Signora Adelina Patti, the greatest singer in the world came down to meet me as if I was an honourable famous guest, not Longo Giacomo, her new butler. It was the best decision
you can ever make. To be a butler is a special life if you work in a magnificent household, if your employer is good and has great talent and wealth and a true sense of what is the meaning of life. Signora Adelina knew that meaning from the day she was born in Madrid in 1843. She held herself like a Spanish woman, you know, like fire and grace, but her parents were Italians, her mother a Prima Donna and her father a tenor from Sicily.
She was singing in New York when she was eight
She was singing in New York when she was eight. Her first tour – $20,000 dollars. Can you imagine? She sang for Queen Victoria, she conquered Covent Garden, she conquered Europe, she married a French idiot, Henri, Marquis de Caux, who wanted her money. He had other women, she had other men, they divorced, and she is singing Aida when she falls in love with Ernesto Nicolini, a great man, a French tenor who is singing Ramades. They say this was the most passionate performance! He is married but they don’t care. He has had many lovers, she has had many lovers. When you are great stars you live and love how you want. They tour Europe together, everywhere they go you cannot get tickets. In Italy, Verdi himself says she is an artist so perfect there has never been her equal. This is true. The world belongs to her and because she is an artist with a wild heart she has this crazy idea she will live in Wales! And Signor Ernesto wants to shoot and fish in the country. So she buys Craig-y- Nos. And she has made the Winter Garden, the aviary, the new lakes, the clock tower, the stable block, the coach house, the laundry, the whole new wing with twelve bedrooms, dressing rooms, the chapel with stained glass, the generating room for making electric light, the gasometer and this machine which can make one tonne of ice. For us she makes eight new bedrooms for the servants and they were large rooms, beautiful.
And then she makes the theatre!
And then she makes the theatre! The theatre is magnificent. Blue and gold and cream like a dream. The whole stage and all the seats can be raised. There is space for one hundred and fifty. It can be a ballroom or an opera house. The paintings, the friezes, the velvet, the light – this is an enchantment. And in the gardens my friend Con Hibbert makes miracles.
There are melon pits, tomato houses, a coleus house, houses for carnations, there is a vinery with vines 100 feet long, and muscat grapes so thick you hardly can carry the bunches. He transports huge trees to the grounds, great pines, because Signora Adelina knows the smell is good for her voice. Con Hibbert is a great man. Signora Adelina has great skill in finding the best people, artists like herself, in all the different kinds of life.
She found Adamo Adami in Dublin. Adamo is from Stresa, an Italian like me. She employs many Italians because we have the same heart and eye for life like her. Adamo has been working in the Casino in Nice before Signora Adelina dines at the Sackfield Hotel in Dublin. This woman has eaten some of the best food in the world but when she tastes this she asks to meet the chef like she was
meeting a prince, Adamo said, and he came to Craig-y-Nos.
And now we are ready for the great parties
And now we are ready for the great parties. The first was the wedding of Signora Adelina and Signor Ernesto. Maybe there have been weddings in New York or Roma like this but in Wales I don’t think so, never. In the glass Winter Garden they have a great feast, and in the great hall another feast for all the workers and servants and people living near! Can you imagine? So many tonnes of meat and vegetables and bread and wagons and wagons of beer. There came letters from the Prince of Wales, the Queen of Belgium, the Queen of Romania, from all these dukes and duchesses and bankers. This is in 1886. In 1891, with all the works on the castle and the theatre completed, she has the party for the opening of the theatre. It is even bigger than the wedding. The trains came all day – all day! Special trains to carry all the
people. Peers of the Realm, Knights, Marquises, Counts, famous opera singers, journalists from New York, Roma, Paris, Havana. The clothes of the important guests were beautiful, but when Signora Adelina comes on the stage in pink satin and diamonds, so many diamonds, you know there is one star there, one true great star for all time. She and Signor
Ernesto sing Act 1 from La Traviata and Act 3 from Faust. All the servants were listening behind the stage.
That night we heard the music of God
That night we heard the music of God, it was like the holy spirit in her voice, it was the sensation of my life. And there were 450 bottles of champagne drunk that night, like water compared to that singing. In the years later some of the performances of the age were sung in this little theatre, in this little country of rain. Signora Adelina believed this – that you must make great art where you are, for the place that you are in. When there were no guests we had the special evenings, when she sang and danced with the staff – with us, her servants! And she would always say ‘Pop the corks, Longo!’ and so this became my name, because she took champagne with us, and also with the Crown Prince of Sweden and Prince Henry of Battenberg when they came. She saw only people, not titles. And when her time came she left her voice on the gramophone records, and she left our memories, and this castle, Craig-y- Nos, for this country of Wales to remember her by.
This is one of the 10 stories commissioned by Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and Brecon Beacons Tourism with funding from Welsh Government. Written by Horatio Clare 2016
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