Few opera singers rise to the notoriety of pop stars; they’re respected within their field, but not many outside the realm of classical music will know their name. Ángela Peralta became a household name across Europe and in Mexico as an operatic soprano by the time she was 20. By that age, she toured the most renowned European opera houses.
Everyone who had the privilege to witness her talents left the theatre in awe of her gift. And she wasn’t just a singer; she also composed, and played the piano and harp with skill.
Let’s take a look at her life, accomplishments, and tragic ending.
Ángela Peralta: Early Life and Education
The independent woman born to become the Mexican Nightingale entered the world on July 6, 1845 in Mexico City. Her parents, Manuel Peralta and Josefa Castera de Peralta, baptized her as María de los Ángeles Manuela Tranquilina Cirila Efrena Peralta Castera.
It wasn’t long before her parents discovered her God-given talent for singing. At only 8 years old, she performed a cavatina (an aria) from the Italian opera Belisario by Gaetano Donizetti that took the audience’s breath away. They couldn’t believe the quality of sound coming from such a small girl.
She pursued formal training at Conservatorio Nacional de Música in her birthplace of Mexico City.
At only 15, she made her operatic debut as Leonora in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore at the Gran Teatro Nacional, also in Mexico City. She landed a wealthy patron, Santiago de la Vega, who funded her music education in Italy. She studied under Leopardi to further hone her talent.
On May 13, 1862, she debuted in La Scala in Milan, performing Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Once again, she was met with adoring crowds.
Ángela Peralta: A Rising Star
One of the highest points of her career came when she sang before the king of Italy: King Victor Emmanuel II. After her performance of Bellini’s La sonnambula, the audience of the Teatro Regio gave her such emphatic praise that she returned for curtain calls 32 times.
Between the years of 1863 and 1864, she traveled to perform in opera houses around the world. She visited at least one opera company in Genoa, Rome, Madrid, St. Petersburg, Florence, Bologna, Barcelona, Naples, Lisbon, Alexandria, and Cairo.
Her home country could not ignore her vast success. The Second Mexican Empire extended an invitation for her to perform in the National Imperial Theatre. She accepted in 1865.
In 1866, she was named “Chamber singer of the Empire” after performing before Maximilian I of Mexico and Charlotte of Belgium.
When visiting Mexico between tours in 1871, she established a touring opera company of her own. She sang her signature roles with the company. Her two most famous roles were Amina in La sonnambula and Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor. She was Amina 122 times, and she played Lucia 166 times during her career.
After her wedding, she took a brief break from performances and worked on composing instead. Her best known work is Álbum Musical de Ángela Peralta.
Ángela Peralta: Her Scandalous Love Life and Tragic Decline
With such skyrocketing stardom, Peralta was under intense scrutiny from the public. Her first marriage soured quickly. During their first year, her husband (and cousin) developed a severe mental illness. Eugenio Castera grew too ill for public life and was committed to a mental hospital in Paris. He died there in 1876, almost 10 years after their wedding.
During the mid-1870s, Peralta began her affair with Julián Montiel y Duarte, a Mexican lawyer and entrepreneur. She became a social outcast in Mexico for this social transgression. Her audiences in Mexico set up boycotts of her performances. They even hired professional hecklers to harass her while she performed. She vowed to never perform in Mexico City again. She kept that promise till the day she died.
As a musician in the 19th century, if you can’t perform, you can’t earn a living. Her reputation and economic status in decline, she started a tour with her Italian troupe of opera singers in 1883. She began in Guaymas, headed to La Paz and Baja California Sur.
She didn’t realize it at the time, but she performed for the very last time in La Paz. She sang the role of Maria di Rohan. Instead of a proper stage, the group made an improvised theatre out of an unused sand pit.
When the group arrived at the port city of Mazatlán, the city greeted them with a lavish welcome. The troupe docked their boat at a pier adorned with flower garlands. A band played the Mexican National Anthem as Peralta walked off the boat.
Instead of letting the horses drive her carriage, her admirers pulled the carriage on their own to her hotel. Once she arrived on her balcony, she saluted her adoring fans from above. She truly felt like royalty.
It was a send-off fit for a queen. Little did the crowds know that she was to die a few days later along with 76 of the troupe’s 80 performers.
A yellow fever epidemic swept across the city, killing many in its wake, including the Mexican Nightingale.
Peralta died in the Hotel Iturbide on August 30, 1883. She was only 38.
The strangest part of her death was her deathbed marriage. She was unconscious when the marriage took place. She might have already passed away. Lemus, one of her troupe’s singers, nodded her head for her when she was asked if she took her lover, Julián Montiel y Duarte, as her husband.
Ángela Peralta: A Living Legacy
While Ángela Peralta passed in the 19th century, her talents have never been forgotten. She was even celebrated with a Google Doodle on her 175th birthday. In 1937, she returned to Mexico City as she was disinterred and laid to rest in the Rotunda de Hombres Ilustres in Mexico City’s Panteón de Dolores. It’s like her birthplace welcomed her home, apologizing for the way her people treated her in life.
You can visit the theatres named in her honor in Mazatlán, Mexico and San Miguel de Allende. Although she never performed in the Ángela Peralta Theater or Teatro Ángela Peralta, opera singers of her caliber perform there and keep the memory of the Mexican opera singer alive.Published in
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Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.
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