Thérèse Johanne Alexandra Tietjens (July 17, 1831 – October 3, 1877) was a leading opera and oratorio soprano singer of Hungarian origin who was born in Hamburg, but made her career in London during the 1860s and 1870s.
At this time the soprano Giulia Grisi was still singing in London: Tietjens was to inherit parts of her London repertoire and of that of Giuditta Pasta. In 1860 E.T. Smith, manager of Her Majesty's, attempted to seize the market in both English and Italian opera by having two companies alternating. The Italian opera began with Il trovatore, with Tietjens, Mme Lemaire, Guiglini and the baritone Vialetti, and the team then progressed to Don Giovanni, while the English opera premiered Macfarren's Robin Hood with Sims Reeves. On 15 June 1861 Tietjens was the first London Amelia, opposite Giuglini's Riccardo, and the Renato of Enrico delle Sedie (a singer of great style, musicianship and talent but limited vocal range) in the original Lyceum Ballo in maschera for Mapleson.
In her ideal role as Lucrezia, Tietjens led the cast at the London debut of Zelia Trebelli (Orsino) in 1862. In that year Herman Klein, aged 15, saw her in Les Huguenots and forty years later described his realisation then, that she was a tragedienne of the highest order. His teacher had described her 'I know that my redeemer liveth' to him with wonder. On 14 July 1862 at the 50th Jubilee concert for the Philharmonic Society, she sang the Mendelssohn Loreley (with choir) and With joy the impatient husbandman from Haydn's The Seasons. This was at St James's Hall Piccadilly, conducted by William Sterndale Bennett: other soloists were Charles Santley, Joseph Joachim, Jenny Lind, Mrs Anderson (pianist) and the 'cellist Piatti.
1863 saw the first Gounod's Faust in England, at Her Majesty's, with Tietjens as Marguerite, Guiglini (Faust), Santley (Valentin), Edouard Gassier (Mephistopheles) and Trebelli (Siebel). This production was transferred to Covent Garden and was performed in every successive season until 1911. In the same season Tietjens created the role of Selvaggia in the opera Niccolo de' Lapi by Francesco Schira (conductor at Drury Lane), also with Trebelli, Giuglini and Santley (Niccolo). (This work was revived with far greater success as Selvaggia in Milan 1875.) There was more Il trovatore, a Norma (one of Tietjens's finest roles) with Désirée Artôt (making her debut that year also as Violetta and Marie) (mezzo) as Adalgisa, and Weber's Oberon with Sims Reeves (Huon), the immortal Marietta Alboni (Fatima), Trebelli (Puck), the tenor Bettini (who married Trebelli) (Oberon), Gassier (Babekan) and Santley (Scherasmin). That autumn she went with the Mapleson tour to Dublin to appear in Faust with Reeves, Trebelli and Santley, and for herself also made a tour in Paris.
Otto Nicolai's 1849 opera Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor had its English premiere in May 1864 with Tietjens and Caroline Bettelheim as the wives, Gassier (Page) and Santley the husbands, Junca (who also replaced Gassier in Faust) as Falstaff, Giuglini as Fenton, Giuseppina Vitali (Anne), Manfredi (Slender) and Mazzetti (Dr Caius). Santley describes the fun he and Tietjens had in the scene turning out the linen basket and pelting each other with linen.
Titiens, Santley, Giuglini, Mayerhofer and Pauline Lucca gave a Buckingham Palace concert in May 1864: Tietjens was then singing Gluck (Armida), Bellini (I puritani), Rossini and Meyerbeer (Robert le diable). On July 5 1864 Titiens created Mireille (opposite Giuglini's Vincent) in the first production in England of Gounod's opera, which in its original five-act form had been premiered in Paris in the March. Leon Carvalho, Director of the Opéra-Comique, Paris, and his brother-in-law Miolon personally supervised the later rehearsals. Santley thought this role didn't suit her. The 1864 production of Fidelio, however, more fully established Tietjens as a London successor in the repertoire of Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient.
In 1866 she assisted at the unsuccessful return of Giulia Grisi in Norma and Don Giovanni: her own appearances were however very successful, not least as Iphigenie in Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride, with Gardoni (Pilade), Santley (Oreste) and Gassier (Thoas). Two private performances were given for the Earl of Dudley, supported by Sims Reeves, the baritone Giovanni Battista Belletti, and Santley. The same season saw her Elvira in an Ernani revival with Tasca, Gassier and Santley, and an Il Seraglio with Mme Sinico, and Messrs Gunz, a new tenor Rokitanski, and the Irish bass Signor Foli.
In 1867 the tenor Pietro Mongini took the role of Alvaro opposite Santley's Vargas and Tietjens's Leonora in the first England La forza del destino (Verdi) on 22 June, with Gassier as Fra Melitone. At this time the great Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson also became a regular performer at Her Majesty's, and there was a Don Giovanni with Tietjens and Nilsson, Mme Sinico, Gardoni and Rokitanski.
In 1866 Herman Klein heard her in rehearsal at the Norwich Festival. He later remarked that then her voice was still fresh, powerful and penetrating, with the curiously dramatic 'human' quality that was perhaps its most notable attribute. Her style was marked by the same rare individuality, and her phrasing a curious blend of vigour and grace. She used portamento in approaching a high note from below, a technique often thought ugly, but in her a natural and artistic effect, for she was quite capable of entering a note with superb attack if she wished. Her magnificent energy and purity of tone was especially evident in the opening bars of the 'Inflammatus' in Rossini's Stabat Mater, and in 'Let the bright Seraphim'.
When the Gye and Mapleson companies were successfully merged, in 1871, Tietjens was the one principal artist not re-engaged by George Wood. However, Lucrezia had remained a staple of her repertoire throughout the 1860s, and in May 1872 she again led a cast, on this occasion at Drury Lane, for the London debut of the tenor Italo Campanini (as Gennaro), with Trebelli as Orsino and the French baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure as Alfonso, under the baton of Sir Michael Costa. She also took the solos in Sullivan's Festival Te Deum at The Crystal Palace.
Campanini was at once (but rather prematurely) acclaimed as the successor of Mario and Giuglini. But in the next years, it was with Campanini as Lohengrin, for Mapleson at Her Majesty's, that Tietjens attempted her only Wagnerian role, Ortrud; and in June 1874, in company with Nilsson and Campanini, she created a lead in the posthumous first production of Michael Balfe's Il Talismano. A minor role in that production was created by a young baritone Giovanni de Reschi, who in the same year made his English debuts at Drury Lane in La Favorita (Alfonso), as Don Giovanni, as Valentine (Faust), and as Count Almaviva. Returning to his vocal studies, he reappeared in Paris as a tenor in 1884, and became known to the world as Jean de Reszke.
Until 1872 she and Rudersdorff had been the joint 'stars' of the English oratorio platform, but in that year her friend and rival left to continue her career in the United States. Then Tietjens reigned alone. But in 1876 she made a tour in America, singing Lucrezia Borgia at the Astor Place Opera House in New York with Brignoli. This was to prove the last major episode in her extraordinary career. Her great roles had been Lucrezia, Leonora, Norma, Medea, and Donna Anna. In addition to other roles mentioned, she also sang Fides in Le prophete and Semiramide. Adelina Patti refrained from performing Semiramide in her own repertoire until after the death of Tietjens, out of respect for her great distinction in the role.
Herman Klein, who always retained his high opinion of Tietjens and her art, attended her last performance. It was Lucrezia at Her Majesty's on May 19th 1877. She had known for some time that she had cancer, and when an operation had been decided upon she gave this performance beforehand. She was really too ill to go on, but insisted. After each of the acts she fainted and had to be resuscitated, but while on stage showed no sign of her physical suffering, and only a few in the audience knew her condition. Her final scream, as Lucrezia realises that Gennaro is dead, sent a shudder through the house, and she did not shirk the painful fall to the stage at the close. The curtain rose twice to the applause, but she was again unconscious and lay motionless. The operation was performed, but she died in London on October 3rd 1877. She was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery 'in the presence of a vast crowd, amid tokens of public grief such as no foreign artist before her had ever been vouchsafed on English soil.'
She had introduced London to Gounod's Faust and Mireille, Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, Les vepres siciliennes and La forza del destino, and Nicolai's Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor, while maintaining for almost twenty years a repertoire in Oberon, Die Freischütz, Fidelio, Médée, Die Zauberflöte, Il Seraglio, The Marriage of Figaro, and of course her Lucrezia Borgia and many other roles besides, not forgetting her Ortrud. We can accept Encyclopedia Britannica's verdict: 'Her voice was a dramatic soprano of magnificent quality, and her powers as an actress were supreme. The great volume and purity of her voice and her sympathetic and dignified acting combined to make her famous in strong dramatic parts.' Michael Scott suggests that Emma Albani attempted, unsuccessfully, to 'inherit the mantle' of Tietjens, but that Lillian Nordica and Lilli Lehmann were more natural successors to her tradition.