Angela Peralta, the Most Outstanding Mexican Opera Singer

Angela Peralta, the most outstanding Mexican opera singer of the 19th century, lived a very short life, but also a very intense one. Her precocious approach to singing allowed her to train abroad, tour Europe three times, and marry twice in just 38 years of life.

Angela Peralta, the Most Outstanding Mexican Opera Singer
Angela Peralta, portrait with scenography. Photos: National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico

It is curious that the full name of Ángela Peralta, who was known as "the Mexican nightingale" for her extraordinary voice, was as long as a litany. She was registered as follows: María de los Ángeles Manuela Tranquilina Cirila Efrena Peralta y Castera. She was born in Mexico City on June 16, 1845, in a family of humble origins, and died in the city of Mazatlan on August 30, 1883, trying to regain the fame that had made her the top of the international operatic universe.

Her musical talent, as well as her angelic and prodigious voice, were discovered when she was six years old and, despite her humble origins, she received a careful artistic education. Her first teacher was Agustín Balderas. At the age of eight, Ángela Peralta sang the cavatina in Gaetano Donizetti's opera Belisario and entered the National Conservatory of Music until -at the age of 15, when she finished her studies- she made her debut at the National Theater, playing the role of Leonora in Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore, where she obtained an overwhelming success that took her to Europe to perfect her vocal technique.

Although Ángela Peralta never obtained any scholarship from the government, her father managed to cover the expenses of the trip and personally accompanied her to Spain, where they looked for a singing teacher. They left for Milan to engage the services of Francesco Lamperti and Angela's progress was soon noticed. She made her debut at La Scala in Milan in 1862 with Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. That night, the audience went wild, euphoric, with her singing and even one of Donizetti's sons celebrated the soprano's miraculous voice, lamenting that his father had not lived to hear her.

In the last years of her short life, Ángela Peralta even formed her own opera company.
In the last years of her short life, Ángela Peralta even formed her own opera company and it can be said that she met her death almost on stage, as yellow fever took her life.

Angela Peralta's success

After that, Angela Peralta was invited to sing in Turin in front of Victor Emmanuel II; there, with her beautiful voice, she interpreted La sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini. The applause from the audience was impetuous, the entire theater shook as the public cheered her frantically, so much so that she had to leave the stage 32 times to receive the rapturous ovations. Critics and audiences loved her, and for the next two years, she was in demand in every Italian city. With great triumphs, she toured the theaters of Turin, Genoa, Naples, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Lisbon, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Cairo, Alexandria, and St. Petersburg. The tour was extended to America, where it passed through New York and Havana.

Despite her humble condition and indigenous ancestry, Ángela Peralta overcame the prejudices of an activity exclusive to the upper classes, took advantage of her gift for singing, and dedicated herself to it with passion, opening the doors for many women who followed her career.

In 1865 Ángela Peralta returned to Mexico at the invitation of Emperor Maximilian, who asked her to sing at the Teatro Imperial Mexicano (which was the former Teatro Nacional). Upon her arrival, the streets of the capital were crowded with admirers who welcomed her in an official act. Before a full theater, which ecstatically applauded her voice in Bellini's La sonnambula, Ángela Peralta began a series of performances in the country that continued in the provinces.

When, at the end of 1866, the imperialist regime collapsed, the singer returned to Europe, where the public missed her. In Madrid, she married her first cousin, Eugenio Castera, but her marriage soon became a burden when her husband became mentally ill. Her career in Europe was on the cusp but even so, in 1872, Ángela Peralta toured the interior of the Mexican Republic. Her triumphs continued in Italy until her consummation with Bellini's I puritani. She confined her husband to a psychiatric hospital in Paris in 1876 -where he died that same year- and was unable to continue her performances.

María de los Ángeles Manuela Tranquilina Cirila Efrena Peralta, later known simply as Ángela Peralta.
María de los Ángeles Manuela Tranquilina Cirila Efrena Peralta, later known simply as Ángela Peralta, was born in Mexico City on July 6, 1845.

Public turns on Angela Perala

In 1877 Ángela Peralta returned definitively to Mexico to perform, with the most resounding success, Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida at the Gran Teatro Nacional. She also premiered Gino Corsini, an opera by Mexican Melesio Morales. It seemed that her career could not be going better when, suddenly, her fame declined drastically. The public turned its back on her and the booing was everywhere. Not even her best performance was enough to bring back the applause. The reason?

The rejection of her fans was not because her performance was unconvincing, as her voice did not deteriorate either. The soprano's career began its decline when her love affair -which had begun when Ángela Peralta's husband was still alive- with Julián Montiel y Duarte, manager of her opera company, became public. Insults and vituperation were heard at each of her performances, and reproaches for inadequate morals overshadowed her previous triumphs with a resounding failure.

Apart from her bel canto skills, Angela Peralta also excelled as an accomplished harpist and composer, with numerous romantic pieces, including galopas, dances, fantasies, and waltzes.

Ángela Peralta was a victim of pressure, illness, and exhaustion. Her career was suspended for three years, after which she decided to win back her fans and organized a tour in the provinces, but the public's reaction did not change. Faced with her fragile economic and artistic situation, she had to travel to the most remote and unimportant places in the country in search of acceptance. On the verge of bankruptcy, Ángela Peralta arrived in Mazatlán in August 1883 with an opera company of 80 people -most of them Italians-, where she was finally received with enthusiasm by the people of Mazatlán, who were well aware of the fame that preceded the artist.

Angela Peralta, portrait drawing.
Of indigenous ancestry and a very humble family, Ángela Peralta worked as a servant since she was a child to help the family economy.

Angela Peralta in Mazatlan

The opera company was preparing for rehearsals to recover the glory of the old days, but around the same time, a ship arrived at the port of Mazatlan with the corpse of an American victim of yellow fever, although the body was buried, the disease spread rapidly through the city.

Contrary to what was expected, on August 23 they presented Verdi's Il Trovatore to a sparse audience: people did not attend the theater for fear of contracting the fever -which they called Nickel- that was already affecting many in the port. However, a journalist wrote about Ángela Peralta: "She is a woman of pleasant presence, somewhat obese and with bulging but very lively eyes. She has a wonderful voice that emits with astonishing ease the highest and highest notes, up to the bass; she made some variations reaching notes as fine as the song of a goldfinch".

The opera company was also affected by the epidemic: several singers and musicians fell prey to the serious illness, and only six of them survived (among them violinist Juventino Rosas). Ángela Peralta also fell ill and no doctor could cure her. On her deathbed, Ángela married her eternal lover Julián Montiel and died on August 30, 1883, at the age of 38 on the upper floors of the Teatro Rubio, where she was staying. Her mortal remains were transferred to the Memorial of the Distinguished Persons in April 1937, where they rest today.

The theaters in the cities of Mazatlán and San Miguel de Allende bear her name in memory of Mexico's most important soprano, as Angela Peralta was the first woman to open the doors of opera in the country and also to take Mexico to the most important stages in the world performing the characters of the most famous operas.
Ángela Peralta, reprography.
It came to light at that time that Ángela Peralta had started a love affair during her last European tour with her administrator and writer Julián Montiel Duarte. This situation put her out of favor with the public.

It is common knowledge that Ángela Peralta was not at all physically graceful: she was obese, had bulging eyes, a round face, and short stature, but her heavenly voice was unique. While in Spain she was called "The Mexican Nightingale", in Italy she was called "Angelica di voce e di nome" (Angelica by voice and name). She conquered the great international public and, thanks to her prodigious voice, she was one of the most acclaimed sopranos in the history of opera, and took this sublime art to the Mexican province, reaching remote places and spreading both European and Mexican works. Several theaters in the country today bear her name.

Besides playing several instruments, Ángela Peralta composed simple works (songs, waltzes, mazurkas, romanzas, and fantasias) of which some became popular such as 'Adiós a México', 'Lejos de ti' or 'Nostalgia'. Ángela Peralta raised Mexico's name very high in the world, and for this reason, she is fondly remembered in Mexico.

The success of the critics and the public contrasted with her loneliness, in full adolescence, and while in her country the French invasion was being fought. At the end of 1865, Ángela Peralta returned to Mexico and was invited to sing before Emperor Maximilian who, after hearing her, was so impressed that he named her Chamber Singer of the Empire. Taking advantage of this recognition, she toured the country with performances in Guanajuato, León, and San Francisco del Rincón, even inaugurating the Juan Ruiz de Alarcón Theater -today Teatro Degollado- in Guadalajara.

Throughout her career, Peralta was known for her interpretations of Donizetti's Lucia, which she sang 166 times, as well as for the character of Bellini's Amina, with which she recorded 122 performances. She also won accolades with Verdi's tragic Violetta in La Traviata, as Adina in Donizetti's comedy L'Elisir d'Amore, with Bellini's Norma, and with Verdi's Aida.

Composed by Angela Peralta, Veronica Alexanderson - mezzo soprano, Jozef Olechowski - Piano.