Angela Peralta, the bel canto lady nicknamed 'The Mexican Nightingale'
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. Despite her humble condition and indigenous ancestry, she 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.
The expressive timbre of her voice and the sonorities that the young Ángela was able to reach opened the doors to her musical training and the learning of languages. At the age of 16, she made her debut at La Scala in Milan and triumphed to the point of having to salute on 32 occasions.
She was known by her followers as El ruiseñor mexicano, while in Italy she was called "Angelica di voce e di nome" (Angelica in voice and name). Such was Peralta's international fame that Mexican Emperor Maximilian I named her Chamber Singer of the Empire. However, apart from her bel canto skills, Angela also excelled as an accomplished harpist and composer, with numerous romantic pieces, including galopas, dances, fantasies, and waltzes.
In the last years of her short life, she 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 and that of 75 members of her company in Mazatlán, while they were on tour and when their lodging was in the upper floors of the Teatro Rubio.
María de los Ángeles Manuela Tranquilina Cirila Efrena Peralta, later known simply as Ángela Peralta, was born in Mexico City on July 6, 1845. Of indigenous ancestry and a very humble family, she worked as a servant since she was a child to help the family economy. Her first signs of art and talent came at the age of eight when she appeared for the first time in public performing a song by Donizetti. The good impression she always made in her performances allowed her to study at the National Conservatory of Music and make her operatic debut at the age of 15, playing the character of Leonore in Verdi's Il Trovatore at the National Theater in Mexico City.
A year later, at the age of 16, she embarked on her first trip to Europe. Accompanied by her father, she arrived in Italy to perfect her singing studies. She made her debut at La Scala in Milan on May 13, 1862, in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. The young Angela also performed the role of Amina in Vincenzo Bellini's La Sonnambula before King Victor Emmanuel II at the Teatro Regio in Turin. For three years she remained on tour, singing in Rome, Naples, Florence, Lisbon, Madrid, and Barcelona, as well as in Russia and even Egypt.
The success of the critics and the public contrasted with her personal 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.
In 1867, at the age of 21, she traveled again to Europe due to the imminent fall of the Mexican empire. He stopped in Havana and New York and performed on the most important stages in Italy and Spain. In the Spanish capital he married his first cousin and literary Eugenio Castera, something frowned upon by the society of the time, which contributed to his professional decline and to his having to dedicate himself to composing short pieces.
After four and a half years, Ángela Peralta returned to her hometown in May 1871. In Mexico City she premiered the opera Guatemotzin, by Aniceto Ortega de Villar, at the Teatro Nacional de México. That year she also became an entrepreneur by forming her own opera company.
In 1872 she made a third tour of Europe. She began her performances again in Italy and continued for five years. In 1876 her husband's illness forced her to stop her tour in Paris and to admit him to a hospital, where he died a few months later. After a period of mourning, Ángela Peralta returned to Mexico in 1877, dedicating herself to promoting opera in the country. She performed Verdi's Aida at the Teatro Nacional, organized the premiere of the Requiem, by the same Italian composer, and the opera Gino Corsini, by Melesio Morales.
It came to light at that time that she 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, although she continued with brilliant performances in outstanding theaters of the country. Her lover published during this time the Álbum Musical de Ángela Peralta, with 15 compositions by the singer.
Ángela Peralta performed in Querétaro, Celaya, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí and Morelia, in Monterrey's Teatro Progreso, in Saltillo, Durango and La Paz. When she arrived in Mazatlán she performed Il trovatore and Aida, but fell victim to an epidemic of fulminant yellow fever, an almost incurable disease in those times.
On her deathbed, Ángela married her eternal lover Julián Montiel and died on August 30, 1883, at the age of 38 in the upper floors of the Teatro Rubio, where she was staying. Her mortal remains were transferred to the Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres 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 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.