Saturday, 5 March 2016

39 Dame Adelina Patti

39. Adelina Patti (photos: Patti Pavilion, Craig-y-nos, Adelina Patti) – 5 March 2016

At Abercraf in the upper Swansea Valley stands Craig-y-nos, literally ‘Rock of the Night’.  It was named by Dame Adelina Patti, who while staying at Cadoxton Lodge near Neath in 1878, followed the suggestion of Henry Hussey Vivian MP and his brother Graham Vivian of Clyne by purchasing what was then a Victorian country house.  The world-famous operatic diva bought it for £3,500, along with 17 acres.  After her second marriage, to French tenor Ernesto Nicolini at Ystradgynlais Church in 1886, she had the building enlarged with North and South wings, designed by Bucknall and Jennings, whose designs in Swansea’s High Street include the Palace Theatre and the rebuilt St Matthew’s church.  The furnishing was by Ben Evans and Company.  Patti also added a clock tower, a conservatory, a theatre seating 150 (a miniature version of La Scala, Milan), and a winter garden, which is now the Patti Pavilion in Swansea’s Victoria Park.  The purchase of hundreds of acres of surrounding land further augmented her estate, and Craig-y-nos was probably the first private house in Wales to be wired for electricity.

A private road was constructed from Craig-y-nos to the Neath and Brecon Railway station at Penwyllt, which was part funded by Madam Patti, and where a lavishly furnished private waiting room was installed for her.  In return the Neath and Brecon Railway provided Patti with her own private railway carriage, which could be attached to any train within the United Kingdom wherever she wished to travel.

Born in Madrid in 1843 of Italian parents, the family moved to New York where Adelina Patti made her operatic debut aged 16, and two years later enjoyed remarkable success at Covent Garden.  With a fine soprano voice she conquered the music capitals of Europe earning huge fees: at her peak she insisted on being paid in advance - in gold.  Divorce from her first husband had been expensive.  Madam Patti was married three times, but had no children.  

During an American tour in 1862 she sang ‘Home, Sweet Home’ at the White House before President Abraham Lincoln, who called for an encore, and that song became closely associated with her.  In her sixties when her voice was past its prime she made several gramophone recordings at Craig-y-nos, of which a number have been reissued on CD by Marston Records.  She last sang in public in October 1914 at a Red Cross concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall for victims of the First World War. 

The winter garden at Craig-y-nos was a spacious building with a soaring roof made mainly from glass, where Patti would stroll with her guests among tropical plants, whilst exotic birds flew within.  Before her death she donated it to the people of Swansea, though because of the war there was insufficient manpower available to move it from Craig-y-nos to Victoria Park until 1920, the year after she had died at Craig-y-nos aged 76.  She was buried in Paris, near the graves of her father and Rossini, her favourite composer.

After her death, Craig-y-nos and the grounds were sold in 1921 to the Welsh National Memorial Trust, founded to combat tuberculosis in Wales.  Reconstructed as a sanatorium it was called the Adelina Patti Hospital.  In 1959 it became a hospital for the elderly, before closing as a hospital in 1986.

The Patti Pavilion in Victoria Park had a cosmetic makeover in a 1994 ‘Challenge Anneka’ television programme, but required far more substantial work.  In 2008 money from the Welsh Assembly and Swansea Council facilitated a £1.7million refurbishment of this grade II listed building, providing a glazed extension which forms the seating area of the Patti Raj restaurant, and parking for 39 vehicles. 
Now the building given by the operatic diva who opened Swansea’s Grand Theatre in July 1897, and was made the first Honorary Freewoman of the Borough in June 1912, is again in regular use.     

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