Pauline Viardot is hardly known today. But during her heyday in the 19th century she was called 'the most brilliant star of our time' by Liszt, Dickens was reduced to tears by her singing, she had a 40-year love affair with Ivan Turgenev and a stormy friendship with Charles Gounoud. This is a riveting picture of a magnetic, colourful and brilliant singer/actress/composer, who was a top 'celebrity' of her time.
She was among 'the most brilliant dramatic stars of our time', according to Franz Liszt, and billed as 'the most talked of opera singer in Europe'. Dickens - reduced to tears by her singing - regarded her as 'one of the greatest actresses of any time'. Liszt also declared that, with Pauline Viardot, the world had finally found a woman composer of genius. Enchantress of Nations is a lavish biography of this amazing woman whose life spanned most of the nineteenth century; and it also weaves a rich tapestry of music and literature in France, England and Russia. We meet George Sand, Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky; Rossini, Berlioz, Chopin, and Charles Gounod, with whom Viardot had a stormy friendship; and especially the great Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, with whom she had a passionate 40-year affair. Michael Steen recounts the back-stage bitchiness, robbery, duels and violence, life in Russia before the emancipation of the serfs, appalling disease and shocking poverty, and the unhappiness experienced by children of successful parents. Luxuriously produced with a colour plate section, it opens a new vista on opera, nineteenth-century literature and history.