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Articles from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Gaetano Vestris​a

Vestris, Gaetano Apollinoº Baldassare (1729‑1808), French ballet dancer, was born in Florence and made his début at the Opéra in 1749. By 1751 his success and his vanity had grown to such a point that he is reported to have said, "There are but three great men in Europe — the king of Prussia, Voltaire and I." He was an excellent mimic as well as dancer. From 1770 to 1776 he was a master and composer of ballets, retiring, in favour of Noverre, with a pension. Two other pensions fell to him, when he gave up his positions of first dancer and of first dancer of court ballets, amounting in all to 9200 livres. Vestris married a dancer, Anna Heinel (1753‑1808), of German origin, who had a wonderful success at the Opéra. He reappeared at the age of seventy-one on the occasion of his grandson's début. By the dancer Mlle. Allard, Vestris had a son, Marie Auguste Vestris Allard (1760‑1842), also a ballet dancer, who surpassed his father, if possible, in both talent and vanity. His son, Auguste Armand Vestris (b. c 1795), who took to the same profession, made his début at the Opéra in 1800, but left Paris for Italy and never reappeared in France. Gaetano's brother, Angelo Vestris (1730‑1809), married Marie Rose Gourgaud, the sister of the actor Dugazon (q.v.).

Lucia Vestris

Vestris, Lucia Elizabeth (1797‑1856), English actress born in London in January 1797, the daughter of Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi (1757‑1821) and granddaughter of Francesco Bartolozzi, the engraver. In 1813 she married Auguste Armand Vestris (see above), who deserted her four years later. With an agreeable contralto voice and a pleasing face and figure, Madame Vestris had made her first appearance in Italian opera in the title-rôle of Peter Winter's Il ratto di Proserpina at the King's Theatre in 1815. She had an immediate success in both London and Paris, where she played Camille to Talma's Horace in Horace. Her first hit in English was at Drury Lane in James Cobb's (1756‑1818) Siege of Belgrade (1820). She was particularly a favourite in "breeches parts," like Cherubino in the Marriage of Figaro, and in Don Giovanni, and with such introduced songs as "Cherry Ripe," "Meet me by moonlight alone," "I've been roaming," etc. In 1831, having accumulated a fortune, she became lessee of the Olympic Theatre, and began the presentation of a series of burlesques and extravaganzas — for which she made this house famous. She married Charles James Mathews in 1838, accompanying him to America and aiding him in his subsequent managerial ventures. Her last appearance (1854) was for his benefit, in an adaptation of Madame de Girardin's La Joie fait peur, called Sunshine through Clouds, and she died in London on the 8th of August 1856. Her musical accomplishments and education were not sufficient to distinguish her in grand opera, and in high comedy she was only moderately successful. But in plays like Loan of a Lover, Paul Pry, Naval Engagements, etc., she was delightfully arch and bewitching.

Thayer's Note:

a These articles go a bit beyond the usual focus of my site, but poking around online for a biographical sketch of the singer to link to from another page, I found nothing else as good out there. Wikipedia, bless 'em, cribs both articles essentially whole, then by way of editing introduces half a dozen errors, the worst of which, at the time I looked at them, was to make Auguste Armand the son rather than the grandson of Gaetano: it thus seemed best to put the original item online. [Update 2013: after several years, that mistake has been corrected on Wickedpedia, although the others remain, all minor, and a new one introduced.]

Mind you, like all human endeavors the famous 1911 is imperfect as well, witness the error in Gaetano's names, which I corrected here; subsequent editions of the Britannica also made the correction.

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Page updated: 18 Jun 13