It was entirely fitting that a theatre set designer was called in to put the magnificent finishing touches on a new exhibition to celebrate the life of the grand dame of opera, Adelina Patti which opened to the public at Craig y Nos County Park this week.
Formally launched on Saturday 31st May, the exhibition celebrates the career of soprano Adelina Patti and is housed in the former game larder which has been restored to house a wealth of archive material including photography, memorabilia, an old gramophone and a wonderful costume recreation of one her dresses – made entirely from paper.
The dress, with a remarkable 20 inch waist – which is in fact two inches larger than Adelina’s real waistline – has been painstakingly recreated from one of the photographs of Adelina by Eleri Lloyd, a young theatre designer who graduated with honours from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
The new exhibition has been the result of a wonderful chance meeting between Bob Grainger, a local photographer based at the Country Park and Tony Hibbert, who is the grandson of Adelina’s head gardener, Constantine Hibbert – who loyally worked for her for over 30 years. Tony’s memorabilia and pictures have been used to write a book about his grandfather called Fresh Flowers for M’Lady which has now been used to form part of the exhibition and a short Welsh and English audiovisual presentation. The narration is by Mair and Tony Hibbert and for maximum authenticity, a lady of Italian and Welsh descent had been specifically chosen to read extracts from Adelina’s letters on the soundtrack.
Set Designer Eleri Lloyd said: “This project has been a real labour of love. I hope the work on the dress reflects the essence of the Adelina who was feted as royalty in Europe and the United States. The dress itself took over 100 hours to recreate and even using the smallest dress mannequin available with a 20 inch waist was still 2 inches larger than Adelina’s real waist.”
Julie James, Chairman for Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority said at the launch: “The wonderful exhibition offers rare glimpse into the life and times of Adelina Patti – her upbringing, her artistic genius and her renowned generosity to the people and communities of the Swansea valley. Until now, the story of her interesting life was primarily left unsung and with this creative exhibition and presentation, we are opening it to a wider public.”
Bob Grainger said at the opening: “For many years I have been interested in finding a way to tell the story of Adelina Patti to the people who visit this area. Her charity work in the Swansea valley is well known and not many people realise she was given the freedom of Brecon and of Swansea in recognition for all her generosity. She gave over her kitchen gardens and flower beds at Craig y Nos to grow food for the war effort during WW1 and regularly gave performances and food to the local people and those in poor areas. When she died she left her Winter Garden to Swansea where it was moved and renamed the Patti Pavilion and still stands now – it’s nice to be able to pay tribute to her efforts with this exhibition and remember all her wonderful work here in Craig y Nos – at the place that she loved the most.”
Tony Hibbert said: “I am delighted to have played a role in bringing Adelina’s life back onto centre stage. My grandfather remembered her fondly and he would be proud to see some of his work and story here too.”
The exhibition is open every day until the end of September between 09.30 and 17.30 and is free to attend.
Bannau Brycheiniog National Park lies on the border between Mid Wales and South Wales and is a landscape that offers a legacy of unparalleled proportions. From spectacular mountain ranges, internationally renowned geology, waterfalls, market towns, bountiful wildlife, diverse recreational opportunities to the highest peak in southern Britain – Pen y Fan. It contains some of the most spectacular and distinctive upland formations in southern Britain and covers an area of 1347 sq km (520 sq miles). It was also awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2013 – Wales’s first and only one of five destinations in the world to be granted the prestigious accolade.
When Adelina Patti was 35 whe bought Craig y Nos Castle with her future husband (2nd) Ernesto Nicolini She lived for 40 years at Craig y Nos Castle as a very active member of the community until she died in 1919. She married Baron Cederstrom in 1899 after Nicolini died and she then became Baroness Cederstom. At the castle she had her own private theatre, a miniature version of the one at Bayreuth and made her own gramophone recordings.
Patti also funded the substantial station building at Craig y Nos/Penwyllt on the Neath and Brecon Railway. In 1918, she presented the Winter Garden building from her Craig-y-Nos estate to the city of Swansea. It was re-erected and renamed the Patti Pavilion. She died at Craig-y-Nos and eight months later was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to be close to her Father and favourite composer Rossini in accordance with the wishes in her will.
When Adelina – then in her 60s – agreed to be recorded by the company that later became HMV – her contract stipulated that her record labels should be in her favourite pink and no other artist was to have that colour. Adelina Patti enjoyed a stellar career touring across Europe, The United States and Russia.