PT Barnum and Jenny Lind in Havana, Cuba,1851

First September 14, 1850, U.S. Daguerrotype of Jenny Lind in New York, taken by her Swedish classmate, Poly Von Schneidau from Chicago, at the Matthew Brady Studio in New York City.

From PT Barnum’s “The Life of PT Barnum Written By Himself, Including His Golden Rules for Money-Making” (1888):

“Soon after arriving in Havana, I discovered that a strong prejudice existed against our musical enterprise. I might rather say that the Habaneros, not accustomed to the high figure which tickets had commanded in the States were determined on forcing me to adopt their opera prices; whereas I paid one thousand dollars per night for the Tacon Opera House, and other expenses being in proportion, I was determined to receive renumerating prices or give no concerts. They attended the concert, but were determined to show the great songstress (Jenny Lind) no favor. I perfectly understood this feeling in advance, but studiously kept all knowledge of it from Miss Lind. I went to the first concert, therefore, with some misgivings in regard to her reception. The following, which I relay from the Havana correspondence of the New York Tribune, gives a correct account of it:

“Jenny Lind soon appeared, led on by Signor Belletti. Some three or four hundreed persons clapped their hands at her appearance, but this token of approbation was instantly silenced by at least two thousand five hundred decided hisses. Thus having settled the matter that there should be no forestalling of public opinion, and that this applause was given to Jenny Lind in that house it should first be incontestably earned, the most solemn silence prevailed. I have heard the Swedish Nightingale often in Europe as well as in America, and have ever noticed a distinct tremulousness attending her first appearance in any city. Indeed this feeling was plainly manifested in her countenance as she neared the foot-lights; but when she witnessed the kind of reception in store for her, so different from anything she had reason to expect, her countenance changed in an instant to a haughty self-possession, her eyes flashed defiance, and, becoming immovable as a statue, she stood there perfectly calm and beautiful. She saw that she now had an obstacle to pass and a victory to gain worthy of her powers. In a moment here eye scanned the immense audience, the music began and then followed- how can I describe it?- such heavenly strains as I verily believe mortal never breathed except Jenny Lind, and mortal never heard except from her lips. Some of the oldest Castillians kept a frown upon their brow and a curling sneer upon their lips; their ladies, however, and most of the audience began to look surprised. The gushing melody flowed on, increasing in beauty and glory. The caballeros, the senoras and senoritas began to look at each other; nearly all, however, kept their teeth clenced and their lips closed, evidently determined to resist to the last. The torrent flowed deeper and faster, the lark flew higher and higher, the melody grew richer and grander; still every lip was compressed. By and by, as the rich notes came dashing in rivers upon our enraptured ears, one poor critic involuntarily whispered a ‘bravo’. This outbursting of the soul was instantly hissed down. The stream of harmony rolled still, at the close, it made a clean sweep of every obstacle, and carried all before it. Not a vestige of opposition remained, but such a tremendous shout of applause as went up I never before heard.

The triumph was most complete. And how was Jenny Lind affected? She who stood a few moments previous like adamant, now trembled like a reed in the wind before the storm of enthusiasm which her own simple notes had produced. Tremblingly, slowly, and almost bowing her face to the ground, she withdrew. The roar and applause of victory increased. “Encore, encore, encore!” came from every lip. She again appeared, and curtsying low, again withdrew, but again, again and again did they call her out and at every appearance the thunders of applause rang louder and louder. Thus five times was Jenny Lind called out to receiver their unanimous and deafening plaudits”

(Barnum again) I cannot express what my feelings were as I watched this scene from the dress circle. Poor Jenny! I deeply sympathized with here when I heard that first hiss. I indeed observed the resolute bearing which she assumed, but was apprehensive of the result. When I witnessed her triumph, I could not restrain the tears of joy that rolled down my cheeks; and rushing through a private box, I reached the stage just as she was withdrawing after the fifth encore. “God bless you, Jenny, you have settled them!” I exclaimed.

“Are you satisfied?” said she, throwing her arms around her neck. She, too, was crying with joy, and never before did she look so beautiful in my eyese as on that evening.

previous posts: PT Barnum’s “Humbugs of the World”


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