Belgian mezzo-soprano (b. 21 July 1835 [N.S.] in Brussels; d. 3 April 1907 [N.S.] in Berlin), born Marguerite-Joséphin-Désirée Montagney Artôt, but known on stage as Désirée Artôt or Désirée Artôt (de) Padilla.
Désirée was the daughter of Jean Désiré Montagney Artôt (1803–1887), horn player and professor at the Brussels Conservatory. She studied with Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Francesco Lamperti in London and Paris, making her debut at the Paris Opéra in 1858. Specialising in the Italian repertory, she toured throughout Europe, including Moscow in 1868–70 and 1875–76, and Saint Petersburg in the 1871–72 and 1876–77 seasons.
Tchaikovsky was introduced to Artôt in 1868 during her Moscow tour, and was immediately captivated by her artistic talent and charm. His Romance in F minor, for piano, Op. 5 (1868) was dedicated to her, and Tchaikovsky also wrote additional music for an Italian production of Auber's opera Le Domino noir, due to be staged for the singer's benefit in October 1868.
His proposal of marriage was apparently accepted immediately, in spite of the objections of some of the composer's friends (and in particular Nikolay Rubinstein, who believed that being the husband of a foreign singing celebrity would irrevocably damage Tchaikovsky's own musical career). However, it seems that Artôt's attentions were quickly diverted elsewhere (possibly as a result of Rubinstein's intervention), and in 1869 she married the Spanish baritone Mariano Padilla y Ramos (1842–1906), and sang with him throughout Europe until his retirement. Their daughter, the soprano Lola Artôt de Padilla (1876–1933) also proved to have a highly successful operatic career.
At the end of 1887 Tchaikovsky met her again in Berlin, for the first time since their engagement had ended in 1869. As a result of this meeting, the Six French Songs, Op. 65 (1888) were written and dedicated to the singer.
Tchaikovsky dedicated two of his works to Désirée Artôt:
Correspondence with Tchaikovsky
6 letters from Tchaikovsky to Désirée Artôt-Padilla have survived, dating from 1888 to 1890, all of which have been translated into English on this website:
- Letter 3486b – 28 January/9 February 1888, from Berlin
- Letter 3569 – 16/28 May 1888, from Frolovskoye
- Letter 3700 – 17/29 October 1888, from Frolovskoye
- Letter 3790a – 10/22 February 1889, from Berlin
- Letter 3910 – 27 July/8 August 1889 , from Frolovskoye
- Letter 4050 – 25 February/9 March 1890, from Florence
8 letters from Désirée Artôt-Padilla to Tchaikovsky have survived, dating from 1888 to 1892, of which 7 are preserved in the Klin House-Museum Archive, and one in the A. A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatrical Museum in Moscow.