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23 October 2008

Felicitas Von Vestvali (1824 - 1880) tenor, actor.

Anna Marie Staegmann was the youngest daughter of a high official in Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland). Her parents disapproved of her aspirations to join a theatre, and she ran away dressed as a boy.

She studied voice with the composer Saverio Mercadante in Naples, and developed into a deep contralto. She was advised to study tenor parts, and as Felicitas von Vestvali sang Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and other trouser roles. Napoleon III presented her with silver armour for her Romeo when she sang in Paris. She went on to equal success in the US and in Mexico. In the latter she was chosen as the new director of the National Theatre.

After bad reviews in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in San Francisco in 1865, she switched to non-musical acting and was again successful as Romeo and especially as Hamlet. She performed the roles in English, and at the Lyceum in London. Queen Victoria commanded a performance.

She finally played Hamlet in Germany. Audiences came for curiosity and in antagonism, but were won over.

She had a child, but her lesbianism was known, and was made public after her death.
  • Magnus Hirschfeld translated from the German by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash. Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress. Prometheus Books. 1991: 348.
  • Laurence Senelick. The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre. Gender in performance. London, New York: Routledge, xvi, 540pp. 2000: 274-5.
  • Tony Howard. Women as Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation in Theatre, Film and Fiction. Cambridge University Press 2007: 56-9.
  • “Felicia Vestvali”. Mathew Brady Gallery.

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