This collection is dedicated to Maria Malibran and is the result of a donation made in 1913 to the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles by the widow of the Belgian Lieutenant-General Henri Emmanuel Wauwermans. The donation consists of works collected by her husband, including documents and objects which belonged to the famous mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran and her close family.
With almost two-hundred pieces of considerable historic value, the Malibran collection can be divided into several archival categories, including autograph letters, contracts, books, scores, iconographic documents, mementos and personal objects, as well as a range of different texts written about the diva.
This section is particularly important historically, containing three sets of letters: an autograph letter written by Malibran, copies of letters addressed to the singer (and to her second husband, Charles-Auguste de Bériot), as well as around forty autograph letters addressed "à Madame Malibran" by rivals or celebrity admirers such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Spontini, Auber, Halévy, Liszt or, for example, the librettist and playwright Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, who paid hommage to her as follows: "angel, siren, enchantress, you set the audience on fire".
Written in French or Italian and dating from an eight-year period (1828 to 1836), the eighty contracts in this collection shed light on the work conditions and fees – at times extremely high – as well as the repertoire set for the singer by a number of great theatres in Europe. We find out, for example that Alfred Bunn, the cautious director of the Drury Lane theatre in London, required the artist to share some of the fee with him to cover costs and potential risks.
This section is relatively small and it is believed that the rest of the library belonging to Malibran probably stayed in the possession of her husband, or was handed over to her sister, the singer Pauline Viardot. Nonetheless, it contains several remarkable pieces, such as two richly bound prayer booklets, Le petit paroissien complet and La voie du salut, as well as a small brochure of in-12 format, featuring the English version of the libretto of Fidelio, published in London in 1835 in preparation for the performances at the Royal Theatre of Covent Garden the following year, and including handwritten annotations by Maria Malibran. This section of the collection also includes a series of music scores – two autograph volumes of works by the singer, three volumes of romances with dedications, and a few music manuscripts – alongside press cuttings, concert programmes and posters, as well as a collection of poems, stanzas and various texts dedicated to the prima donna.
This section contains some of the most touching items in the collection. It consists of a number of works of art given to the singer while she was on tour, such as the bust made of very pure white marble, signed and dated (1834), a big silver-gilt medal commemorating her performance as Norma at La Scala (1836) and around fifteen portraits of the diva – lithographs, drawings in pencil, pastels or reproductions of photographs – including one remarkable lithograph (1851) made by her nephew Léon Viardot. There are also some other documents of sentimental value including watercolours of trips taken by Malibran, as well as a book of her sketches which reveal her hidden talent for drawing. This skill can also be seen in two astonishing volumes entitled La Réforme du Théâtre, which was an initiative started by Malibran to try and modernise costumes of the time, including around a hundred projects all in colour.
The heart of this collection consists of some personal objects belonging to ‘la Malibran’ – both everyday objects and things which are historically significant. These include a small salt flask, a bedside lamp in engraved crystal, a case for scores, a travel music stand and writing desk, the riding whip used during her fatal fall, a long lock of her hair cut after her death, a death mask, and a piece from her funeral pall which was torn into pieces by the crowd who attended her funeral at the cemetery of Laeken, where an impressive cenotaph was erected in her memory.
This final section includes documents related to Malibran’s death, in particular the original certificate, on parchment, in which the church authorities in Manchester authorise the request of Charles-Auguste de Bériot to have Malibran's body exhumed and transferred to the cemetary of Laeken near Brussels, where she is now buried, as well as the French translation of the poignant report of the funeral written in London by her doctor, Dr Jos Belluomini, who spent a week at her bedside while she was dying, and who confirmed her death on the morning of 23 September 1836.