Fanny Persiani as Zerlina in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni
Persiani was one of the most popular sopranos of the 1830s. Her frail and sickly looks conformed with the new ideal of ethereal femininity popularised by the Romantic ballet. Her voice, pure but lacking emotion, was perfect for the operatic heroines of the time, sweet-tempered, innocent victims, easily manipulated by unscrupulous men. Zerlina, the peasant girl who succumbs to the charms of the insatiable Giovanni on her wedding day, is such a heroine. So is Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor, which Donizetti wrote especially for Persiani. Such heroines were a far cry from the strong women who usually feature in Mozart’s operas, and roles like Norma or Semiramide admired by audiences in the 1820s.