By Myrtle T. Robinson, ASH (Vixen Tor)

(This paper was originally presented by the author at a meeting of The Hansom Wheels, a scion society of The Baker Street Irregulars, in Columbia, SC. It was subsequently published by the journal shown at the left, which you may click for the Serpentine Muse web site. If you like this story, see the subscription information at the end).


            Most speculation regarding the identity of Irene Adler attempts to fit her characteristics to those of a known person. My contention is that we should look at the problem in reverse. Somewhere there existed a lady who was Irene Adler. But since she was a contemporary, Dr. Watson found it necessary to disguise her so that he could write about her without letting the reader know of whom he spoke. And he disguised the King of Bohemia and Godfrey Norton in the

same way.      

            Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of a well-known female opera singer of the nineteenth century, and we will see how she well fits Watson’s account. This woman, a diva known as Patti (right) was born in Spain to an Italian musical family, which moved to the United States when she was three. Her first concert, sung at Tripler's Hall in New York City at the age of eight, led to a successful concert tour. At sixteen, in 1859, she made her adult sing­ing debut, performing the lead in Doni­zetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at The Academy of Music, also in New York. In 1861, she traveled to London to sing the role of Amina in Bellini’s La Son­nambula at Covent Garden for no fee and became an immediate sensation.

            Patti was described as petite and beautiful. She was a coloratura soprano or


bel canto singer with beautiful tone, dazzling technique, and an as­tounding range which extended to F sharp above high C. The recogni­tions she received over the next forty odd years were numerous—including Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia, Napoleon III, Franz Josef of Aus­tria, and Wilhelm I of Prussia. Famous authors, such as Oscar Wilde, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens and Henry James, eulogized her. Critics, including George Bernard Shaw, praised her.

            Her repertoire included Gilda in Rigoletto, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Maria in The Daughter of the
Margherita in Gounod’s Faust, Aida, Lakme, and many others. She sang the world over—Europe, North and South America. From 1881 until 1904, she made annual tours of the United States. Verdi declared her the greatest singer he had ever heard. A notable actress, something which did not come into general practice in opera until the second half of the twentieth century, she excelled in comedy, particularly in the parts of Zerlina in Don Gio­vanni and as Rosina in The Barber of Seville. In fact, Rossini arranged much of the music of the latter role for Patti.
            Besides being a singer of spectacular talent, she was a tough business-woman who accumulated a huge fortune. A case in point: an American impresario named Colonel Mapleson wished to book her for a perform­ance, but did not have sufficient funds to give her the $5000 in gold which she required in advance. He begged her to reconsider and, since she liked him, she agreed to let him collect money at the door to make up the deficit. Her manager came to Mapleson looking for the money after the box office had been open for a while, but the Colonel had accumulated only a portion of what he needed. The manager said, “Madame Patti will put on her costume.” Later, the sum was still not complete. The manager said, “Madame Patti will put on one shoe.” Fi­nally the Colonel had his $5000. Her manager then said, “Madame will now put on the other shoe.” And true to her word, as the curtain opened, Patti was ready to sing Violetta in
La Traviata.