Felicita Vestvali
1824 - 1880
From 1855 through 1867, Felicita Vestvali was a familiar New York opera star who specialized in singing contralto "trouser roles." She debuted in New York as Romeo in Bellini's "I Capuleti ed i Montecchi," played Maffeo Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia, and in 1864 sang Orfeo in the first New York performance of Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice." After her return to Europe, Vestvali left opera for a stage career, and often appeared as Hamlet. New York photographers C. D. Fredricks and Jeremiah Gurney both photographed her in elaborate costumes. Brady's portrait, a double-sided ambrotype made around the time of her New York debut, portrays Vestvali as she appeared offstage. Vestvali was well known as a lesbian. Here, her mannish attire and severe hairstyle create a distinctively androgynous image.

Mathew Brady Studio Ambrotype, circa 1855
8.9 x 7 cm (3 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches) image; 12 x 9.5 cm (4 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches) case
Private Collection