We think that we live in a celebrity-obsessed age, but, as it turns out, we have nothing on the nineteenth century. Among the nineteenth century’s many stars, Fanny (1809–93) and Adelaide Kemble (1814–79) were the ultimate A-listers. In their long, complicated, and rivalrous lives, they embodied the competition between words and music that forms the governing conceit of Strauss’s Capriccio. Born into England’s foremost theatrical family—some would say that their aunt, the regal Mrs. Siddons, was even more of a luminary than they—Fanny was one of the most acclaimed actresses of her day while Adelaide was a distinguished mezzo-soprano.

Both sisters extended their renown well beyond the confines of England: Fanny was as much a phenomenon in the United States as in her native country; Adelaide performed regularly on the...


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