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Sophie Stebnowska

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Sophie Stebnowska

Mariane Theresia Sophie Stebnowska (or Maria Sofia Stempkosta; 1753 – 16 February 1848), was a Polish opera singer, actor and harpist. She was among the great talents of the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm during the reign of King Gustav III of Sweden. She was married to the opera singer Christoffer Christian Karsten and was also the maternal grandmother of the world famous ballet dancer Marie Taglioni.

Biography and career

Sophie Stebnowska, noted as "an excellent harp player", arrived in Sweden from Paris in the company of the British ambassador to Sweden, Sir Thomas Wroughton, with whom she was in a relationship at the time.[1]

She was married in 1781 to the Swedish opera singer Christoffer Christian Karsten. In December 1782, she was appointed premier actress and singer of the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, a position she kept for 21 years. At the wedding, the couple were given the villa Canton at Drottningholm. Though she did not reach the rank of prima donna, she was considered among the opera's most valuable members, just behind the prima donnas Elisabeth Olin and then Caroline Frederikke Müller during the 1780s and 1790s.

She was also active as a musician. In March, 1795, she participated in a public concert in Stockholm arranged by Karsten where she played the harp, while her husband and Marie Louise Marcadet sang; first, each three of them performed in their fields by themselves, then jointly. [2] By 1803, she was no longer premier actress, and in 1806, she and her husband left their positions after the temporary closure of the opera.

Gustav Löwenhielm mentions her importance in the 19th century, during a discussion about the employment of foreign artists, when he points out that several of the artists during the foundation of the Royal Swedish Opera and the Royal Dramatic Theatre had been foreigners:
"Is it impossible to engage Mr Berg and Miss Schoultz? - Generally, I can not see how we can elude the employment of halfgrown foreigners. Gustav III's Swedish national theatre started with the Danish Mrs Müller, the French Mrs Marcadet, the German Mamsell Stading, the German Mrs Augusti and the Polish Mrs Karsten. These ladies occupied our stage and kept it from the foundation of the opera and the premature departure of Mrs Olin in the beginning of the 1780s, until the year of 1800, when the school of Mrs Desguillons had created Mamsell Wässelia cum celeris."[3]

She had two daughters: Sophie Hedvig Karsten, premier dancer at the opera in 1805-1806 and mother of the ballerina Marie Taglioni; and Elisabeth Charlotta Karsten, who married a Russian and became a painter.

Sophie Stebnowska Karsten died at Drottningholm, aged 95.


  • Georg Nordensvan:Svensk teater och svenska skådespelare Från Gustav III till våra dagar. Förra delen 1772-1842 (Swedish theatre and Swedish actors from the days of Gustav III to our days. First Book 1772-1842). Albert Bonniers Förlag (1917), Stockholm. (Swedish)
  • [1] svenskt musikhistoriskt bullentin (Swedish musical historical bullentin) (Swedish)
  • [2] Finska anor inom furstehus (Finnish descendenc within Emprial houses) Osmo Durchman
  • [3] (Swedish)
  • [4] Wilhelmina Stålberg: Anteckningar om svenska qvinnor (notes on Swedish women) (Swedish)
  • Torsten Dahl: "Svenska män och kvinnor. nr 4" (Swedish men and women) (Swedish)
  • Anna Ivarsdotter Johnsson och Leif Jonsson: "Musiken i Sverige. Frihetstiden och Gustaviansk tid 1720-1810" (Music in Sweden. The age of liberty and the Gustavian age 1720-1810)(Swedish)
  • [5] Europas konstnärer (The artists of Europe)(1887) Arvid Ahnfelt (Swedish)
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