Jeanette Wässelius was an actress, court singer and member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
Marie Jeanette Wässelius was born in 1784, the daughter of Johan Isak Wässelius and his first wife. After her death, he remarried. His new wife was Sofia Ulrika Essén and they had several children, among them a daughter, Justina Casagli, who, like Jeanette Wässelius, became a singer and actress. The family lived in Stockholm and at the time of his second marriage, Johan Isak Wässelius was a wallpaper manufacturer. At about nine years old, in 1794, Jeanette Wässelius was accepted as a pupil at the royal theatre (Kungliga teatern, now the Opera) and was soon engaged at both Kungliga teatern and Kungliga dramatiska teatern (now Dramaten). In 1800 she gained a permanent post as first actress at Kungliga teatern and had many great successes. She was appointed court singer in 1815, and in 1817 she was elected as associée – a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Three years later, in 1820, she retired with a pension.
Jeanette Wässelius’ career was successful. Her first contract stipulated a regular salary from Kungliga teatern, not just lotto shares. This made her position freer and she was not as dependent on the theatre’s successes or failures for her income. Only a few employees were offered this type of contract, and her younger sister and Samuel Ahlgren were two others. Jeanette Wässelius’ salary was one of the highest for women artists and for one period she was even best paid. Her salary was at that time 1,400 RD while Carolina Åbergsson’s salary was 1,300 RD. The male artists earned more of course, for example Louis Deland with 1,800 RD and Edvard du Puy with 1,600 RD.
Jeanette Wässelius’ retirement was preceded by a serious conflict in the theatre. In 1820, she was at the top of her career as leading prima donna at the Kungliga teatern in Stockholm, but came into conflict with Edvard du Puy, who at that time was the prefect and led the work at the theatre. This went so far that she asked to resign, although she had never previously shown any difficulties in cooperating or doing her work as required.
The contemporary judgement of Jeanette Wässelius’ voice was that it was full-bodied. She had also had a skilful teacher in the actress and pedagogue Anne Marie Desguillons, who knew how to help her make the most of her gifts. Jeanette Wässelius was also complimented for her acting talents, and the combination of a flexible, well-trained singing voice and excellent acting made her very sought after. She performed many times with her younger sister. Jeanette Wässelius’ work ethic was considered high. As was the case for most women on the stage, the reviews were also filled with comments on her appearance. The satirical and polemical weekly magazine Polyfem gave her the unkind nickname ”Mamsell Cucumber”, an epithet referring to her figure. Jeanette Wässelius distinguished herself early on for her operetta roles, which were among the more cheerful. She played the role of Laura in Slottet i Montenero, Sophie in Sargines, Antigone in Oedipe uti Athen and Constance in the play Vattendragaren. She also played Julia with great success in Romeo and Juliet in 1814–1815.
Stanislas Champein’s comic one-act opera La Mélomanie, had its Swedish premiere in December 1796 at the Arsenalsteatern. Jeanette Wässelius performed Lisette, on that occassion together with Johan Fredrik Wikström, Carolina Kuhlman and Johan Niklas Frodelius. The opera became very popular and was performed no fewer than 56 times at Arsenalsteatern between 1796 and 1820. Her next success came with the role of Melisse in the lyrical tragedy in three acts Renaud, that had its premiere on 29 January 1801 at the Gustavianska opera house at Gustav Adolf Square. Per performance in Boeildieu’s comic opera Le calife de Bagdad, together with Gustav Åbergsson, was praised in the press. She also performed together with Inga Åberg, whom she was to meet several times in various roles. She was also praised for her role as Iphigenia in Iphigénie en Aulide, a tragic opera in three acts by Christoph Willibald Gluck with the text by François-Louis Gand Le Blanc Du Roullet. Gertrud Elisabeth Forsselius in the role of Clytemnestra was her counterpart.
For many actresses, the years after their working life were often difficult and many of them ended their days in poverty. Jeanette Wässelius had a comfortable old age instead, thanks to her pension. Between the years 1820 and 1827 she was in Paris and when she returned to Stockholm, she settled down in the central part of the city. She shared her home with her stepmother until she died in 1838. After that, she shared it with her friend and colleague Maria Deland. Jeanette Wässelius’ estate inventory showed her assets to have been about 1,000 RD Bco.
Jeanette Wässelius died in 1853.