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Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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preciation of my art, I must mention the one he honoured
me with on the evening of my special benefit performance.

I was playing "Elizabeth, Queen of England," and
his Majesty, with his Court, was present. At the end of
the performance, the King, escorted by his children, came
to my dressing-room and after having expressed himself
in the most kind and flattering terms of appreciation of
my art, as a token of his great satisfaction, he handed me
a golden decoration, bearing on one side the inscription:
" Litteris et Artibus'' — and on the other the portrait
of his Majesty surmounted by the royal crown set in

During my tour through Sweden and Norway an acci-
dent happened to me which might have proved fatal.
The students of Upsala addressed to me a very urgent
request to give a performance at their beautiful University.



After having at first refused, I yielded to the temptation
to go and play before that young and intelligent audience.
My performances at Stockholm were to take place on the
24th and 25th; and on the 27th, I was to go to Gothen-
borg. At the risk of fatiguing myself beyond my strength,
I resolved to sacrifice the only day I had between those
dates and play at Upsala on the 26th. I made arrange-
ments for a special train and left hurriedly. After the
performance I was escorted to the station by a large
crowd which had gathered there to cheer me — I ascended
the train in company with my husband and my nephew,
Giovanni Tessero, and feeling worn out by the fatigues
and the emotions of the evening, I went sound asleep.
The country we had to run through was intersected by
large canals accessible to big vessels. The railroad goes
over some drawbridges, whose control is left at the
mercy of employees of the road, who must open and close
them alternately to allow either the boats or the trains
to go by. At about one in the morning, we were all
awakened by a violent shock and by signals of alarm.
The train had suddenly stopped before a swinging bridge
which was open. We were told that we had almost
miraculously escaped from a great danger. A telegram
notifying the bridge-tender that a special train would
pass by at 12:30, had been despatched, but he under-
standing it to be 12 130 at noon, and not expecting any
train to come during the night had left the swinging
bridge open and gone home to sleep. If the engineer,
either through prudence or owing to a certain presenti-
ment had not slackened the speed of the train, in a few
seconds we would have jumped into that abyss a
few feet ahead of us !

It took more than half an hour, before our signals of
alarm were heard. Fortunately another bridge-tender,
who lived nearby and whose sleep was not too sound,
was aroused by our signals ; he closed the bridge and the
train was able to cross it.

The following day I received a large number of tele-
grams congratulating me on my escape, which was another
proof of the love that those people bore me. I learned
later from the Italian Minister, Count La Tour, that the


morning after our departure from Stockholm, the news
had been spread that our train had jumped into the

But as a contrast to this lugubrious incident, I will
mention one of a happier character.

The delightful Swedish melodies, sung by the young
students of Upsala under my balcony, still sound in my
ear. It was at the home of the governor where a supper
had been given in my honour that I enjoyed this serenade.

The day after, at the moment of leaving Upsala to
return to Stockholm, we met in the waiting-room of the
station, a wonderful chorus of the students waiting for
us. They received us with a merry song, which was
followed by many others, gradually growing sad in tone.
When we entered our car, those fine young fellows lined
themselves alongside it, and when the whistle of the
locomotive was heard, they began to sing the celebrated
national air "Necken's Polka," which Ambroise
Thomas, has so fittingly incorporated among the many
jewels included in the death scene of Ophelia, in his opera

The snow was falling in large flakes, as the train slowly
moved away, while that mournful melody was dying out
in the distance.


I PLAY "lady Macbeth" and "Elizabeth of England"






I SPENT a month travelling through Denmark, Sweden
and Norway, meeting everywhere the warmest reception.

I returned to those countries in the month of October,
1880, coming down to the South of Europe, I played for
the first time at Munich, Bavaria, giving there four per-
formances, which proved to be so many more testimonials
of the most valued appreciation. There, more than in
any other country, I was honoured by the native German
actors, with a fraternal demonstration of kindness.

At the end of that year, I decided not to accept any
further engagements, but to enjoy in Rome, the tran-
quillity of home life. But soon again, I was forced to
realise that inactive idleness was not suited to my tem-

The actor can be compared to the soldier. The formier
dazzled by his triiimphs, sighs continually for the struggles
of stage-life ; the latter filled with the glory he has acquired
on the battlefield, cannot resign himself to peace.

One day, an idea which had been haunting my mind
for the last seven years, again took a strong hold upon
me. I resumed with great diligence, the study of English.
I set to work filled with enthusiasm. With the progress
of my study and to the great satisfaction of my teacher.
Miss Clayton, my purpose of mastering the language
strengthened. Unfortunately, business matters post-
poned during my absence from home the past summer as



well as many other cares connected with my home duties,
continued to interrupt my studies half of the year. Grow-
ing impatient of the delays caused by those interruptions,
I determined to neglect everything else in order to acquire
the correctness and perfection of pronunciation necessary
for the stage, little caring for fluency in English in general

Owing to my determination and daily application I
obtained the desired results. I found my study, however,
exceedingly hard to master.

That great Greek orator who used to place in his mouth
pebbles picked from the seashore in order to correct
faults of enunciation was no more resolute in his purpose
than myself. In order to master the twisting of my
tongue necessary for the pure enunciation of English, I
adopted a particular method. On account of the open
and closed tones, I would learn upon which of the syllables
I had either to raise or lower my voice, and also which of
the sounds should be softly or strongly pronounced. With
the help of some of the diphthongs used in French, I
endeavoured to render those particular sounds of English,
which it is so difficult for Italians to acquire. At times
I would add to the French diphthongs "eu" or "ou,"
which helped me in getting the desired sound together
with that special intonation so necessary to every

At last my purpose was accomplished. Being assured
by competent judges of the perfection of my acquisition,
I was able to appear on the English dramatic stage and
interpret the whole role of Lady Macbeth in English on
the night of July 3, 1882, at the Drury Lane Theatre,
London. The anxiety and the emotion I experienced
that evening, I could not describe. Only the splendid
success I achieved enabled me to banish all trepidation.

People came to my dressing-room from all over the
theatre to congratulate me. Some of my most intimate
friends however, had the frankness to tell me, what I
knew perfectly well myself, that I had not been able to
get rid entirely of my Italian intonation, but they added
that its soft melody produced a most pleasing effect on
the ear. After a series of performances of "Macbeth," I


produced, also in English, the drama " Elizabeth , Queen
of England."

At the first performance, though the audience was very-
kind, I was not very well satisfied with myself. Having
for so many years previously being accustomed to the
work of the Italian actors, who well understood the inter-
pretation given to every situation and dramatic effect
proper to the Italian school of acting; I was very much
preoccupied with the difficulty of the interrupted dialogue
of that drama, so different from the sustained method of
reading the lines as in " Macbeth ; " so that I found myself
very much embarrassed. At a certain moment, I felt
my courage abandoning me! But strong feeling in re-
gard to my assumed task sustained and saved me. I
endeavoured to try not to hear, not to see anything, and
finally succeeded in ending my performance with results
more satisfactory than I had anticipated. With the
following performances, everything proceeded smoothly
and each one was better and better. I made a tour
through the English provinces, during the months of
September, October and November, playing these two
English dramas, with most flattering results everywhere.
After my return home to Rome, in the year 1883, I had
the pleasure during that winter season, of playing several
times for charitable purposes.

Toward the latter half of the same year I made another
trip to England, playing my English repertoire, with the
addition of "Mary Stuart" and "Marie Antoinette."

At that time, I had made an engagement for another
long tour through North America, to play in English the
dramas which had been so well received in the United
Kingdom. I was staying in Paris, awaiting the time for
the departure from Havre of the steamer Saint Germain,
billed for the i8th of October, when I was asked to take
part in a performance to be given on the 15 th of the same
month at the Theatre des Nations, for the benefit of
cholera-stricken people. Other actors of the Comédie
Frangaise and some lyric artists, then in Paris, were going
to give their services. My baggage was all ready to be
shipped and I had none of my Italian actors with me;
nevertheless I enthusiastically accepted the invitation


for the sake of assisting both the French and Italian
victims of the plague.

My brother Caesar, who had come to Paris to say good-
bye to me, consented to assist me together with an
amateur actress, who was happy to assist in the work of
charity. I was thus able to get enough characters to-
gether to give the sleeping scene from "Macbeth" which
requires only three persons. I added to my contribution
to the performance the fifth Canto of Dante's Inferno,
the episode of Francesca da Rimini. Thus, before leaving
Europe I experienced the great satisfaction of finding
myself once again, before that generous Parisian public
which had procured me the first professional joys of my
career away from Italy and opened my triumphal path
to dramatic success all over the civilised world.

Two days later I was on board the Saint Germain on
my way to the United States. At Philadelphia I began
with the most auspicious prospects, a series of perfor-
mances which was continued in the other principal cities
of the Union and Canada during a period of seven months.

My contract expired the 4th of May, 1885. Before
returning home, I enjoyed the satisfaction of playing
"Macbeth," with the renowned actor Edwin Booth, the
Talma of the United States. We were able to give but
a single performance in New York, on the evening of May
7th, at the Academy of Music. It was a most artistic
event and the people came in eager crowds filling that
immense hall to its utmost capacity.

Encouraged by such results, the management of the
permanent German Dramatic Company, playing at that
time at the Thalia Theatre in New York offered me the
most alluring inducements, to play on the night of the
12th, Schiller's "Mary Stuart" in English, while the
actors of that company who were to be my support should
play in German!

At first such a proposition seemed to me a most pre-
posterous one! I knew not a single word of German.
Still, I confess that the originality of the scheme was
rather tempting. I finally came to the conclusion that
by giving a good deal of attention to the expression of
the faces of my interlocutors and with an analogous


counterscene at the time when I did not have to speak,
I might be able to get along without becoming confused.

After a short hesitation I accepted the offer of the
management, and the strange event was witnessed in
America, of an Italian actress playing in English with a
German support!

At the only rehearsal I went through with the others,
I took good care to have the words which were to pre-
cede my answers repeated to me in succession, endeavour-
ing to retain their sound in my ear. On the evening of
the performance everything went along with regularity,
and the performance was very warmly applauded, and
strange illusion — the greater part of the American
audience left the theatre fully convinced that I was
familiar with the German language!

On the 23d of May, 1885, we landed at Southampton.
Before leaving the steamer Fulda, a magnificent boat
of the North German Lloyd line, we wished to send a
salute to our dear country, and we gave a toast to the
prosperity of Italy and its rulers. King Humbert and
Queen Margherita. All the congenial companions of our
voyage joined us in our patriotic demonstration.

Although leaving so many sweet remembrances behind
us, we were nevertheless happy in beholding again our
old Europe, and in coming to the end of a trip of seven
months during which we had visited sixty-two cities of
the New World. We could not have succeeded in going
to so many towns, so far distant one from the other,
were it not for the industrial genius which in America
has produced so many wonderful things, and paramount
to everything else, a comfortable system of travelling
which had so facilitated our movements. There are in the
United States, companies which rent compartment-
cars by the week, which can be attached to a train going
in any direction. By their use one avoids the incon-
venience of stopping at second-class hotels, such as are
apt to be found in small towns, and besides one is not
bothered in packing up belongings at every station. One
can live in a compartment-car as if in one's own home or
on board a yacht. Such a system of locomotion is so
well established in the routine of American life, that


everything is prepared at the different stations for night
stops and for the provisioning of such cars.

Our compartment-car possessed some particular com-
forts. The curtains were of heavy silk material. We
had on board a piano, a library, a china-closet, pictures
and also flowering-plants' which accompanied us to the
coldest countries. We had hired our rolling-palace for a
period of five months, and often spent fifteen days
in it without noticing the distances we ran through.
When in large cities, we would leave the car to go
to some hotel, while the two coloured porters would
take care of it.

It was not without much regret that we left upon
the soil of the New World that delightful habitation
of ours, the comforts of which had prevented our
experiencing any fatigue during such long and tiring

The principal events of my professional career are
recorded from the impressions of my heart. If by evok-
ing my own recollections I have had to make mention
many times of the applause which was so profusely
lavished upon me, it is because my personal reminiscences
are identified with those of my success, and above all,
because in recalling the latter I feel a most legitimate
sense of pride, attributing the greater part of the homage
paid me, at home and abroad, as a splendid tribute of
appreciation of Italian Dramatic Art.

The readers of these "Memoirs" of mine, will easily
notice that I have set aside every pretension to ability
as an author and discarded all attempts of an elaborate
literary style. I have put in these memoirs my im-
pressions with that spontaneity which has guided all my
actions through my professional life, as it has directed
the expression of my thoughts.

As there is an old saying which teaches us that every
written page contains something which is good, so I dare
hope that the happenings of my life, which began so
modestly, and the struggles I went through, may
serve as an example for the young, who, possessing a
serious vocation for the stage, attempt to overcome the
difficulties of the arduous career of the actor.


And now farewell to all! I have only one other duty
to fulfil, and that is to stretch out a friendly hand to all
those who have followed me across the two worlds, and
to those who have so kindly assisted me and contributed
so generously to my triumphs!




Mary Stuart — A Tragedy by Schiller

As THE main object of this work is to benefit dramatic art,
it is not my intention either to enter into any dissertation
on the subject of this tragedy or to discuss the contrary
opinions given forth during almost three centuries by
renowned authors, as to the innocence or guilt of the
unfortunate Mary Stuart. I shall limit myself to saying
that the persecutions this martyr had to suffer seemed to
me so clear and authentic that they served as a guide and
inspiration to my understanding interpretation of the

The facts to which I intend to make allusion only
succeeded in strengthening my conviction that Mary
Stuart was the victim of her exceptional beauty, of the
fascination she exercised upon others and of her fervent
Catholicism. She was only guilty of weaknesses which
would have been unobserved in any other woman, but
which were very much exaggerated by those who were
interested in the ruin of Mary Stuart. No allowance
whatever was made either for her youth or the times in
which she lived; and out of her seeming lightness of
character, her enemies formed the base of that frightful
edifice which subsequently crushed her. It is my full
conviction that the accusations against her were a source
of much suffering to her, and particularly the accusation
of the murder of her husband which in the interest of her
persecutors was rendered more heinous by enlargement
of details and the thousand revolting denunciations by
which it was accompanied. I believe that baseness,
wickedness and deceit conspired together to bring about
the downfall of the unhappy Queen of Scots.

Everyone knows that in order to place Mary Stuart
beyond any possibility of refuting the perfidious accu-
sations which were hurled against her, she was held a



prisoner for nineteen years, during which time the un-
happy queen, with letters, protests and most heart-
rending petitions, was uselessly asking that she be granted
the privilege of justifying herself before Queen Elizabeth
and before the Parliament, regarding the vile calumnies
of which she was the victim, but such a privilege was
never granted to her. This is an evident proof that her
accusers were afraid that Mary would succeed in con-
vincing the people of her innocence.

How could she defend herself? What means, what
powder could she oppose to so many factions united to
ruin her? Her voice was never listened to. Every kind
of defence was denied to her. At every step she took,
she saw herself dragged through the most devilish snares.
During her life of forty-four years she was for nineteen
years held in a most humiliating and painful captivity.
It is without any question, as many of her historians
assert, that the behaviour of the unfortunate princess was
spotless from her birth to the death of the Earl of Darn-
ley. Is it possible to conceive that a gentle, cultured and
prepossessing person like Mary Stuart, gifted as she was
with all the qualities which render a woman highly
estimable, would suddenly renounce all her virtues, to
become the victim of vice and accomplish wickedness
worthy of such a hardened criminal, as her enemies
wished to make her appear?

All these considerations caused that sympathy with
which I was filled for the unhappy queen to grow in me.
It is for this reason that I have given to the study of this
character all the impulses of my soul, in order to strongly
bring out the nobility of the nature, the dignity of the
despised queen, the sufferings of the oppressed victim
and the resignation of the martyr. I was led to this by
the careful study I made of the historical period in which
that unfortunate woman lived and died. Her existence
was identified with the investigations that I have also
made regarding the life of Queen Elizabeth.

Before undertaking my analysis, I hope it may not
displease the reader to learn under what circumstances
I began the study of this most important work.

Who will ever believe that the interpretation of a

Copyright, 1905, by G. Hever & Kirmse, Ha ensec, Berhn. \V.


Famous German poet, (i 759-1805)


character so difficult as that of Schiller's Mary Stuart
could be entrusted to a young girl of eighteen, who, for
the first time, was assuming the part of the leading lady?
Still that happened with me.

If the director — now called the manager — of an
Italian Dramatic Company books an actress that he con-
siders apt, owing either to her looks or to her dramatic
talent, to take the parts of the leading lady, he cares little
if her looks be not in accord with the age of the character
she is to represent.

When I ended my engagement with the Royal Sar-
dinian Company, (as I have already mentioned in my
Memoirs) I took the position of absolute leading lady
with the Company of Romualdo Mascherpa, in the service
of the Duchess Marie Louise, of Parma.

Although the studies I went through during the con-
secutive years that I was a member of the Royal Com-
pany had given me a good deal of experience of the stage,
still the roles of leading lady intrusted to me were not
suited to my youth.

When my father booked me with Mascherpa, he took
into consideration that at that time tragedies were rarely
played by travelling companies, and that, therefore, I
did not run any chance of having to assume a role or a
responsibility beyond my powers. Contrary to these
expectations, without paying any regard to my short
experience and my youth, my new manager intrusted to
me at once roles of the most important and serious
character and which are usually assigned to a leading
lady of long experience.

Signor Mascherpa was an excellent old man of the old
school, but not exactly an authority in artistic judgment.
He knew that he was using his own right to intrust to me
all the roles for which he had booked me ; consequently,
"I had to know how to render them."

He began by assigning to me some of the most impor-
tant parts, and they were such that though the repertoire
of one dramatic company was about the same as that of
another, my teacher, Madame Marchionni, who was no
longer very young, had given up many roles, and as I
never had the opportunity to see her play them, I was not


given even the advantage of imitating her. In the city
of Turin when they asked me to study the role of Mary
Stuart I saw myself lost! Even the growing appreciation
of the public was not sufdcient to encourage me, as I
attributed my success mostly to my looks and youth, nor
was the encouragement of my relatives and my intimate
friends sufificient to reassure me. Still, in order to fulfil
the obligations I had assumed, I had forcibly to yield,
recommending myself to all my protecting saints for the
success of the undertaking. With the greatest zeal, and
without any delay, I not only began to learn the lines of
Andrea Mafifei — the translator of the tragedy of Mary
Stuart into Italian — but I also read many passages of
history in relation to the unhappy queen.

I had been granted a very short time to accomplish
my task. Besides, I had to provide myself with the
appropriate costumes. During the period of time I had
passed with the Royal Sardinian Company, I had played

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