Adelaide Ristori.

Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

. (page 16 of 22)
Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 16 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

produced the climax of the final scene. I was anxious
to see what means he had chosen to have the mother kill
the children without exciting the horror of the audience.

I cannot find words to express my admiration after
reading the complete tragedy. Legouvé had discovered
a way to make the killing of the children appear both
justifiable and necessary, as the reader will discover for
himself at the end of this study.

Possessed with enthusiastic admiration, I allowed the
book to slip out of my hands, and was not only willing
but anxious to undertake the study of the part.

When I again saw Legouvé, I nearly fell on his neck,
exclaiming :

"Yes, yes, I shall play your 'Medea' and we shall
arrange together for a feigned scene regarding the killing
of the children which will cause the audience to be car-
ried away with enthusiasm."

Without losing any time I looked for somebody to
.translate the drama into Italian.

Fortunately there was in Paris at that time, in the
Italian colony, many of the most renowned literary
geniuses of Italy, who had been exiled from home for
political reasons. Among these was Signor Montanelli,
who seemed to me the best suited of all to translate into

.Cjpj right. 1906. 1 y Tryphrsa Bates Batcheller
From Mrs. B.tcheller 's •• Glimpses of Italian Court Lire '



good Italian verse the beautiful work of Legouvé, and it
was with much pleasure that Montanelli accepted the
difficult task. Our heroic patriot, Daniel Manin, and
many others approved of the choice. It was arranged
that in the following year the work should be finished.

On my return to Paris in the spring of 1856, we did
nothing during eleven days but rehearse with much
ardour and nervous activity, in order to hasten the pro-
duction of the tragedy. A great deal had in the mean-
time been said about it.

I saw nothing else, I dreamed of nothing else but
"Medea." The selection of my costumes caused me a
good deal of thought and the many researches I had made
had not yet placed me in the way of finding what I
wanted. The renowned painter, Ary Schefler, came
to my assistance. He drew a sketch, in minutest detail,
of a costume which proved to be most marvellous. He
was only embarrassed in choosing the style of the cloak,
which needed to be so ample for my first entrance upon
the stage but which would later be cumbersome to me
in the various attitudes of my acting. With a simple
and natural movement I had to allow the wide folds to
fall artistically from my shoulders.

The day set for the first performance was the 8th of
April, and I, whose natural instinct never permitted me
to postpone an appointed date, saw that everything was
ready on that day.

At that time any new theatrical venture greatly
excited the mind and the curiosity of the people. Both
the Italian and French elements were in great suspense
concerning this production of "Medea." The Parisians
were curious to judge whether Rachel had really been
wrong in refusing that role after she had accepted,
studied, and rehearsed it with artistic interest, and
even congratulated its author on the creation of the

The Italians, on their side, were investing this ex-
periment of mine with almost a national importance;
consequently the excitement was very great. Those
among the French people who sympathised with us were
the intimate friends of the most noted Italian exiles.


Among the latter I will mention those most dear friends
of mine, the two brothers Messrs. Planat de la Faye.

Before the beginning of the performance many people
came to my dressing-room to offer me their best wishes,
and Ary Schefi'er wished to see the effect that my
costimie would produce, and if it had been reproduced
exactly as he had designed it.

Vantadour Hall was crowded with a most select class
of people. Mme. Devallière, the daughter of the play-
Avright Legouvé, was in a state of convulsive excitement,
owing to her intense emotion. Legouvé himself, well
understanding that he was playing one of his best trumps,
in consequence of the uproar provoked the year before
by the incident with Rachel — was doing his best to dis-
semble his anxiety.

As for myself, though I appeared to be at ease, I felt
a certain sensation . . . my hands were freezing
cold. I rubbed them together, saying to those who were
near me :

" It seems as if cold air comes from the ceiling . . .
I am cold ... I am shivering."

The curtain rises. A flattering murmur announces the
sympathetic attention of the public.

The beautiful speech of Orpheus (Signor Boccomini)
was followed by prolonged applause. Oh, how much
courage the benevolent demonstrations of an audience
inspire in the artists who must yet present themselves !

At last, the moment of my appearance arrives, and
I am already waiting upon the platform of the scaffold
-which represents the lower part of the mountain, from
-which I pretend to ascend with difficulty. I carry in
my arms the little Melyant, who rests his blond head
upon my shoulder, and that part of the blue cloak which
had, later on, to fall on my back (the cloak which had
caused so much apprehension to Ary Scheffer), covers
half my head, and almost totally hides that of the child.
I had placed the other child, Licaon, at my left side,
where he stayed in a posture of excessive weariness.
The melody of the Canephores who accompany Creusa
to the temple, precedes my coming.

At my appearance the audience bursts forth into loud


The great French tragedienne of the XIX century. (1S21-1S58)


and prolonged applause, which does not cease until I
begin my lines.

Having reached the top of the mountain I stop sud-
denly, as if exhausted. This attitude, with many others,
I had adopted from my study of the stupendous groups
of Niobe which are in the famous Uffizi Gallery of

When I begin to speak, my lamenting accent demon-
strates that the prostration of my body is caused not
alone by the suffering and privations I have experienced
during my long trip through cliffs and valleys, but also
by the discouragement which has overtaken me at the
sight of my exhausted children, to whom I can offer only
my blood as food. This state of mind is described by
Legouvé in a most moving manner and accompanied with
fine scenic effects.

The little sick child, almost entirely exhausted, while
sitting with his brother upon the steps of the statue of
Diana says, in a lamenting tone :

Melyant : I am so tired, mother!

Medea : My child, I suffer with thee, nor can I give thee

shelter or a home .
Licaon : I am faint with hunger, mother!

Hearing such heartrending words, in an attitude of
despair as if asking myself: "How can I feed them?"
I exclaim:

"Oh! could i drain my heart for them and say:
'Here, drink,' I'd let the crimson flood from my veins,
Though life did ooze with every drop."

This despairing tone lasts through the greater part of
the act. Only when the wound of my heart reopens at
the remembrance of my lost love, the state of prostration
ceases and like a plant which, revived by a refreshing
dew recovers its vigour, I regain my strength. Thus,
through the magnificent scene with Creusa, in which I am
made to believe that while I am stricken with pain and
suffering, roaming in search of my lost happiness, he
could live happily in the arms of one of my rivals — my
aspect is transformed, my limbs writhe, my eyes dart fire,
my mouth appears as if pouring venom — and with the


appearance of a fury at the question that Creusa would
address to me:

"What would you do?"

I answer, looking at her with haggard eye, taking her
by the hand, and making her advance to the footlights :

"Do? What does the leopard when
With a terrible and bloody joy it bounds, like a thunderbolt,
Upon its prey?"

I pronounce these last verses with the expression of a
wild beast that is about to devour somebody, and making
the gesture of tearing my victim to pieces. I remain
with such an expression and pose as to inspire fright and

This attitude of ferocity seemed to me logical, not only
owing to the nature of Medea, but to that of any woman
possessing a strong temperament and capable of excesses
either of love or of hate. And such a conviction caused
me to form for myself a right criterion, and to serve as a
rule through the frequent transitions of my part. It was
only after profound study that I succeeded in inter-
preting these two passions as the author wished, and
without detaching myself from the truth.

At the unexpected appearance of Orpheus, the scenic
motion changes. At the confirmation he gives me that
Jason is still alive, a convulsive joy brightens my face.
But when I discover that Creusa is my rival, and hear
her boldly challenge my wrath by saying:

"Cease, respect the hero who swore his faith to me!"

I reply, with a ferocious look :

' ' Thou lo vest him ?"

"Yes, I love him, and he'll be mine to-morrow
At the temple's rite."

Starting like a wild beast who knows that her prey
cannot escape her, with a sneering accent I say :

"He thy husband, beware! . . . . "

At that moment I stretch out my right hand toward
her, as if in warning, and remain in that posture until the
curtain drops.


Even now I remember with joy that that first act pro-
duced the greatest enthusiasm and that I was called out
several times, and greeted with the most frantic applause.
The so-called "foyer of the artists" was jammed with
people. My admirers overwhelmed me with compliments ;
my friends squeezed my hand with that cordiality which
no words can describe but which means a poem of affec-
tion. Others crowded around me, their deep emotion
making them silent rather than eloquent. It is needless
to say that the author of the play was there sharing with
me the enthusiasm of the occasion.

They were all expressing their wonder at the exact
execution, so well rendered and so well interpreted after
a comparatively short number of rehearsals.

In Italy such a tribute would not surprise anybody
at all as, owing to the less flourishing theatrical con-
ditions that exist there compared with those of other
countries, the obligation of preparing new productions
within short notice is more imperious, while in France
such preparations last at times for several months!

The second act is filled with situations of marvellous
scenic effect thus offering to the actress a large field for
the display of her dramatic ability.

The scene between Medea and Jason is one of the best.
When Jason hypocritically reproaches himself for having
involuntarily subjected his children to a life of hardship
and of privations, and is not able to bear the thought
that they are again exposed to shame and abuse, he says
that it is in his power to relieve them from so much shame,
provided their mother be sacrificed for their salvation.
I imperiously ask: "In what way?"

Jason: "Break the chains which bind them to adversity."

At such a suggestion, I become terrified. Yet, while
endeavouring to restrain myself, I add, with ill-concealed

"Ah, repudiate myself?"

My eyes glare with a murderous expression caused by
the tempest which is raging within me.


I cannot here even briefly enumerate the thousand
rapid alterations which are expressed in the verses, which
precede my caustic answer :

"I see it, see it all."

Giving vent to my hatred and to the desire for revenge,
which, according to the unconquerable temper of Medea,
should govern every one of my words with the procedure
of the scene, I pour out the wrath which I had with
difficulty held back. My weakness, my love; all dis-
appear, while the just resentment of a despised, humili-
ated and derided woman — outraged in all her most dear
and vehement passions — is expressed by me with all the
ferocity of a Tartar nature:

"Some sweet power compels thee to appease
The gods by my consent to break the union
Ah, why dost thou change thy colour, Jason?
Thou art pale, I'm sorry — but I cannot set thee free."

After having absolutely refused to consent to the
severing of our union, I feel assured by Jason's bitter and
insulting words that he not only has dared to meet my
wTath, but that he has now lost every sentiment of love
for me. In spite of myself, I am crushed by the blow.
But I express the paroxysm of my grief when Jason,
wearied with my reproaches, and not caring for my
refusal, is making sure that on the following day I shall
be sent into exile, that Creusa will become his wife, and
that the breezes which carry my ship away will bring to
me the echoes of their nuptial carols. Those threats leave
me at first like one petrified; then the most ferocious
hatred takes the place of love, and the following words
pour out of my mouth like a stream of fiery lava :

' ' Blood ! blood ! To drown him in it !
To break, to torture his human heart!

Like a wild beast entrapped in a cage, I rove around


the scene, as if I am trying to find a terrible way of
avenging myself; while the voices of my children who
run after me, uttering the sweet name of "mother," are
powerless to calm my fury, even when they say to me :

Licaon: "We are your children, mother!"

I answer, vehemently :

"You are Jason's children. Away!"

Licaon: "What have we done?"

Medea ": . . No, no "

"Accursed things — I hate you, go!
I hate the human race — but you the most

Because he is your father! "

On beholding the sad faces of those two poor children,
I exclaim:

"Oh, Jason, Jason, must I know thee false.
And love thee still, or loathing thee.
Must I destroy those little ones? . . . ."

Another affection awakens in me to dominate my
nature, and I repeat the touching words :

"The children! . . . Mine! Mine!"

Stretching out my maternal arms, I invite them to
run to me, which they do in a transport of joy.

Falling heavily upon a stool, I take the smaller of the
two children upon my knee, pressing the other affection-
ately to my bosom, thus forming a group which pro-
duced a great effect upon the audience.

As soon as my excess of motherly tenderness subsides
I utter, in a tone of pity :

"Pardon, my children. Forgive thy mother.
You are all she hath, yet is so rich in such possession
That were the gods all Jasons, and she
Their only love, she would not barter
This one sad, fond caress,
To dwell forever in their hearts,
Or be partaker of immortal joy!

What are you to Jason? The forsaken
Children of Medea! ; "


Pronouncing that name all the fury of my jealousy
would rise in me again. My children frightened by that
sudden change, run from my arms.

Left alone to meditate upon the most atrocious means
of revenge, I grasp the quickest and most decisive — I
will slay my rival!

"It is but true, the poisoned heart arms the hand!"

At the sight of the poignard which I take from under
my peblum, with a ferocious rage I say :

"Oh, joy! . . . . "

adding, with a threatening voice:

"In the thick of night, to gHde like a ghost,
To advance like a shadow

And behold the corpse of Creusa,
Prostrated at the feet of Medea! "

With this last verse, I rise up straight, my body like
that of a giant holding the poignard in my uplifted hand,
as if at the sight of it one should feel paralysed. When
Creusa comes, I am so filled with the thought of executing
vengeance at once that my face assumes a joyful expres-
sion, but I quickly hide myself behind a column, ready
to fall upon her at a propitious moment.

In rushing toward my rival, I meet her face to face.
Creusa advances to me, with the intention of dissuading
me from my purpose and says:

" The furious mob follows thee;
If within the palace it enters, thou art lost!
I run! "

Medea : ' ' Where to ? "
Creusa: "To save thee!"

With such an answer she disarms my disdain, and

MEDEA. 187

being brought back to the instinct of my royal blood,
I repeat, bewildered:

" Thou darest to save me! .... save me! . . ."

Noticing the poignard I am holding, I am ashamed
of myself, and conceal it with a sense of horror.

Then, a short scene takes place — I beg her, in accents
full of pain, to leave that man to me, as he is all on earth
to me, but with the decisive refusals of Creusa, my hatred
grows again and more powerful than before, and I am
about to throw myself upon her, when we hear the cries
of the daughter of Creonte, who runs to us frightened,
followed by the people.

In the last scene, having taken possession of my children
I hold them pressed to my bosom, so that they may not
be snatched away from me by the mob, which in a
furious way is threatening to stone me, when suddenly
Orpheus appears and says, imperiously :

"He who does not love his children,
Let him snatch those innocent infants
From their mother!"

At his presence and hearing those words, the mob
reverently draws back, while Creonte, Jason and Creusa
stand as if overpowered by the fascination of the divine
poet. Feeling comforted by the words of Orpheus,
who points me to a safe retreat, I cover my children with
my cloak and walk out, murmuring in a soft voice :

"At last I hold my vengeance! . . . . "

It is needless to mention the good effect produced upon
the audience by all these dramatic situations.

The stage setting of the third act had been prepared
in a truly artistic manner. On the left of the spectators
stood a wide tent of Grecian style, showing the entrance
of a room to which one ascended by mounting a few


When the curtain rises, Jason is impatiently listening
to the admonitions of Orpheus, Creusa comes in, holding
by the hands the children of her betrothed, happy in
their caresses. A domestic group, a scene of affection
and of tender sentiment for the children, whom Creusa
is ambitious to adopt as her own. Nursing happy thoughts
Jason moves away, followed by his dear ones and behind
them comes Orpheus with a sad expression on his face.
At that moment I peep in from the threshold of my room,
set one foot upon the step and by raising with my right
hand the tent, I remain in the dim light, coldly observing
this new proof of Jason's treachery.

In a short monologue, I indulge fervently in my re-
vengeful reflections ; I am only awaiting the coming of
night in order to flee, unobserved, with my children,
while in the royal palace they dance at the happy nuptials
of Creusa!

These last verses I pronounce with the sarcasm of one
who is anticipating a different ending to that festive

Orpheus comes back, bearing an order of Creonte,
in which it is said, that according to the answers given
by the oracle to the king, the presence of Medea had
been predicted as a fatal omen, and therefore I am com-
manded to leave at once, but without my children.
Such an announcement pierces like an arrow the heart
of Medea, who loves her children more than she hates
Creusa. She begs of Orpheus to intercede with the king,
that the children may be left to her. In the following
scene everything should contrive to make apparent the
human nature of that poor woman, placed in such a try-
ing position. One can easily understand at this point
how difficult it was to reproduce true to life such a char-
acter, in which the continuous contrast between the affec-
tion and hatred which agitate her must be marked.

Noticing that all my prayers for obtaining from the
immovable Jason permission to take both my children
with me are useless, and on hearing that one of them
alone can follow me, I address, with the most touching
expression, both to Creusa and King Jason my most
fervent request. The verdict is unchangeable! Then,


seeing myself abandoned even by my children, who had
rushed away and clung to Creusa's skirt, I turn deaf to
every word of comfort that they are trying to address to
me. I ask to be left alone the prey of my grief. Ob-
serving then that my children also have disappeared,
with a heart-breaking outburst I cry :

" My children! . . . My children! . . ."

and fall down upon the steps of the altar of Saturn, as if
unconscious. After a short pause, I begin the
following monologue :

"Alone! Alone! upon this world! No longer a father!
No longer a husband! No more children! Nothing!
And thou darest to cry? . . . ."

Shame takes the place of desolation, and I blush while
looking at my hands wet with tears, and exclaim:

"Thou darest to cry! And Jason triumphs!
Yes, in spite of me, all his wish is fulfilled!
My very hand unites him to his mistress! "

Then, going over all the wrongs I had suffered, and
bewailing that I myself had unconsciously favoured and
procured for Jason the accomplishment of his happiness,
rage would again possess me, and while I say: " my
very hand unites him to his mistress!" I rise and shake
my hand resolutely as though to drive away from my
mind the thought of shame. Picturing to myself the
joy of their love and happiness, I roar like a wounded
lioness :

"Oh, god of hell! Help! help! Blood I want!
A weapon! . . ."

At that point I wish the extermination of all.

At the tender recollection of my children, my fury
would somewhat decrease. I shiver at the thought of
killing them with my own hand . . . but on reflecting
that with that blow I could bring an eternal grief
upon Jason, I strangle my natural cry by infusing the


following lines with all the rage of one who no longer fears
anything :

"In Jason an everlasting woe to kindle,
That my crime be the instrument of his
Eternal torture. My punishment to hurl him
To the infernal regions ! ' '

And suddenly turning myself to the statue of Saturn:

"Thou, above all, who invok'st
The slajdng of children, O Saturn
Hear me! . . . Thy squalid altar bright
With innocent cherubs' blood dost shine,
The horrid offering shal't have from me!"

At that moment my children are led in by the nurse
of Creusa. At the sight of them I stand as if petrified by
the uttered vow. I order that they be taken away from
me, as if I feared to see myself forced to immolate them
to the implacable god. On hearing that Jason is awaiting
them to join him at the altar, as if to have them witness
my infamy, all pity disappears, and becoming again a
prey of my fury I resolutely command them to approach

I had arranged that after the lines :

"Thy word was true . . . time flies.
The moment is at hand . . . let them approach,
And be my pity deaf. Father and sons,
A single blow shall strike . . ."

Melyant and Licaon throw themselves upon my knees,
grasping me with their tender hands while they look at
me with beseeching eyes. Moved by that look, I would
drop the arm which I had already lifted to strike . . .
my voice becomes tender, my hands falling down meet
those of the children. At the contact with them a sense
of sweetness transfuses my mind, and all idea of vengeance
vanishes. With much emotion, in a loving voice I say:

"Their hands! . . . their soft hands! ... I press!

I stagger . . . my heart is faint . . . my lips

In tender affection inclined to theirs . . .
Ah, ere I strike the blow , . ."

and bending down, I am about to kiss them; but my


vow to Saturn remembering, I turn to the statue as if
to implore that he should grant me that moment of joy
before I strike the fatal blow.

Again contemplating my children, I show the reawak-
ening within me of the maternal sentiment and bursting
into tears I cry :

"No, I am faint to such a deed!
Away from me all my murderous thoughts!
I have my children once more! "

Saying that, I fall between the two, cover them with
kisses and press them to my bosom.

At that point Orpheus hurriedly rushes to me, urging
me to run away with the children . . . when suddenly
distant and confused cries arrest our steps. A girl with
dishevelled hair runs to us crying, and announces that
Creusa is dying on account of a poisoned veil. Over-
taken with desolation I cry :

" Yes, the veil I bade her take! "

Orpheus furiously cries

" Accursed woman! Forsake thy children! . . ."

I answer:

" Never."

At this point I snatch my little Melyant — I raise him —
I press him under my arm, while with the other arm I
drag Licaon and make an attempt to run. Some of the
threatening mob force me to go back. I try in vain to
open for myself a passage at the other end, but the cries
which come from the palace, "To death! to death!"

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 16 of 22)