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force me to look for another way of escape. At that
point, the mob rushes in like a torrent from every side
and tries to take the children from me at the absolute
order of the king, who cries :

" Let them be taken . . . murder! "

Then, in a desperate tone I exclaim:

" Never! Never shall you have them! "



192 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

and with a spring I rush upon the altar of Saturn, drag-
ging both my children with me. The people of Corinth
rush upon me, surround me from every side, when a cry
of horror bursts forth from them, which announces that
the nefarious sacrifice has been accomplished. The
people draw back at such a sight and allow Medea to
be seen, her eyes haggard, fixed, her body drawn and
contracted like a statue of remorse, her two slain children
at her feet.

After a short pause of general terror, the voice of
Jason, who is rushing ahead is heard crying:

Jason. " Let myself strike this impious woman! "
Orpheus. " Approach thee not! "
Jason. " The children! " . . .
". . . Slain! "

cries Creonte.

Entering on the scene, Jason in despair cries:

"Slain! . . . By whom?" . . .
"By thee! "

Imperiously and fiercely replies Medea, rising, with
her arm outstretched toward Jason, like a picture of
inexorable destiny.

The curtain drops.

At the beginning of this study I mentioned the fact
that I felt an instinctive repugnance to representing a
character which led me to a final scene so revolting, one
that rebelled against the most sacred sentiments of
nature. The reader knows also why I finally changed
my resolve not to impersonate such a role; and how,
when at last I was induced to do so, the most vivid
passion for the character I had been asked to portray
had taken hold of me.

I applied myself with much enthusiasm to the study
of "Medea." To use an expression common among the
French, this tragedy was " mon cheval dehataille." I
studied thoroughly the contrast between the two pas-
sions, which are as a rule not very common, but which are
not, nevertheless, extraordinary ones: jealousy and
hatred — from one or the other must necessarily be



MEDEA 193

derived the thirst for revenge. It was a typical
psychological study which found its origin and its
explanation in the tendencies of the human mind.

I endeavoured to express the character of Medea
in the best possible manner, carrying myself back to
antiquity in order to incarnate the irnpressions of those
times, and I am justified in saying that I understood it
as well as I should, or could.



CHAPTER V

MYRRHA — A TRAGEDY BY VITTORIO ALFIERI

Anyone who is familiar with ItaHan dramatic liter-
ature will easily understand that among the many
tragedies written by the immortal Vittorio Alfieri,
" Myrrha " is the most difficult and extraordinary.

In fact the task of dramatising a situation in which a
girl is irresistibly in love with her own father and assailed,
from time to time, with transports of furious jealousy
against her own mother, is unquestionably an extremely
arduous one.

But it should not be considered unworthy or incom-
patible with the moral sense of the public when we realise
that such a passion is conceived of only as the result of
fate. Alfieri says that Cecris, the mother of Myrrha,
having boasted that the beauty of her daughter should be
greater than that of Venus, the offended Goddess revenged
herself by infusing through the veins of Myrrha an
incestuous love. We all know that mythology deals with
numerous examples of monstrous and unrestrained
passions into which the question of morality does not
enter. Alfieri, with unequalled skill, not only renders
admissible such a paradoxical passion, but makes the
production of this drama most touching.

The spectator must undoubtedly be moved by a sense
of pity through witnessing the incessant and painful
struggle of a pure soul against the tortures of a horrible
passion. She is the prey to remorse, to shame, and to
incomprehensible desires. The very repugnance which
she feels is the measure both of her enormity and of her
true nature. Alfieri himself expresses pity for her at the
end of his tragedy.

No matter how bold the task of the author in his at-
tempt of treating and placing before the public this de-
monstration of illicit love, one can imagine what a dreadful

194




COUNT VITTORIO ALFIERI

One of the most important of the Italian dramatic poets. (1749-1803)






MYRRHA 195

undertaking the interpretation of such a character must
be for any actress. I frankly admit that this interpre-
tation was the only study — through all my professional
career — in which its great difficulties paralysed my his-
trionic faculties at the outset.

The task of having to portray the savage contrasts
which succeed one another without intermission within
the soul of that unfortunate girl, and the continuous
struggle with her own cruel sufferings ; the task of having
to demonstrate that the criminal element in her nature
is not her own, and that the power is her own to eradicate
from her heart the guilty passion that has become so
cruel as to incline her to self-destruction ; the task of dis-
playing from time to time the outbursts of that fatal
passion, rendering life-like all its terrible effects, seemed
to me almost an impossibility.

Since I was a girl of fourteen I had been able, owing
to my precociously developed figure, to take the parts
of the leading lady, such as Francesca, in " Francesca
da Rimini," and up to the end of my professional career
I possessed a great facility of imitation, a gift which
helped me to incarnate the character satisfactorily no
matter what role I undertook. It was only with the study
of the unnatural role of Myrrha that I felt discouraged.
If it had only been owing to a sense of vanity that had
taken hold of me I should have mastered it, but to
master that repugnance appeared to me for a long period
of time to be beyond my ability.

In the year 1848, with the sudden change in the form
of government in Italy, it was allowable to perform upon
the stage and to produce in Rome works which had been
previously forbidden by the Pontifical censor. Then
the idea struck my manager to present "Myrrha," one
of the tragedies placed without the pale. At that time
I was about to become the mother of my first child, and
it seemed to me preposterous that I should have to take
the role of a pure and modest girl of twenty possessed
with such a horrible love passion.

I opposed myself to it with every means in my power
but could not gain release from my managers, who were
anxious to increase their box receipts with the production



196 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

of this tragedy. As I was dependent upon their authority
I could not entirely refuse and, moreover, my fellow -actors
of the company urged me to accept the part. I learnt the
part of Myrrha, which contains 370 lines, in four days!
How was it possible for me to study and absorb even
the fourth part of the role and incarnate such a character?
I lacked the time to impress upon my mind even the most
material part of my role, inasmuch as one knows what
great difficulties the verses of Alfieri present and
how strange is their quality. The result, as might have
been expected, was bad and insignificant! I felt so dis-
couraged that I swore I would never again play that
tragedy. It was only in the year 1852, when some
strong influence was brought to bear, that I changed my
mind. The renowned leading-lady, Madame Carolina
Internari, who honoured me with a true motherly
affection, and who possessed a real genius for tragedy,
spoke of Myrrha one day, and reproached me for my
pusillanimity in refusing to make another attempt to
perform the part. After many persistent refusals she
offered if I would comply with her wish, to arrange the
most artistic and brilliant feast I could ever imagine.
So strong in her was the love for the dramatic profession
and for the beautiful in art, that though she herself had
always played most successfully the chief part, exciting
everywhere the greatest enthusiasm, yet for the sake of
inducing me to undertake it she would be willing to play
the nurse, Eurycleia, a part of a certain importance —
but not that of leading-lady. Her generous proposition
conquered me. I renounced my refusals and resumed
the study of "Myrrha." But what a strenuous study it was !
I meditated over each verse, minutely scrutinising every
conception, analysing every word, studying the expression
of the eye and finally I succeeded in perceiving how that
exceptional character should be interpreted. I had made
it a study in which complexities and details had been
carefully observed with that love for the dramatic art
wnich should appeal to the Italian public of that time, for
they were most severe admirers as well as critics, showing
a delight often excited to deliriiim when dramatic per-
formances showed artistic work.



MYRRH A 197

Toward the end of 1852, after three months' hard
work, I presented myself upon the stage of the " Teatro
Niccolini" in Florence to perform "Myrrha" for the
second time. Through having with me the true soul of
tragedy, Madame Intemari, I was infused with so much
courage, so much force, that my blood boiled in my veins,
and my imagination carried me away so that I felt identi-
fied with the miserable experiences of Myrrha.

That tragedy became entirely my creation, exclusively
mine, and it was with that part, in 1855, at the "Salle
Vantadour," I captivated the Parisians and the French
press was echoed later by the other nations.

If the incestuous love of Myrrha was repugnant the
people could not help but admire greatly her inborn sense
of chastity with which I would colour my interpretation,
bringing out all its sacred and hidden beauty.

My main care was to prove to the public that if the
argimient appeared at first to be immoral the action
was not such. If in the old fable Myrrha appears hateful
and despicable, in Alfieri's tragedy the passion of the
woman is dominated by the natural chastity of the girl.
I had the satisfaction of hearing several mothers say
that they had seen nothing in the play to offend the
modesty of their daughters. I will, by the way, tell a
small anecdote which strengthens my assertion :

A young girl coming home much impressed with what
she has seen, argued with her friends and relatives upon
the various points of the tragedy and said to them :

"But why is Myrrha so strange and dissatisfied? At
times she wants a husband and at other times she doesn't ;
her parents are always ready; she sets herself the day of
the nuptials and does not want to hear of any postpone-
ment; she shows that she desires it ardently, but at the
last moment she grows angry and becomes a prey to the
most furious grief. She rejects her betrothed, sends
invectives to her mother and ends the tragedy by killing
herself, after having said to her father:

". : : : Thou wouldst see
Even that sire himself with horror shudder,
If it should reach the ears of . ; '. Cinyras . '. ."

but what was the matter with her?"



198 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

Then the father of the ingenuous girl, who was as much
impressed with the subject of Myrrha as his daughter,
finding himself embarrassed how to answer imagined a
pretext worthy of himself and said that the poor girl
had swallowed a tarantula.

In fact, to the mind of any person who does not possess
a bright intelligence, the furious contrasts of Myrrha are
merely confusing.

In the first scene between Myrrha and Pereus, her
future husband, I would use all my art to conceal the
struggle I had to make evident in that situation in hiding
the cause of my martyrdom and the aversion I felt for any
man who was not my father. Yet I had to show some
points of weakness, as indicated by the author. For
instance when Pereus says :

Pereus. ". . . . Thou dost not disdain

To be mine? Thou dost not repent it? And no
Delay whatever? . . ."

Feeling her courage grow faint, Myrrha answers :

Myrrha. ' ' No ; 'tis the day ; to-day will I be thine.
But let our sails be hoisted to the winds
To-morrow, and for ever let us leave
These shores behind us."

Pereus. ". . . . Do I hear thee right?

With such abrupt transition how canst thou
Thus differ from thyself? It tortures thee
So much to have to leave thy parents dear,
Thy native country; yet wouldst thou depart
Thus speedily, for ever? . . ."

Myrrha. ". . . . Yes; . . . for ever

Will I abandon them : . . and die . . of grief . . "

These lines are a proof of the constant resolution of
Myrrha who, certain as she is that she will die through
leaving her father, prefers death to prolonging her griev-
ous existence near him.

It is necessary to note as briefly as possible some of
these conceptions, some of these lines so hard to express,
in order to make the reader acquainted with my inter-
pretation.

Thus in the third act, when Myrrha is asked to speak
to her parents, I advance at first with a steady step and



MYRRH A 199

pretend that my sufferings are granting me a moment's
respite, and as my mother comes toward me with an
affectionate appearance, I place myself so that my father
is concealed from my view. Cecris approaching me says :

Cecris. " ... My beloved child
Do come to us. Come, come."

But after that "come to us," noticing that my father
is before me I halt as if taken with a shiver . . . thus
explaining why my mother repeated that second "come"
as if to signify, "Why dost thou halt?"

Myrrha then says to herself :

Myrrha. "Oh Heav'ns! my father also! ..."

At the exhortations of Cinyras, at the caresses of my
mother, I show to the public the pain of my soul, saying
to myself :

Myrrha. ". . . . Is there a torment in the world,
That can compare with mine? ... "

Urged by my father, and still more insistently urged
by my mother, I do not know what pretext to find in
order to run away from that abyss and conceal my shame-
ful passion. My internal struggle has no longer any
boimds ... it seems as if my heart would burst.

After a superhuman effort not to betray myself, I
resolutely murmur:

Myrrha. ' ' Myrrha, this is the last conflict.
Be strong, my soul. ..."

At the sight of the miserable state of his daughter and
hearing of the sufferings she is in, with an authoritative
voice my father says:

Cinyras. ' ' No, this shall never be. Thou lov'st not Pereus;
And, spite of inclination, thou, in vain,
Wouldst give thyself to him. . . ."

Then with a cry uttered from the depths of my soul,
seeing my last effort to escape from that wicked passion
vain, I exclaim:

Myrrha. "Ah, do not ye

Take me from him ; or quickly give me death. "



200 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

After a short pause, as if to recover my strength and
explain the constant alternative of my proposals, I
continue :

Myrrha. " 'Tis true, perchance, I love him not as much

As he loves me ; . . and yet, of this I doubt.

Believe, that I sufficiently esteem him ;

And that no other man in all the world,

If he have not, shall ever have my hand.

I hope that Pereus, as he ought to be.

Will to my heart be dear ; by living with him

In constant and inseparable faith,

I hope that he will make both peace and joy

Return to me again: that life may be

Still dear to me, and peradventure happy.

Ah! if I hitherto have loved him not

As he deserves, 'tis not a fault of mine.

But rather of my state; which makes me first

Abhor myself. . . Him have I chosen once ;

And now, again I choose him; long for him.

Solicit him, and him alone. My choice

Beyond expression to yourselves was grateful;

Be then, as ye did wish, as now I wish,

The whole accomplish'd. Since I show myself

Sifperior to my grief, do ye so likewise.

As joyfully as may be, soon will I

Come to the nuptials: ye will find yourselves

Some day made happy by them. ' '

By entering into the spirit of the poet, I endeavoured
to make real the unheard of effort that unhappy girl
made in trying to reject the paternal caresses of her
father, and attribute her grief to a temporary and
unknown cause.

At the sight of that horrible struggle in a soul, the prey
of a guilty passion whch she is unable to suppress, who
would not be moved to pity for the unfortunate child,
the victim of an adverse fate.

I take every possible care never to meet the gaze of
my father, without neglecting to make the spectator
notice my jealous ire against my mother, seeing her to be
the recipient of his conjugal cares and love.

One of these moments, I may mention, was when
Cinyras has been listening to the reasons that his daughter
gives to show the necessity for her leaving him. She
sadly approaches her mother and embraces her saying:

Cinyras. "And thou, sweet consort, standest motionless,
In tears? . . . Consentest thou to her desire? "







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ADELAIDE RISTORI AS MVKRHA



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MYRRHA 20I

With that caress, I pretend to make an attempt to
prevent such an effusive impulse; and feeling suddenly
ashamed, I wrap myself in my cloak and run to the back
of the stage. I then take leave of my parents with these
words :

Myrrha. ' ' Now for a little while, do I retire

To my apartments: fain would I appear
With tearless eyes before the altar; meeting
My noble spouse with brow serene, and cheerful."

I exchange a touching embrace with my mother and
approaching my father, who is anxious to receive my
embrace, I avoid it by bowing down before him with a
simulated expression of respect, showing the ardour
which has possessed me. Then, overtaken with the
most intense anguish, I rush behind the scenes.

At the beginning of the fourth act the author represents
Myrrha, in a calm and serene frame of mind, smiling in
such a way as to cause Eurycleia to say :

Eurycleia. "A cruel and a mortifying joy,

That thou dost manifest in leaving us. . . "

This joy appears to be the natural consequence of the
satisfaction that Myrrha experiences in that moment,
believing she has conquered the obstacles which were
opposing her departure. In that way she can withdraw
herself from the power her fatal enemy exercises upon
her.

Myrrha. ' ' Yes, much-loved spouse ; for this tender name
Already I accost thee ; if a wish
My bosom ever fervently inspired,
I am all burning at the break of day
To go from hence, in company with thee,
And so I will. To find myself at once
With thee alone; no longer to behold
Displayed before my sight the many objects
So long the witnesses, perchance the cause.
Of my distress ; to sail in unknown seas ;
To land in countries hitherto unseen;
To breathe a fresh invigorating air ;
And evermore to witness at my side,
Beaming with exultation, and with love,
A spouse like thee ; all this, I am convinced
Will in a short time make me once again
Such as I used to be

Do thou,

Of my abandon 'd and paternal realm,



202 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

Of my disconsolate and childless parents,

In short, of nothing, that was once my own,

Once precious to my heart, remind me ever.

Nor even breathe to me their thrilling names.

This, this will be the only remedy

That will for ever stanch the bitter fount

Of my all-fearful, never-ceasing tears."

This shows how different Myrrha was when not in the
presence of her father. Then she knew well how to
conquer her internal passion and dominate herself, but
with the appearance of Cinyras, in order to show the
contrast and the instantaneous effect that the sight of
her father produces, I succeed in making evident the
chill which runs through my veins. My hair rises . . .
my agitation is profound and unconquerable. The
public noticing that, shows its sympathy for me. This
is one of the most intense situations of the tragedy.

With the reawakening of the fury of Myrrha, the
chorus begins the first verse of the nuptial rite. Then
her face becomes of a deathlike pallor . . . her
limbs contract . . . Her nurse, the only one who
notices this, approaches her frightened, and whispers:

Eurycleia. "Daughter, what ails thee? dost thou tremble? . . .
Heav'ns! ... "

To which Myrrha answers, tremblingly:

Myrrha. "Peace. . . . peace. . . ."
Eurycleia. " ... But yet ... "

Then resolutely and with authority:
Myrrita. " .... No, no; I do not tremble."

Meanwhile, tears in abundance run from her eyes.

This is one of the most magnificent passages of this
act. I recollect that it cost me a great deal of study,
to interpret exactly the moral torment of Myrrha, caused
by the insistent questions of her mother, and the struggle
within herself to accomplish her nuptials even at the
sacrifice of her life. Two powerful situations are ex-
pressed in the following lines :

Cecris. "Thy count'nance changes? . . . Thou art faint,
and trembling?
And scarce thy falt'ring knees. ..."



MYRRHA 203

Myrrha. " For pity's sake,

Do not, O mother, with thy accents bring
My constancy to too severe test:
I cannot answer for my countenance; . . .
But this I know, the purpose of my heart
Is steady and immutable."

But when the chorus reaches the third line of the
nuptial hymn :

Chorus. "Pure Faith, and Ooncord, lasting and divine.

Have placed in this fond couple's breast their shrine;

And fell Alecto, and her sisters dread,

In vain their torches' lurid glare would shed

On the brave bosom of the bride so fair,

Whose praises all our pow'r exceed:"

the chest of Myrrha expands in an endeavour to repress
and conceal the terrible tempest which rages within.
When she hears :

Chorus. "While deadly Discord, frantic with despair.
Upon himself in vain doth feed. ... "

At those words I show that Myrrha had reached the
paroxysm of her despair, that her ire will explode like
thunder, and crazy with rage, I exclaim:

Myrrha. "What is that ye say? My heart already
By all the baneful Furies is assail'd.
See them ; the rabid sisters round me glare
With sable torches, and with snaky scourge:
Behold the torches, which these nuptials merit. . . "

At that point I transform the expression of my face,
as if I were the prey of delirium, and after a short pause,
I say, frightened:

Myrrha. "But what? the hymns have ceased? . . . Who to his
breast
Thus clasps me? Where am I? What have I said?
Am I a spouse already? ... "

After these words, with a quick turn of my person,
I find myself face to face with my father who, with his
arms on his chest, is looking at me in a threatening way !
Struck by that glance, my blood grows chill, my courage
fails and crying: "Alas!" I fall upon the ground, as
if struck by lightning.

Then, slowly the mother and the nurse lift me up, en-
deavouring to bring me back to life. Without my having
reacquired my senses, and only owing to the magnetic



204 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

effect of my father's voice, I hear confusedly his austere
and threatening words. Then I answer in a subdued tone
of voice, hardly audible :

Myrrha. " Yes:

'Tis as it should be : Cinyras, be thou
With me inexorable; for naught else
I wish; naught else I will. He, he alone
Can terminate the bitter martyrdom
Of an unhappy and unworthy daughter —
Plunge thou within my breast that vengeful sword,
Which now is hanging idly by thy side :
Thou gavest me this wretched, hateful life;
Take thou it from me: lo! the last, last gift
For which I supplicate thee. . . Ah, reflect.
If thou thyself, and with thy own right hand,
Dost not destroy me, thou reservest me
To perish by my own, and for naught else."

Alfieri continually shows that the love of Myrrha can-
not be mastered, except with death!

I again faint with my last words, without noticing that
I am held by my father also.

In the two following scenes, Myrrha comes slowly back
to herself, and having remained alone with her mother,
experiences a mingling of pity, of anguish, of remorse,
and even of jealousy by seeing her hated rival at her side,
the one who possesses the love of Cinyras, and when
Cecris tells her:

Cecris. " I rather will

From this hour forth perpetually watch
Over thy life."

Myrrha, beside herself with rage, answers :

Myrrha. " Thou watch o'er my life?

Must I, at ev'ry instant, I, behold thee?

Thou evermore before my eyes? Ah, first

I will that these same eyes of mine be closed

In everlasting darkness : I myself

With these my very hands would pluck them first

From my own face. . . "

And when Cecris adds :

Cecris. ". . . O Heav'ns! What hear I? . . Heav'ns!. . .
O daughter! ... I the cause? . . . But, see,

thy tears
Gush forth in torrents. . . ."

with a ferocious, despairing voice, she answers :

Myrrha. " Yes, thou, alas! hast been,


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