Adelaide Ristori.

Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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"Do you love?"

as a wild beast struck by the arrow of the hunter, with
a despairing voice I answer :

" ... Of love I have all the frenzy!"

The greatest outburst I utter after (Enone says :

"Hippolytus! Great Gods!"

with an impetuous resentment I answer:

"It is thou that hast named him."

Making a long pause I remain in a disdainful attitude.
When that paroxysm is ended my strength again gives
away, and in a state of lassitude I again fall upon my seat.


Then, after casting a glance around me to ascertain that
no one is listening, I begin to narrate the origin of my
fatal love, and all the pretexts I had imagined to send
Hippolytus away from me. I start at first in a whisper,
in order to show the state of prostration I am in and to
which I had been reduced by my previous struggle. Then,
with the progress of my narrative I, little by little, grow
more animated and at the point where I am expressing
the ineffable sweetness that the remembrance of the dear
looks of Hippolytus produce on my soul, my face assumes
a certain radiancy.

" In vain upon the altars my hand burnt my incense.
When my mouth implored the name of the goddess,
I adored Hippolytus, and beheld him without ceasing."

At the appearance of the maid Panopa I collect my
scattered wits and at the annoimcement of the death of
Theseus, my looks change, to express a mingling of stupor,
of ill-concealed joy at seeing the obstacle which hung
between the accomplishment of my vows so unexpectedly
removed. I had, however, a care to restrain myself,
hiding my thoughts even from the faithful CEnone.
When Panopa had left, I listened to the flattering words
of my nurse with the satisfaction of one to whom an
unexpected happiness has come in which he dares not
place much faith for fear that, like a beautiful dream, it
will vanish. During the speech of CEnone, in w^hich she
attempts to persuade me that from now on I shall be able
to see Hippolytus without fear, that my passion has
become similar to that of others, the obstacle which made
me guilty having been removed, I turn my body so that
she cannot see my face, which I take care to conceal in
part with my rich and wide veil which falHng down from
my head covered all my body. In that manner I am
able, with a counter-scene analogous to my sentiments,
to show the audience how the words of my faithful nurse,
as a healing balm, are giving me back life and love. Then,
deceiving her as to the true reason of my change, I show
that only consideration and affection for my son have
made me resolve to live, and preceded by CEnone, lean-
ing with my right hand on her shoulder, I leave the stage

PH^DRA 219

with slow steps, as my limbs cannot yet have regained
their former vigour.

The renowned La Harpe maintains that Phaedra had
really resolved to preserve her life for the love of her
child. My idea is different, for the expressions of Phaedra
regarding this point, in the scene of the avowal of her love
for Hippolytus, confirm me in it, and I shall prove my
point with some argimients which I hold to be just.

In the second act, during the remarkable scene of the
meeting that Phaedra has with Hippolytus, I make my
appearance with an unsteady step while pushed on and
encouraged by my nurse, (Enone, to recommend to her
my child. But I am of the opinion that that was only
a simple pretext to scrutinise the heart of Hippolytus.
Otherwise fearing, as Phaedra would, the irresistible
ascendency of the one she loved so much, she would shun
every opportunity of meeting him lest she betray herself.
Fully convinced of this, in beginning my scene my words
come slowly from my lips and with difficulty I say :

" My lord. To your sorrows I come to join my tears.
I come to explain to you . . . my claim for a son."

The punctuations indicate that the interruption of
these words show that the poet Dall' Ongaro, the trans-
lator into Italian of this drama, was of my opinion, and
the author confirms it in part, in the following :

Phcedra. " When you hate me, I should not complain of it,
My lord. You have seen me strive to hurt you;
Into the bottom of my heart you could not read.
To your enmity I've taken pains to recommend myself.
To the shores which I inhabit I would not suffer you to

In public, in secret against you proclaiming,
I have wished to be separated by the seas ;
And I have even prevented by an express law,
If however by the offence they measure the pain,
If hate can alone attract your hate.
Never woman was more worthy of pity.
And less worthy, my lord, of your enmity."

These last four lines are certainly not from a woman
who wishes to conceal her true feelings ; on the contrary
with a method of words and of phrases of double meaning,
Phaedra prepares herself to make their true signification
understood. As I have already said, being imbued with


this opinion, I found that I had to pronounce the words
with a double intonation, with ill-repressed rays of fire,
that I had to accentuate them not only with the voice, but
also with my looks, forcing myself to repress in my chest
the passion which was devouring me and which was about
to reveal itself. With some slight gestures, and a coun-
ter-scene, I would let the public notice the extent of my
grief at not being understood by Hippolytus. When the
latter believing that Phaedra hates him is trying to
excuse her behaviour, saying that any other mother
would have acted so toward a stepson, I feel that the
resolutions I have made are about to weaken; yet,
without entirely revealing myself, I endeavour again to
convey my meaning, saying in a light, impatient tone of
voice :

Phcedra. "Ah; my lord, I dare here attest, that heaven

From this common law has been willing to except me!
It is a case very different that troubles me."

As the scene gradually progresses, being no longer
able to repress the passion which excites me, the violence
of my furious ardour overflows like a swollen torrent
which floods over its banks. The voice, the gestures
and the accents express the state of a woman, who, crazy
with love, casts aside modesty, dignity and all in order
to obtain the satisfaction which her guilty passion causes
her to desire.

Then seeing myself despised, with the quickness of
lightning I pick up the poignard that Hippolytus has
let fall, when with an impulse of repugnance and dis-
dain he has hurled himself upon me to kill me, and I
point it to my chest to stab myself. At that moment
CEnone, who during that scene had been listening
unseen, throws herself upon me, grasping my arm, which
she cannot however disarm, and drags me by force to
my rooms.

This most exciting scene with Hippol>i:us presents
great difficulties for the actress, because if it should be
at all overdone the audience would find the situation most
revolting and its efTect would be spoiled.

In the first scene between Phaedra and CEnone in
the third act, there is nothing but a .continuous portrayal

PH^DRA 221

of mutual expressions of remorse, rage, hope, fear, illu-
sions and contrary proposals.

At times the humiliation that Hippolytus inflicts
upon her causes him to become hideous to her; at times
she excuses him and accuses herself for having judged
with too much severity an inexperienced youth ignorant
of the laws of love. In this perplexity she tries to re-
enter his heart, using (Enone as a go-between.

But when the faithful nurse announces in dismay
that Theseus is still alive and that he is about to reappear,
with a rapid change I assume the attitude of one struck
by a great surprise and stunned by it. With an in-
distinct voice, almost murmuring I say:

Phcedra: ". . . My husband is living, CEnone, it is enough.
I have made the unworthy confession of a love which

outrages him ;
He lives, and I wish not to know more."

The words — "I wish not to know more" — I speak as
if they meant: " It is the end of all for me."

From that point, the thought of finding myself in the
presence of the outraged husband, incapable owing to
my shame of standing before him, terror begins to take
hold of me. I become delirious, everything around me
seems as if would take life in order to reveal to Theseus
my guilt.

This manifestation of an almost total state of abase-
ment renders possible the consent that Phaedra gives
regarding the infernal plot that CEnone proposes to her
and I succeed in portraying it by showing myself over-
come by a dreadful fright, which, at the approach of both
Theseus and Hippolytus, takes possession of me. That
flash of the reawakening of my honest nature, appears
to be put out. Finding it absolutely impossible to meet
my husband, I address a few lines to him which express
my profound grief.

Feehng abashed and not finding strength enough for
other words I leave the stage rapidly.

The fourth act of this tragedy is a majestic one, re-
vealing all the transcendent genius of Racine. Certainly
he did not find his inspiration either in Euripides or in
Seneca for the structure of this striking part of his classic


work. It is moulded as Shakespeare would have done it.
The human heart is nakedly exposed, and all the torture
of its rearrangements exhibited.

When Ph^dra repenting and tormented by remorse
comes trembling to meet Theseus in order to implore
clemency for the son, and also to reveal the falsehood
hurled at Hippolytus, one can plainly read in my face
and in the way I enunciate my words what an effort,
what a struggle I have undergone in order to bring
myself to take such a step.

I say my first lines in a beseeching tone while entering
the stage, my eyes lowered, not having the courage to
meet the wrath of my husband by confessing the truth,

On hearing from Theseus that Hippolytus has "dared
to outrage the fame of Phaedra and call her false," I
bend my head lower, humiliated and confused to the
extent of wishing to hide my shame under the earth.
But when I hear that " Aricia alone was the woman that
Hippolytus would openly confess to love, and who pos-
sessed both his love and faith," so complete a trans-
formation comes over my appearance that the spectator
is amazed. I no longer listen to Theseus ; I have become
insensible to all he has to say against my son, so entirely
overcome am I wàth the tremendous revelation which
has struck me. Remaining alone, I gradually give vent
to the fury repressed until that point. Then slowly
and with the most bitter tone of scorn, gradually raising
my voice, I pronounce the following stupendous lines,
in which are thrown all the sufferings of a heart which
is torn.

Here they are:

"Aricia has his heart! Aricia has his faith!
Ah! Gods! when to my wishes the inexorable ingrate
Armed himself with an eye so proud, a countenance so

I thought against love his heart was always closed,
And was against all my sex equally armed ;
Another, however, has bent his audacity;
Before his cruel eyes another has found grace. . . "

But again my mood changes and an outburst of
despairing fury seizes me, when I exclaim :

" I am the only object he cannot hear."

PH.EDRA 2 23

And not being able any longer to place any bounds
upon my impetuous rage, I rove around the stage like
a lunatic. On seeing (Enone I run to make her
acquainted with what I had learned.

With a savage rage I evoke, one by one, all my recol-
lections, fears, anxieties, my suffered torments, to show
that all else was nothing in comparison with the tre-
mendous grief at that moment tearing my heart.

My mind being upset by the venom of jealousy, I only
could see before me the image of my preferred rival,
jubilant in the sweet embraces of Hippolytus! . . .
The joy of those two that I imagined I saw seemed to
kill me. Their happiness was unbearable to me. The
thought of revenge would flash through my mind. . .
I would charge (Enone to go and kill Aricia. No! I
wanted to kill her myself. Hearing nothing but the
voice of jealousy, I would think of inciting my husband
to some kind of torment for my rival, stirring up hatred
against the whole tribe to which he belonged. Returning
to my senses for an instant, I was forced to meditate over
my own guilt, the enormity of which would make me
entirely lose my mind. Crazy and staggering it seemed
as if I was breathing nothing but incest, lies and the
desire to plunge my hand in some innocent blood.

I could not see, I could not discern anything, being
delirious I would feel myself transported to the presence
of my father Minos, the Great Judge of Hell. It ap-
peared to me that the fatal urn wherein were enclosed
the decrees of the punishments inflicted upon the dead,
would fall down from his hands and he would try to
imagine some greater punishment for me. Seeing him
throw himself upon me to kill me, I utter a cry, acting
as if he had grasped me by the hair. In my contortions,
in the attempt to free myself from that fatal clasp, I
hold up my head in the endeavour to run away from his
furious wrath and with loud cries I exclaim:

"Pardon! a cruel god has betrayed thy family;
Recognise his vengeance in the passion of thy daughter,
Alas! of the frightful crime of which shame follows me,
Never has my sorrowful heart gathered the fruit.
Even to the last sigh of pursuing evils,
I render in torment a painful life."


And I would fall heavily down fainting on the floor.

After a long pause I had arranged in order to com-
plete the scenic effect that (Enone should kneel beside
me and with pitying and persuasive words gently raise
my lifeless body, lean my head upon her knees, until,
gradually recovering my senses. I cast invectives on her.
Hearing her say in order to lessen my fault that the
Gods had committed the crime, I slowly regain my
strength and move away from her. I send her away
in anger and contempt, but as I pass to the other side
of the stage the nurse follows me and falling at my feet
embraces my knees in a beseeching manner. It is at
that point that I would address to her disdainfully, in a
paroxysm of fury, the famous invective which Racine
has so skilfully written and which is one of the most
celebrated pieces of French literature:

" I'll listen to thee no more. Away, execrable monster:
Leave to me the care of my deplorable fate.
May the just heaven pay thee worthily!
And may the punishment forever terrify
All those who like thee by cowardly dexterity,
Nourish the failings of weak princes ;
Urging them to likings to which their heart incline,
And dare for crime to smooth unhappy presents
That celestial anger can make to kings."

The fifth act offers not many exceptionally difficult
cases of interpretation to the artist. Phaedra has only
a brief appearance upon the scene at the end of the
tragedy. She presents herself in a dying condition,
devoured by the poison she has swallowed to put an end
to her heartrending remorse for the fault committed
in a moment of fatal excitement.

With a subdued voice I reveal to my husband my
incestuous passion, the false accusation of the attempted
seduction of Hippolytus. I am eaten up by the fatal
beverage I have taken and my words come gradually
more and more indistinctly from my lips. In an agonising
state I am laid upon my chair and expire resting my
body in abandon and half recumbent in the arms of one
of my maids, while the other maids kneel around me
in an attitude of profound grief and religious respect.






By L. D. Ventura

Adelaide Ristori was born on the 29th of January,
1822, at Cividale, in Friuli, where her father and mother,
Antonio Ristori and Maddalena Pomatelli, chanced to be
with the Covicchi travelHng company. But if children
belong to the country of their parents her native town
was Ferrara, the noble city where the first Italian Theatre
was erected, and where also was bom Vittoria Piissimi,
a celebrated actress of the XVI Century, pronounced
"divine" by Garzoni. He would have said the same
of Ristori had he lived three centuries later. Her parents,
obscure, inferior mummers, had no qualifications for
teaching Adelaide, and they had five other children to
care for — three boys, Henri, Caesar, August, and two
girls, Caroline, who became the wife of Pasquale Tessero,
and Annetta married to a Trojani of Rome. All of these
with the exception of August, who was at his death a
major in the Italian army, embraced the dramatic career,
but without success. The father, though a good man, was
a poor actor, and had very little intelligence. Once when
leaving Cologne, Adelaide caught him carrying an enor-
mous quantity of quart bottles. "Papa," she asked,
"what is in those bottles?" "You ought to know," he
answered with importance: "Cologne water."

" But where did you get it? "

"Well," said he candidly, "from the place where other
people take it, the fountain on the Square."

Adelaide made her debut at the age of two months in
"The New Year's Presents," by Count Giraud. At the age
of five, still in the Covicchi Company, she created much
enthusiasm, playing the important part of the Pitocchetto
(Little Beggar) in the comedy of that name.

At fourteen, in the Moncalvo Company, she dared to
interpret and with great success Pellico's "Francesca da



Rimini," though she had never heard Marchionni who
created the part. At fifteen, in the year 1837, she was
received into the Royal Compagnia Sarda where within
three years, like a military man who in time of war
advances easily from sergeant to captain, from secondary
rank she became leading lady. The illustrious names of that
company were: Carlotta Marchionni, Amalia Bettini,
Antonio Ribotti, Vestri, Righetti, Gottardi. In leaving
it Adelaide entered the Compagnia Ducale of Parma,
managed by Romualdo Mascherpa, and afterward Luigi
Domeniconi's company. In this successive environment
of great artists she was able to study them and to assimi-
late what her judgment pointed out to be the best, though
the diction and declamation of Marchionni, marked by a
great detachment of syllables and a continual hammer-
ing, had nothing to do with hers. Nor can Ristori be
compared with Intemari who, although a distinguished
tragedienne, lacked absolutely that grace and sweetness
which so often emanated from Ristori 's acting, like the
perfume from a flower. In a word. Ristori had no mas-
ters but herself. Hers was a spontaneous art, impulsive,
the fruit of the keenest intuition.

In his " Dictionary of Actors" Lmgi Rasi throws light
on old theatrical methods in Europe. He tells of a con-
tract between Adelaide Ristori as leading lady at twenty-
two and Righetti the manager of the Italian Royal
Company. One of its clauses was that Ristori had the
right to select her parts and to refuse any play of immoral
character. This explains her ascendency, her supremacy,
and her life.

For seventy-five years, that is to say since 1780,
Italian players had not been in France nor elsewhere
abroad, except for the passing and short appearance of
Carlotta Intemari between 1830 and 1831. She landed
in Paris at a bad moment for the Revolution of July burst
out and she was able only once to show her ability, in
Alfieri's "Rosamunda." It was therefore a difficult under-
taking to destroy the idea formed in France that our
dramatic art was buried. Great actors, well known in
Italy, had never gone beyond our boundaries, and nobody-
knew or spoke of them abroad; but Adelaide Ristori,


having reached the maturity of her high talent and of her
enchanting art, felt well prepared for the battle. Every-
thing was in her favour: her form handsome and full of
plastic grace; her face gentle yet majestic, quick to re-
flect every emotion ; her voice harmonious and sonorous,
flexible to the whole gamut of passion, from the blandest
sweetness to the most harsh utterance of disdain, hatred,
or anger. Besides, her recent social rise to a patrician
position gave opportunity for instantaneous success, and
even in the exclusive theatrical field the moment was
propitious. Elisa Felix, known as Rachel — a contem-
porary of Ristori, bom only eleven months before her —
was then the absolute queen of the French stage, but she
had angered and disappointed the Parisians by deserting
the "House of Molière" for an engagement offered to her by
an American manager. The Parisians, as later they used
Madame Duse as an instrument to crush the eccentric Sarah
Bernhardt, made use of the advent of Ristori to impart
a lesson to Rachel.

Besides Ernesto Rossi she had as fellow-artists her
sister Caroline, her brother-in-law P. Tessero, Gaetano
Gattinelli, Luigi Bellotti-Bon, Pietro Boccomini, Giam-
maria Borghi, and others. She produced "Aux Italiens,"
Alfieri's "Myrrha," Goldoni's "Locandiera," Pellico's
" Francesca da Rimini," and soared at once amongst the

Jules Janin, the bulldog of French criticism, in his
unalterable Chauvinism could only criticise her in this
characteristic phrase: "She lacks nothing but to be a

Lamartine, Dumas pere, Legouvé all burned their
choicest incense at her altar. The battle was won. From
that moment, like a world conqueror she went from land
to land. Spain, Holland, Portugal, Germany, England,
Greece, Brazil, Turkey, Argentine, Egypt, North
America — she conquered the world with her winged genius.
It was she and she alone who inaugurated a new era in
the history of Italian dramatic art, thus clearing the path
for Salvini, Rossi, Emanuel, Zacconi, Duse, Pezzana, Di
Lorenzo, Reiter, and Ermete Novelli.

In 1856, when she returned to Paris, as she often did


for several years afterward, Rachel's animosity was
increased on account of Legouvé's "Medea." The great
French actress had formally accepted this tragedy for
the Theatre Frangais but at the moment of rehearsal,
through caprice and arrogance refused to produce it,
one of her pretexts being that it lacked classicism, for it
was two acts shorter than the canons commanded. In
spite of his good nature Legouvé appealed to the courts
and won, so that Rachel had to pay $30,000 damages.
This amoimt Legouvé turned over to the "Society of Men
of Letters and Dramatic Authors." This embittered
Rachel, but the matter did not end there, for Legouvé gave
his tragedy to Ristori to read. She found it suited her
and asked Professor Giuseppe Montanelli to translate it
for her. She produced it and won an immense success.
It was at that moment that the author in gratitude wrote
in her album: "Rachel m'a tue: qui m'a fait revivre? Toil"

. . . Rachel was enraged. When she came back
from her American tour she retired from the stage though
only thirty-seven years old and, undermined by con-
sumption if not by a broken heart, she died in her villa of
Cannet near Toulon. There is a tradition that, between
1 85 1 and 1852, Rachel in one of her excursions abroad,
landed in Italy and went to Verona where she played
"Adrienne Lecouvreur, " written especially for her by
Legouvé and Scribe in 1849. She starred in one theatre
while Ristori was playing the same play in another, and
the crowd which went to hear Ristori far outnumbered
Rachel's audience. We, who were bom when already
the great tragedienne was at the close of her career, seek
in vain in the immobile features of a portrait or in the
pages of the most careful biography the beauty in action
of Ristori's face and form, beauty which no brush of
painter or tool of sculptor is able to reproduce, but which
those who were contemporaneous have seen.

Amongst these was Legouvé, who writes a homesick
eulogy full of poetry bearing the faint perfume of a dried
flower between the pages of an old album :

"Ristori! I see her still! When she came to Paris she
was thirty-four years old. Tall, of magnificent propor-
tions, hair of chestnut colour. I was immediately struck


with the sovereign beauty of her eyes. And what eyes!
I only saw their equal in Talma and in Malibran. You
remember in Virgil — natantia lumina somno, eyes wander-
ing in their sleep. They were liquid when their glance
darted soft and luminous like a ray of sunshine across a
cloud. But under the stress of passion, when that cloud
gave place to fire in the pupil, what Hghtnings! Her
voice had a surprisingly great range, velvety, caressing,
profound ; it made shivers either of joy or terror run

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